Sigrún Davíðsdóttir's Icelog

White-collar criminals turn to sustainable farming – in prison

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Those who have been sentenced to prison following the Icelandic banking collapse have all stayed at a small open prison in the awesomely beautiful Snæfellsnes, close to the glacier famous from Jules Verne’s book, Journey to the Centre of the Earth. This prison, Kvíabryggja, is an old farm and under the auspices of its director, the inhabitants at Kvíabryggja are now farming again.

What is the prison like where Icelandic sentenced bankers do their time? It is an open prison, less than three hours drive from Reykjavík, on the strikingly beautiful Snæfellsnes, with the glacier on its tip, visible from the capital on a good day. Kvíabryggja used to be a farm before it was turned to a prison in 1954, intended for men who had not paid child maintenance. Since1963 it has been used to house prisoners who have not been previously convicted or who are unlikely to abuse the relative freedom at Kvíabryggja where there are no bars and no fences. The prison has a staff of eight and can house 22 prisoners.

Until after the crisis, few high-flyers had ever been sent to prison in Iceland. In 2001 a former member of Parliament for the Independence Party Árni Johnsen was sentenced to two years in prison. He had been the head of a committee overseeing refurbishing of the National Theatre and had (ab)used the opportunity to help himself to material and workers for his own house. Johnsen never showed much remorse but he ended up in Kvíabryggja. Shocked to see how poor the mattresses were he used his contacts to secure a donation of new mattresses for the prison, allegedly a huge improvement on the living conditions at Kvíabryggja.

This winter, there are at least two ex-bankers at Kvíabryggja, Jón Þorsteinn Jónsson and Ragnar Z Guðjónsson, sentenced in the so-called Byr or Exeter case. Apart from playing golf – Kvíabryggja has a golf course, built by the prisoners; Icelanders are quite good at playing golf in winter – there is now also farming to occupy the prisoners: the prison keeps 130 sheep over the winter, in addition to chicken and ducks and all facilities are now used to their maximum.

The animal farming at Kvíabryggja began in 2010 and was the idea of the prison director Birgir Guðmundsson. Last autumn was the first time that there was a major slaughtering of sheep: 100 lambs were slaughtered and the meat now provides for 2-3 meals a week, consequently lowering the prison’s food bill. Lamb is a stable part of the Icelandic cuisine and by far the most consumed meat in Iceland so the consumption of lamb at Kvíabryggja is not unusal. In addition, 25 ducks were slaughtered for Christmas.

Five to six prisoners are now in charge of keeping the animals at Kvíabryggja and more in autumn and spring. According to Guðmundsson it is difficult for the prisoners to get work, which means that the farming comes handy. New type of prisoners bring new occupation and possibilities: one white-collar criminal who has stayed there gave other prisoners basic courses in law and accounting.

Other prisons should study Kvíabryggja’s way to sustainability via farming. (Partly based on this Rúv story about farming at Kvíabryggja.)

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Written by Sigrún Davídsdóttir

February 13th, 2014 at 7:38 am

Posted in Iceland

3 Responses to 'White-collar criminals turn to sustainable farming – in prison'

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  1. What an interesting article. I think this is such a good idea, but of course it can only work in a place where there is nowhere to run and with criminals who are unlikely to run and who are not physically dangerous.
    These bankers could even be learning to appreciate other things than greed for money and come out better men with better lives, or else they will go back to their old selfish and destructive ways like most bankers have done.
    Iceland leads the way in many things, so it will be interesting to see the results!
    I think putting Criminals to farming is a brilliant idea and could be a life-changing experience for them, far better than any other whlst being productive and economic as well.

    Rachael Williams

    20 Feb 14 at 8:36 am

  2. Sigrún,

    When I read your description of Kvíabryggja I was sure I had read a description of it before, somewhere… It took me a bit to remember where, but I have done and have found the description. You being versed in Italian, here it is in a rendering from original:

    “…essi pervennero al luogo da loro primieramente ordinato. Era il detto luogo sopra una piccola montagnetta, da ogni parte lontano alquanto alle nostre strade, di varii albuscelli e piante tutte di verdi fronde ripiene piacevoli a riguardare; in sul colmo della quale era un palagio con bello e gran cortile nel mezzo, e con logge e con sale e con camere, tutte ciascuna verso di sé bellissima e di liete dipinture raguardevole e ornata, con pratelli da torno e con giardini maravigliosi e con pozzi d’acque freschissime e con volte piene di preziosi vini: cose più atte a curiosi bevitori che a sobrie e oneste donne. Il quale tutto spazzato, e nelle camere i letti fatti, e ogni cosa di fiori, quali nella stagione si potevano avere, piena e di giunchi giuncata, la vegnente brigata trovò con suo non poco piacere.”

    And for your readers who might need English, here is in English translation:

    “…they came to the place fore-appointed of them, which was situate on a little hill, somewhat withdrawn on every side from the high way and full of various shrubs and plants, all green of leafage and pleasant to behold. On the summit of this hill was a palace, with a goodly and great courtyard in its midst and galleries and saloons and bedchambers, each in itself most fair and adorned and notable with jocund paintings, with lawns and grassplots round about and wonder-goodly gardens and wells of very cold water and cellars full of wines of price, things more apt unto curious drinkers than unto sober and modest ladies. The new comers, to their no little pleasure, found the place all swept and the beds made in the chambers and every thing full of such flowers as might be had at that season and strewn with rushes.”

    It was written circa 1350 by Giovanni Boccaccio. Who would ever have imagined that he would put his seven ladies and three gentlemen in gaol in Iceland to squeeze them for the one hundred tales he needed to make his fame and fortune?

    RL Dogh

    4 Mar 14 at 12:41 am

  3. […] Snæfellsnes, where this sentenced in earlier banking collapse cases have been sent to jail (see here for details of this […]

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