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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