Old-fashioned Nordic penal exceptionalism: the case of Iceland’s open prisons

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This article intends to both broaden and deepen our understanding of Nordic penal exceptionalism by bringing into the debate Iceland’s two Open Prisons. Thus far, despite being one of the Nordic countries Iceland has been more or less excluded from debates on Nordic penal practice which is remiss, as due to its isolation, Iceland may well offer a different perspective on it. Both open prisons are small establishments with about 20 prisoners held in each, in remote rural settings. As an immersive project I stayed in both prisons as a quasi-prisoner in order to examine their practice and culture from the inside. I conclude that in both establishments the social environment is characterized by both conviviality and familiarity between staff and prisoners. I argue that whilst Nordic penal exceptionalism is defined more widely, this culture of ‘living together’ is in fact most defining of it, at least in open prisons.
Original languageEnglish
Article number21
Pages (from-to)113-128
Number of pages16
JournalNordic Journal of Criminology
Issue number2
Early online date20 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


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