The debate regarding incarceration typically argues whether lawbreakers should be punished or rehabilitated. In America, home of the highest prison populations in the world, the criminal justice system is heavily tilted towards revenge — making most lock-ups a living Hell.
Imprisonment in other parts of the world, however, can be a much different experience. Although the loss of freedom and having criminals for roommates isn’t exactly an ideal living arrangement, here’s a list of slammers where doing time ain’t all bad.
8. Aranjuez Penitentiary (Spain)
The far-reaching impact of prison can put an enormous strain on the family structure that often leads to a cycle of generational crime. But at Aranjuez Prison in Spain, authorities have addressed at least one part of the problem by allowing children to live with their incarcerated family members under the same roof.
The innovative penitentiary, situated 25 miles south of Madrid, features a nursery, playground, and even Disney characters on the walls. Children are allowed to stay up to age three before being placed with a relative or in a more traditional state-run youth home.
Families are housed in spacious units replete with cribs, creating a (somewhat) nurturing environment designed to mimic normal living conditions. Additionally, prisoners receive instruction in parenting skills and how to cope with the outside world upon their release.
7. Norgerhaven Prison (Netherlands)
With one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, the Netherlands must deal with a unique problem in its prison system: under-crowding. Inmates at the Norgerhaven facility enjoy single occupancy cells equipped with a private bathroom, furniture, television, and a refrigerator.
In 2015, Norway began sending its convicts to Norgerhaven as part of a three-year, 25 million euro lease agreement with the Dutch Government. The spacious compound can still accommodate enough free space for a vegetable garden and raising chickens in rural surroundings. And unlike some correctional institutions in the U.S., Dutch prisoners are far less likely to be killed in a riot by blow-torch wielding psychopaths hopped up on homemade hootch.
6. Her Majesty’s Prison, Addiewell (Scotland)
Located in a former mining village halfway between Glasgow and Edinburgh, HMP Addiewell opened in 2008 with a capacity of 700 inmates. The privately-run facility (via the Scottish Government) is designed as a “learning” prison, where convicts get an opportunity to address behavioral issues as well as learn vocational skills for their transition back to civilian life.
Each prisoner receives 40 hours per week of “purposeful activity,” which, according to its website, “aims to improve their employability prospects, their wellbeing and community support networks, leading to a reduction in reoffending.” But despite the structured offerings, Addiewell has seen its share of violence. A small riot occurred in 2010, and ongoing attacks on staff serves as a constant reminder that prison, not unlike attending a Rangers/Celtic clash, can still be quite dangerous.
5. Onomichi Prison (Japan)
The ravaging effects of growing old can be cruel. Growing old in prison is even worse. In Japan, a nation coping with its rapidly expanding aging population, jails specifically designed for the elderly are becoming increasingly common.
Onomichi Prison, just outside the city of Hiroshima, converted an entire floor to serve as a pilot geriatric ward, providing access to handrails, dietary needs, and personal care attendants. The Government also recently invested $100 million to build more extensive facilities around the country that caters to an all-senior population.
Although Japan’s crime rate remains relatively low, the spike in elderly crime points to prolonged economic strains compounded by decaying family constructs. Roughly half of the over-60 inmates are repeat offenders, suggesting that some prefer the relative security of confinement. In short, three hots and a cot at the Graybar Hotel beats life on the streets.
4. Otago Corrections Facility (New Zealand)
Since opening in 2007, OTC’s exotic location near Milton, New Zealand, has earned the nickname “Milton Hilton.” The sprawling complex holds a capacity of 485 men, who are offered training in carpentry, mechanical engineering, and commercial catering and hospitality. Additionally, OCF provides on-the-job training for its 300-acre dairy farm.
Heated floors and extracurricular activities add to its cozy reputation, but the overall grandeur is often exaggerated. Hundreds of assaults involving both inmates and staff have occurred in recent years, requiring guards to use pepper spray and carry out raids for weapons, drugs, and other contraband. Nonetheless, Acting Prison Director Mike Towson says the comprehensive program reflects a singular focus. “All of these activities contribute to our goal to help prisoners live crime-free on release from prison.”
3. Federal Prison Camp, Alderson (USA)
Nestled in the hills of Appalachia, FPC Alderson is an all-female minimum-security federal prison situated along the banks of the Greenbrier River in West Virginia. Most of the women are non-violent or white-collar criminals. However, the site also served as the home of Manson Family member and would-be Presidential assassin, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme. In fall 2004, the lock-up was dubbed “Camp Cupcake” as a tribute to ID 55170-054 — better known as cookbook queen and convicted felon, Martha Stewart.
The prisoners live in two large dormitories, with each unit holding around 500 jailbirds. The verdant landscape provides pastoral views complemented by administrative buildings that could easily pass for a small liberal arts college. Similar to other facilities operated by the facilities Federal Bureau of Prisons, inmates receive vocational training along with drug rehab counseling.
2. Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (Philippines)
The Philippines is an archipelago nation known for its lush tropical islands, friendly people, and a not-so-friendly death march that occurred during WWII. But thanks to a 2007 video with over 58 million views and counting, Cebu’s now-infamous jail (CPDRC) has become an internet sensation.
While some prisoners spend their free time pumping iron or simply not getting shanked in the chow line, the inmates at CPDRC get down with elaborate, choreographed dance routines, including the aforementioned performance of Michael Jackson‘s Thriller.
Centrally located in Cebu Province, the maximum security facility won’t make any lists for comfort and amenities. Overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions are only a few of the many problems facing CPDRC — and expected to worsen with strongman President Rodrigo Duterte’s relentless war on drugs. But if you’re an aspiring dancer doing a lengthy jolt for larceny, then Cebu’s barbed-wire bungalow is the place to be.
1. Bastøy Prison (Norway)
Imagine skiing on a private island or strolling along a beach in Olsofjord’s picturesque waterway. No, this isn’t a luxury Norwegian resort, but rather the unlikely playground for Bastøy Prison.
As an example of Norway’s’ progressive approach to criminal reform, the minimum-security facility bills itself as an “ecological prison,” where 115 inmates work every day in jobs that include running a working farm, tending to livestock, and engaging in forestry services. The goal is to equip every inmate with viable job skills in preparation for release — a stark contrast to the U.S. where ex-cons are lucky to get bus fare back to nowheresville.
Before landing at Bastøy, inmates must first serve time at another jail and prove they can function in an environment built on trust and respect. Norway currently boasts a recidivism rate of less than 20% — the lowest in Scandinavia — and less than a third of American re-offenders.