A look inside the ‘world’s nicest prison’

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Picture this: A small Norwegian island dotted with pine trees, rocky coasts, rustic farms and private, wooden cottages. It sounds almost like the perfect romantic getaway. But the residents are actually inmates confined to what some are calling the "world's nicest prison."

CNN has an excellent, in-depth look at Bastoy Prison, located on a one-square-mile island in southern Norway. It's unconventional to say the least; neither the prisoners nor the guards wear uniforms, and the inmates have keys to their own rooms.

"It's still prison," said one inmate, "Luke," 23, who withheld his full name. "In your mind, you are locked (up)."

Nonetheless, during the summer months, the island's 115 prisoners can sunbathe on the beachfront, go fishing, play tennis or take a relaxing sauna. And these aren't low-level offenders either; CNN reports that most of the inmates have been sentenced for serious crimes, including murder and rape.

[Related: 'Predatory' prison phone rates]

"If we have created a holiday camp for criminals here, so what?" said the prison's governor Arne Kvernvik Nilsen. "We should reduce the risk of reoffending, because if we don't, what's the point of punishment, except for leaning toward the primitive side of humanity?"

And sure enough, Bastoy does have a lower level of recidivism (16 percent) than other prisons in the country, and much lower numbers than U.S. prisons. About 43 percent of former U.S. prison inmates reoffend within two years of being released, according to a recent study released by the Pew Center on the States.

Some prisons in the U.S. take original approaches to their prison reform efforts as well. Earlier this month, we told you about a prison in Washington State that has begun pairing rescued shelter cats with some prisoners in order to give the prisoners a healthy sense of responsibility and reward for good behavior.

All of the prisoners at Bastoy are also required to have jobs on the island and must use part of their monthly stipend to pay for their own meals.

[Related: U.S. implements rules to prevent prison rape]

Regardless of what you think about Norway's unique approach to prisoner reform, the entire article is worth a read, which includes some unexpected details on how easy it is for prisoners to escape from the island — and why almost none of them try it.

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