Iceland’s prison system is operating at near maximum capacity. Three times as many individuals are being kept in police custody than usual, the Director General of Prison and Probation Administration has stated.
Record number of custody rulings
The police arrested 27 people following a knife attack at the Bankastræti Club in Reykjavík last Thursday. Twelve suspects have been kept in custody, with the police having yet to decide whether they will request custody over five additional suspects. Four other individuals connected to the attack remain on the lam, some of whom are believed to have fled the country.
Páll Winkel, the Director General of Prison and Probation Administration, told Mbl.is that a total of 60 people are currently being held in police custody – three times the usual number. Aside from the many arrests made in relation to the Bankastræti Club attack, there have also been numerous arrests made in connection with drug busts and violent crimes.
“It does, of course, put tremendous pressure on the system,” Páll observed, “detaining 15 prisoners in isolation. It calls for greater manpower and organisation; you need to safeguard investigative interests, that the prisoners don’t meet, while, at the same time, ensuring that their rights are being respected.”
“These are people aged 19 and up. These are Icelanders and foreigners, men and women, non-disabled and disabled persons, including one individual who’s blind.”
Most of the prisoners are being detained in the Hólmsheiði prison, although some have been transferred to Litla-Hraun. According to Páll, the design of Hólmsheiði has proven advantageous, as there are spaces equally suited to regular confinement and isolation.
Páll predicts that the situation will remain unchanged for a few more days but hopes that that will be the extent of it. “It puts tremendous strain on the system. Also because it happens to coincide with our effort to temporarily decrease the number of prisoners so as to operate within budget constraints.”
Speaking to RÚV, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson stated that the government had already taken steps to deal with the pressure on the prison system, with extensive renovations at the Litla-Hraun prison expected to be completed next year.
According to Jón Gunnarsson, there have been instances where prison sentences lapse owing to a lack of cells. “We must respond, and we are doing our best,” he stated, admitting that increasing the number of prison cells would take time and that bridging the gap could prove tricky.
“We’re not quite sure how; this additional pressure means additional operational costs, and we’ve even been in the position where we’ve been unable to fully use all of the prison cells because of budgetary constraints … we’re working on it.”