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Copenhannah Goes To Prison

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Northwestern chapter.

I would like to dedicate this post to my dad who was a prison guard for 30 years.  I think working at a prison would be emotionally and physically draining, yet he never complained once. I love you!

Last Friday, my class went on a tour of an open prison.  An open prison?  I had never heard of this concept before and it was mind-blowing. Here are the basics:

The prison has no fences and no walls.  The prisoners are free to walk around within the grounds whenever they want.  The prisoners stay in single rooms (like dorms) and shop for and cook their own meals every day.  The prisoners work until 3:30 pm, some inside the prison and some outside.  The prison grounds has a coffee shop, tennis courts, basketball courts, mini golf course and bikes.  The prisoners get paid 900 kroner/a week ($180).  They can have computers with internet, TVs and telephones.  And most shockingly, prisoners with good conduct can leave every third weekend.  They can get on a train by themselves and go home!

What kind of convicts are in here then? Every kind. The severe criminals like murderers, start in closed prisons, but get moved to an open prison eventually.  The majority of the 210 male inmates at the prison are in for drug related crimes and economic crimes.  The Danish system of law treats economic crimes as the most severe because “they are more planned out.”  For example, money laundering can get five years, while a rape charge may only receive one year. In Denmark, life sentences do occur, but on average, “life sentencers” get out after 16.5 years.

Let me back track a second. When we first arrived at the prison, my class was greeted by two inmates who were our tour guides.  One was in for drugs and the other for laundering. We were allowed to ask them anything and they were very honest with us.  They both wanted to serve their time and move on with their lives.  Both of the men were also furthering their education while in prison.  I think the prison might have picked the best two inmates on purpose to talk to us, but that’s just my opinion.

Our tour guides showed us their rooms, kitchen and communal TV room complete with a pool table, foosball table and dart board.  Oh, and I should mention that “Prison Break Season 3” was in their DVD cupboard. I find this quite funny and ironic because if you wanted to escape from this prison, you literally just need to walk into the forest and you’re free. No digging necessary!


The two main principles of an open prison are responsibility and normalization.  The inmates need to show responsibility, like cooking, cleaning and staying inside the boundaryless boundaries (if that makes sense). But also, the guards (who carry no weapons whatsoever), have a responsibility to treat the inmates like human beings and treat them with respect at all times.  The second principle, normalization, means that the goal of the prison is to make it function as similar as how the outside world functions.  The inside of the prison is like a little community, so when the inmates are released, they are capable of being part of a larger community (the world).

Other facts:

A murder could be sitting next to a thief at breakfast. 

26% is the repeat offender rate from all of Denmark’s prisons (open and closed).

Wikipedia says 53% of male prisoners and 39% of female prisoners re-offend in the Unite States. 

Inmates involved in gangs stay in closed prisons.                                 

The cost of keeping an inmate for one day in an open prison: 2000 kr ($400). A closed prison: 4000 kr ($800).

The inmates are locked in their rooms at 10 pm every night.    

The inmates do their own laundry.

On average, ten prisoners a year escape from the prison I was at, but most come back on their own a couple of days later. They’d much rather be in an open than a closed prison.                                                                                                                         

Sitting on the bus after the tour, my head was spinning.  I don’t know what to think. I still don’t know what to think.  I know this though, the US has a population of 300 million compared to tiny Denmark of 5.4 million with a prison population of only 4,000 inmates in total.  I don’t think this system could possible work in the US.  The Warden (who was female and carries no protection), told us the biggest difference between US prisons and Danish prisons is humanity. I think that everybody should be treated humanely no matter what, but can’t we show murderers humanity in a different way instead of allowing them to play mini-golf and hang out at the coffee shop and then be let free after 16 years? I think the open prison system could be a really good thing for drug related crimes and maybe for younger people who were caught up in the wrong crowd at the wrong time.  This system really could work for them.  They can get a full education while in prison and be a vaulable part of society after their release. 

But, the biggest thing that I’m bothered by is that the Warden kept saying the prison was like summer camp and then she would be laugh and the prisoners would laugh in agreement. Summer camp? For criminals? Maybe it’s my American upbringing, but I just don’t get it.  I would be furious if let’s say the murderer of my child was out on the loose again after 16 years of summer camp.

What do you think? I’m curious. Leave your comments on the article!

Hej Hej,