A Prison Island

King of Devil's Island

King of Devil’s Island (Norwegian: Kongen av Bastøy) is a Norwegian film from 2010 based on true events that occurred a hundred years ago on Bastøy, an island in the Oslo fjord. The Norwegian government purchased the island in 1898 and opened Bastøy Boys’ Home, a reformatory,  in 1900. In May 1915, a rebellion occurred when between 30 and 40 boys rallied around four youths who had escaped and been recaptured. The group refused to work, armed themselves with farming tools and stones, cut the telephone lines and then burned down the barn with stolen matches and cigars.

When instructors and guards failed to quell the riot, the military was called in. Over a hundred troops stormed the island. Also on scene were two seaplanes, two submarines, and the armored ship “Norway”. Several of the boys escaped into the forest but were later recaptured.

Today, a hundred years later, on reaches Bastøy with a special ferry whose crew is partially made up of prisoners. The island is 2.6 km2, entirely a prison with 115 prisoners here in Norway’s biggest open correctional facility. Of the seventy personnel, only half wear uniforms and most go home by ferry in the evening. Only four remain here over night. The prisoners can move freely on the island, they work in agriculture, carpentry, laundry and school. They are counted twice a day, living six to each simple cottage scattered on the island. In the houses, they each have their own bedroom, a common laundry room and kitchen where they cook breakfast and dinner. They eat lunch together (one of the counting occasions) and earn five euro per day on their work to buy breakfast and dinner in the island’s shop.

The idea is for the prisoners to practise personal responsibility. When they arrive here, they live in larger groups; afterwards they move on to living in smaller groups in the cottages in order to practise selfreliance before their release. This prison replaced the previous juvenile prison which had a terrible reputation, hence the film The Devil’s Island.

Modern Bastøy is maybe one of the world’s best prisons. It is entirely ecological, managed entirely without oil and with a repeat offender rate no more than 10 percent (according to Statistisk Sentralbyrå SSB, the National Statistical Bureau of Norway, 25 per cent of prisoners in Norway in 2003 are back in prison again within three years). A typical European prison produces 70 percent repeat offenders at a cost of about 100 euro per day.

Bastøy aerial

Bastøy village

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