Telemark Prison, Skien Unit

At Telemark Prison's Skien unit, inmates who should be serving their sentence in a communal section remain in the restricted section longer than necessary as a result of the high occupancy level. Furthermore, the prison should extend the periods of contact between inmates and staff in the highest-security section and consider other measures to reduce the risk of harmful effects of isolation. These are among the findings and recommendations from the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report from a visit to Telemark Prison, Skien unit.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman’s National Prevention Mechanism (NPM) visited Telemark Prison, Skien unit in June 2015.

The inspection included section A, the two security cells and the prison’s security bed (restraint bed), the outdoor exercise areas, the highest-security section, communal sections H, B and C, the workshops, the classrooms, the activity building, the visiting rooms and the guardrooms in each section. The NPM also examined the inmates’ communal areas.

High occupancy level leads to more stringent conditions for prison inmates.

‘The occupancy level of 97.4 per cent means that both newly admitted inmates and other inmates remain in the restricted section longer than they should,’ says Aage Thor Falkanger, the Parliamentary Ombudsman. At the same time, the report concluded that most of the inmates felt safe in the communal sections. Small living units and the presence of the officers were highlighted as important factors that made them feel secure.

Highest security level

In the highest-security section, the NPM examined in particular the prison’s implementation of control measures and measures implemented to compensate for the lack of human contact and to reduce any harmful effects of isolation. Very few inmates, often only one, will be in this section at the same time.

‘The regime in the highest-security section puts very strict limits on the inmates’ freedom of movement and possibility of human contact. From the point of view of prevention, the risk of isolation having harmful effects is very much in focus,’ says Aage Thor Falkanger.

Based on observations of security measures, the possibility of taking part in communal activities, the possibility of spending time outdoors, requirements relating to health services and the training of staff, the NPM recommended further assessments and the implementation of alternative measures.

‘We recommend that the prison extend the periods of contact between inmates and staff and consider other measures to reduce the risk of harmful effects of isolation, including alternatives to the concrete exercise yard for spending time outdoors. We also underline the need to regularly assess whether safety can be maintained by other, less invasive means than the use of handcuffs,’ says the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Medical consultations are monitored by officers from an adjacent guardroom. The officers can observe but not listen in on the conversation between the inmate and medical staff.

‘We recommend that the prison discontinue the monitoring of inmates’ conversations with medical personnel where the inmate is separated from the medical personnel by a glass wall,’ says Aage Thor Falkanger.

‘Work in the highest-security section is particularly challenging, and we recommend that staff in this section are ensured regular, individual training and guidance to enable them to deal with professional and human challenges.’

The role of medical personnel

The inspection and reviews of patient records, as well as conversations with inmates and medical staff, gave the impression that the prison health department maintains a good professional standard.

However, medical personnel from the Skien accident and emergency unit have on one known occasion recommended or approved the use of coercive measures by the Correctional Services.

‘This should not happen. It gives cause for concern when a doctor recommends using a restraint bed as a preventive measure,’ says the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Extension of prison capacity

There are plans to extend the capacity at Telemark Prison, Skien unit by 80 new places. It was unclear whether the extension will ensure that the inmates are offered the same employment opportunities and activity programmes.

‘A lack of activity can have a negative impact on inmates’ health and personal progression. When building new detention facilities, it should therefore be ensured that all inmates can be offered satisfactory activity programmes,’ says Aage Thor Falkanger.