The fourth and last prison I visited in Helsinki was the Helsinki Prison, a closed maximum security facility for males located in the city limits. I was invited to join a group from Macedonia who were interested in learning more about the Finnish prison facilities and policies because they are making great improvements to their own facilities.
This model would be the most closely related to the facilities of the United States in that there is a higher population housed in one building- roughly 350 clients. Also, the windows, which are operable, do have bars, fences and brick walls surround the perimeter, and there is a hint of barbed wire. Clients sentenced to this facility have committed violent crimes and are not yet prepared for the lifestyle of the open facility.
Some differences between the Helsinki prison and those of the U.S. include the opportunity to have a day of leave monthly once they are halfway through their sentence, a small monetary stipend for commissary purchases, and the ability to wear their own personal clothing.
Entering the prison through a set of automatic steel doors, I was directed into this waiting room atrium space. Clients often pass through this space which is filled with sunlight. This facility was built in 1881 and has many beautiful historic elements such as this stone pattern laid in the waiting room floor.
Sleeping quarters in this facility are much more closed than the three previous facilities visited; clients are locked into their individual cells at night. Most individuals have their own cell, but a few are inhabited by two clients.
Maintaining relationships on the outside with friends and loved ones is very important to a clients rehabilitation and success post-incarceration, so these phone booths are provided for the clients use. Sound proof, these booths allow the clients to speak to family or lawyers in privacy while still being visible to the guards.
As with every prison facility in Finland, physical health is important and provided for. The Helsinki Prison is equipped with a gymnasium, a weight lifting area inside as well as a weight lifting area outside. Inmates can borrow sneakers if they do not have a pair of their own. The outside area is used only in the summertime and the clients can spend many hours here. The summers in Helsinki are brief so inmates are given extra liberties during this season.
As with every prison I visited in Finland, the goal of relationships between guards and clients is one of respect and equality. There is minimal violence between inmates nor is there violence between inmates and guards. Although this prison was much more closed than the previous facilities I toured, I did not sense fear being locked inside with these inmates. There was a brief moment of panic when a door slammed shut and locked, leaving myself as well as two other women behind the tour group in a tiny corridor, but this was mostly due to my claustrophobia and fear of not being able to get out of the building. Luckily, the Governor was not too far away yet.