Following the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s report after its visit to Bredtveit Prison in March 2016, the prison governor was at a loss concerning the description of the prison’s outdoor areas. Bredtveit is not surrounded by thick walls, and the inmates have a view of large recreational areas, the sky, lots of space and the nearby neighbourhood through normal wire fences.
‘The report made me see that, although the area around the prison is pleasant, the main exercise yard was dreary,’ says the prison governor. The inmates spend two hours here each day during the summer and one hour in winter.
Built by the inmates
Bredtveit already had a well-established cooperation with the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) and the landscape gardening firm TNT Landskap. There were plans to use the pile of earth that lay next to the large, bumpy asphalted yard for a garden, but it was not intended to be part of the main exercise yard. However, Bredtveit managed to find the necessary resources in addition to funding from NAV.
‘The garden was planned, designed and built by the inmates under the guidance of TNT Landskap and NAV Oslo’s careers advice centre. Everyone who participated has received a certificate of competence for the work they carried out and as documentation of the knowledge they gained. We often hold landscape gardening courses. The inmates also take part in maintaining the gardens that have been created and in establishing new gardens,’ explains Finstad.
The courses are, in principle, offered to all inmates, but there are a limited number of places.
The new garden is designed in the shape of a ladybird. The garden’s symbolism is shells and plants that open and close. Plants with black spots, like those of a ladybird, symbolise the foolish things one has done in life. The red of the ladybird symbolises love. Five inmates in ‘team ladybird’ established the garden that was completed in winter 2017.
Praises the collaboration
The prison governor particularly emphasises the cooperation between NAV, the landscape gardening firm, Statsbygg, the local school and the prison. NAV also offers a number of other courses that lead to formal qualifications. In addition to gardening, the inmates are also offered courses in dog handling, flower arranging, rehabilitation, barista training, and in operating forklift trucks and personnel lifts.
In addition to the work and education offered, it is also important that for example the gardening work leads to a certificate that the inmates can use to get a job in a garden centre, florist shop or similar when they are released from prison, says Finstad.
Sceptical of the plans
Nils Leyell Finstad says there was scepticism among several of the occupational groups in the prison.
‘To start off with, we put aside the plans for incorporating the “ladybird” into the existing yard due to major security concerns in relation to the staff, inmates and what may be hidden in the garden. However, we carried out a security assessment and made changes. The pieces of furniture are attached to each other and we have invested in new security equipment and barbed wire reinforcement. The effects of the garden on the inmate’s well-being is so important that it must be weighed against an acceptable residual risk. Everyone in the prison now sees the benefit of extending the exercise yard.’
You can see several pictures of the new garden and Bredtveit’s other gardens here. Scroll through the pictures by clicking on them.