Inside world’s most luxurious prison where inmates have plush weekend chalets, sex visits twice a week and dine on sushi

By Alison Maloney


The comfortable bedroom boasts a flat screen TV, an en-suite bathroom and access to a plush living area with a fully equipped kitchen and a private garden.

But this is not a spa resort or holiday rental - it’s Halden Prison in Norway, where hardcore offenders are treated to the softest of lives.

Here rapists, murderers and child sex offenders share cosy apartments, have use of a supermarket, gym, benefit from yoga lessons and even a state-of-the-art recording studio.

Inmates are allowed two visits from wives or girlfriends each week and can get intimate in a private visitors' room - where towels and condoms are provided.

And they can even spend weekends with their family and partners in a special family lodge which looks like a Swiss chalet.

In The World’s Most Luxurious Prison, which airs tonight on Channel 5, Ann Widdecombe takes a tour of the facility and meets inmates and staff who mix freely at the facility.

With reoffending rates in Norway at around 25 per cent after five years compared to 70 per cent in the UK, she asks whether the softly, softly approach to rehabilitation is actually working.

The former Justice Minister, who has visited 135 UK prisons, says she advocated zero tolerance and harsh punishment for criminals during her time in office.

But she adds: “Our prisons are bursting at the seams and stacked full of prisoners. Norway’s prisons are more maximum comfort than maximum security, but Norway’s reoffending rates are among the lowest in the world.”

Prisoner Banthata Mokgoatsane admits the unusual luxury is not much of a deterrent for would-be criminals.

“This is a spa. It's a hotel, It's a holiday resort," he says.

"I’ve had a good time here, I’ve benefitted, I'm not scared of committing any crime knowing I can come to a place like this."

Campus flat with en-suite bedrooms
Halden, which cost £138million to build a decade ago, is home to 40 murderers, 20 rapists, 20 child molesters and 60 drug dealers.

Deliberately designed not to look like a prison, the grey and white building, close to the Swedish border, has no bars on the windows or doors, and is surrounded by 78 acres of lush green forest. But luxurious prison life doesn't come cheap.

A place at Halden Prison costs about £98,000 per year compared to the average annual cost of a prison place in England and Wales of about £40,000 - or £59,000 in a Category A prison.

Arriving at the facility, Ann is led into an airy reception where prison officer Amund Sonsteby explains they greet new inmates with a friendly handshake.

While they do perform a strip search, they draw the line at the intrusive body cavity searches UK prisoners are subjected to.

This is a spa. It's a hotel, It's a holiday resort
Looking round the luxury ‘cell’, with a bed to one side facing a TV on the wall, Ann comments “so they can lie in bed and watch TV in bed?” and is horrified to discover they also have DVD players.

Fitted wardrobes line the room - which also has a desk, bedside table and its own fridge - and an en-suite shower room is through a door to the left.

Ann quips: “I’m surprised there isn’t a mini-bar."

Prisoners share a communal living area with nine others, in flats that resemble high-end student accommodation, with comfortable sofas and tables, and a sideboard stacked with board games and cards.

Freshly cooked meals


In the fully-equipped kitchen, complete with potentially lethal chef’s knives attached to a block with steel rope to prevent them being nicked and used as weapons, the inmates are allowed to cook their own meals.

There's an on-site dental surgery offering regular check-ups and the food is bought from a well-stocked supermarket, where lags can peruse the goods in small groups.

A fresh aisle is heaving with fruit and veg and it also stocks luxury items including sushi ingredients, biscuits and cakes.

After making Ann a coffee, convict Kirstein, who is serving 20 years, tells her when he first got to the prison, “I didn’t believe the way they treated me. I thought they had a hidden agenda.

“It’s not so bad to stay here. I have nothing to complain about.”

'Sex rooms'


As well as the luxury flats, there are extra visiting rooms, which have no windows so inmates cannot be supervised.

There, wives and girlfriends can spend a few hours alone with their partners up to twice a week, and are allowed to have sex.

Sheets, towels and condoms are provided and an en suite shower is also available.

Incredibly, prisoners with families can even have them over for the weekend in a separate chalet once every three months.

The cosy wooden lodge, which boasts a double bed, kids’ rooms, cots and a play garden with children’s toys is part of a "Daddy In Prison" scheme, explains Amund.

“They have to go through a course and then wives and girlfriends come with kids for one or two nights during the weekend,” he says.

“It’s about getting to connect with their kids again. Maybe some haven’t had much of a connection with their kids for a long time.”

The residents can also opt out of prison life completely for 21 days by attending a spiritual retreat in the woods where silent meditation and reflection sessions are led by the prison chaplain.

Some prisoners are allowed out on day release for up to eight hours, and Amund admits they have “lost a few guys” who failed to return.

“It’s not just as good as the outside world, it’s better than the outside world,” says Ann. “It’s better than any law-abiding citizen could expect in the UK.”


Recording studio
During the day most of the inhabitants are busy at work or learning new skills in the various workshops, which include carpentry, printing and sheet metal work.

In the state-of-the art sheet metal workshop, dangerous criminals are entrusted with potentially lethal tools including saws, hammers and spanners.

The facility also boasts the first garage behind bars, where inmates can earn a degree in mechanics as they tinker with cars.

Incredibly, the lags can also dabble in the music industry, using the high-tech recording studio with the jokey name Criminal Records.

Musician Andre Hadland, who drops in to help out, says: “The Norwegian prison system is built on rehabilitation and art can help towards rehabilitation.”


Leisure facilities include a climbing wall, a gym and a volleyball court - and prison officers often join in to form a closer bond.

Prison Governor Are Hoidal says the reoffending rate in Norway when he started his career in the 80s was around the same as the UK at 60-70 per cent, but has fallen dramatically since a change of approach.

“The prison officers were just guards then,” he says. “But we changed the role of the prison officer so they became more like a social worker. We had a dual role after the mid-90s.”

Ann is shocked by the level of luxury in the prison and says the atmosphere is like ‘an empty school” as opposed to the UK’s overcrowded prisons where the landings are “a seething mass of bodies.”

She adds: “Given a straight choice, would I put my money on someone coming out of here and staying out of trouble and someone coming out of a UK prison staying out of trouble?

“There’s no doubt about it. My money would go on the chap coming out of here.”

The World's Most Luxurious Prison airs tonight on Channel 5 at 10pm.


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