Icelandic Prisons: Good Conditions but Long-Standing Issues

Icelandic prison

In a report published today, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), found that no ill-treatment was reported in Icelandic prisons, police or psychiatric establishments visited and that the material conditions were good or even very good. The Committee is concerned, however that little or no action has been taken on a significant number of long-standing recommendations made by the CPT, some of them dating back to the very first visit to Iceland 26 years ago.

The committee’s long-standing recommendations include addressing the lack of systematic and prompt medical screening of newly arrived prison inmates, including checks for injuries and transmissible diseases. In addition, the CPT noted that drug use continues to be one of the major challenges facing the Icelandic prison system. The CPT calls on the authorities to put in place a comprehensive strategy to support prisoners with drug-related problems, including harm reduction measures.

Furthermore, the CPT called for greater access to psychiatric care and psychological assistance in prisons, as well as the implementation of the long-standing recommendation to improve legal safeguards in cases of involuntary hospitalisation.

The CPT expressed concern that uniformed police officers can be called on to help healthcare staff to control patients with aggressive behaviour. The Committee had recommended stopping this practice as early as its 2012 visit.

The report is based on CPT’s fifth visit to Iceland which occurred from May 17 to 24, 2019. In December 2019, the Icelandic government established an interdisciplinary mental health team to provide prisoners around the country with mental health services. Icelandic authorities are due to respond to the report by May 2020.

Grindavík Residents Prepared for Possible Eruption

Grindavík - Þorbjörn

Authorities continue to monitor signs of a potential eruption near Grindavík, Southwest Iceland. Despite an earthquake of magnitude 3.1 last night, there is no reason to believe an eruption is imminent. Around 1,000 Grindavík residents attended a town hall meeting yesterday afternoon where authorities reviewed safety protocols and evacuation procedures in case one does occur.

Possible magma accumulation

Authorities have declared a state of uncertainty due to possible magma accumulation a few kilometres west of Þorbjörn mountain on the Reykjanes peninsula. According to the Icelandic Met Office, land rise of three centimetres over the past week combined with an ongoing earthquake swarm could be signs that magma is accumulating underground, which could result in an eruption.

“The situation is similar today as it was yesterday, inflation is occurring at the same rate, but there’s nothing new to report. It’s a very steady process,” geophysicist Benedikt Ófeigsson of the Icelandic Met Office told Iceland Review. “The next steps for us are to increase monitoring of the area, which we will do by setting up more seismographs and GPS devices.”

Land rise measurement recently implemented

Though land rise likely indicates magma is accumulating in the area, geologist Þóra Björg Andrésdóttir confirmed that it does not necessarily indicate an imminent eruption. “The last eruption in this area happened around [the year] 1200. It is said that it happens about every 800-1,000 years and we’ve reached the limit. On the other hand, we don’t know whether there have been such major changes in land rise before as this technology is rather new. We haven’t been monitoring it. It could well be that this has happened many times over the last hundred years.”

Residents meet in Grindavík

A town hall meeting was held in Grindavík yesterday to address the situation, and was attended by some 1,000 locals. Authorities went over evacuation procedures in the two-hour meeting, as well as encouraging residents to sit down with their families to make a plan of action in case of an eruption.

Residents’ state of mind at the meeting was quite varied. “I’m not scared at all. It’s a little exciting,” was the response Sigurgeir Sigurgeirsson gave a reporter when asked about the potential eruption. Klara Teitsdóttir said she was only worried about one thing. “I sat beside my mother in law at the meeting when they sent out text messages from [the emergency line] 112. She got hers at two minutes to five and I got mine at nine minutes past five. So there was an 11-minute difference.”

The town’s mayor Fannar Jónasson told RÚV the gathering served its purpose. “The lecturers did very well and residents asked well-thought-out questions. I’ve heard that people were happy with the meeting.”

Eruption not the likeliest development

Geophysicist Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson, who addressed Grindavík residents at the meeting, explained that an eruption is not the likeliest event even if magma is accumulating outside the town. “The reason for this preparedness level is that we can’t take any chances. We have to be ready, we live in Iceland and this is a volcanic country.” He added that if an eruption did occur, it would most likely not be an explosive eruption, rather characterised by slowly flowing lava that would give those in the area enough time to evacuate safely.

Siglufjörður Residents Celebrate Sun’s Return

Siglufjörður, North Iceland.

Since November 15, the sun hasn’t risen above the mountains in Siglufjörður. Today, residents of the North Iceland town celebrate its return after a 74-day absence during the height of winter. Mbl.is reported first.

Celebrating the return of the sun is a yearly tradition in Siglufjörður. Tucked in a picturesque fjord, the mountains surrounding the town may shelter it from wind and storm, but they also block the sun at the height of winter, when its trajectory is lowest.

The sun’s return is one of the first signs that spring is on the way, and for decades Siglufjörður residents have marked the occasion by serving pancakes and attending a children’s choir performance on the town church’s steps.

The sun’s return is also celebrated annually in Ísafjörður, in the Westfjords, though on January 25, with coffee and pancakes.