Dutch, Norwegian convicts angry over 'luxury' cell deal

Dutch, Norwegian convicts angry over 'luxury' cell deal

The Hague (AFP) - Dutch prisoners who currently enjoy countryside views and can cook their own food are suing the government over a deal for Norwegian convicts to take over their "luxury" cells.

The agreement, signed by Dutch deputy justice minister Fred Teeven on Monday, is aimed at alleviating waiting times for convicted criminals in Norway, where prisons are almost filled to capacity.

Relatives of the Norwegian inmates are also angry at the multi-million euro (dollar) deal for 242 of them to be transferred to another country hundreds of kilometres (miles) away.

Inmates at the Norgerhaven prison near Assen in the northern Netherlands would have to forfeit the privileges of long-term prisoners if they are transferred.

They can currently grow vegetables, keep chickens, cook their own food, gaze at the scenic Dutch countryside and have a generous daily exercise regime. Dutch media have labelled them "luxury" cells.

The prisoners also have their own "hobby space", can choose what colour to paint a wall of their cells and have private 55-channel television, Dutch media reported.

Now, at least 17 long-term prisoners, serving sentences of between 10 years to life for crimes including murder, have taken the Dutch justice ministry to court, their lawyer Hettie Cremers told AFP.

"They do not want to be moved from one place to the other," said Cremers, who expects a Dutch court to rule on the matter on Friday.

Of particular importance is the prison's countryside view, which "can make a huge difference between keeping or cutting off a small connection with the outside world, especially when serving a life sentence," Cremers said.

In Norway, prisoners and the wardens' union are also opposed to the move.

"We're very sceptical about the agreement because it violates several fundamental principles, primarily family proximity to the prisoner during detention," said Hanne Hamsund, who heads an organisation representing Norwegian prisoners' families.

"The agreement undermines families' ability and capacity to maintain regular contact with the prisoner," she said, although the deal should exclude prisoners with children.

Norwegian authorities have pointed out that the distance from Oslo to the north of the country is greater than to the Netherlands.

"Not everyone lives in Oslo," said Hamsund.

"So when a family member is detained in the Netherlands, you have to go to Oslo, then get a plane to Amsterdam then take a three-hour bus journey.

"This represents a considerable cost and forces loved ones to leave work for a few days just to make a prison visit."

Dutch justice ministry spokesman Jaap Oosterveer told AFP the 25-million-euro ($28 million) deal would pay the wages of around 240 prison officials.

The Netherlands has predicted that around 700 of its prison cells will become vacant over the next five years and has housed 550 Belgian convicts in southern city Tilburg since February 2010.

The Netherlands-Norway deal still needs to be approved by both countries' parliaments and hopes to see the first Norwegian convicts move in on September 1.