April 15, 2024 | Peter Kinney

Storstrøm: Denmark's Luxury Prison


The Danish Prison Designed To Look Like A College Campus

Denmark’s luxurious lock-up—home to some of the world’s most heinous offenders—looks more like a university campus than an institution.

With private bathrooms and full-length cell windows, you won’t find many inmates “behind bars” at this maximum-security facility.

jail cell and prisoner split image

Location

Storstrøm Prison is located on the sparsely populated island of Falster, in Denmark—roughly 115km from Copenhagen.

PrisonTV2

Size & Engineering

The facility is a total of 3,000 square meters, or 377,000 square feet. The $160 million project opened in 2017 after a seven-year building process.

Image from a distance of Storstrøm prisonToxophilus, Wikimedia Commons

Architectural Design Intent

The overall architectural intent was to create a facility that resembled a small provincial community, that would provide inmates with the desire and ability to rejoin society after serving their sentence.

The architectural design also provides a pleasant and secure environment with a natural element.

PrisonKriminal Forsorgen

Reputation

This intricately designed facility is known as the world’s most humane maximum-security institution—and it makes inmates feel right at home.

1Storstroem-Prison2Torben Eskerod, C.F. Møller Architects, Archello

The Architect

The Storstrøm institution was designed by C.F. Møller Architects, and won first prize in an architectural competition in 2010.

Image of two people standing in front of company logoNews Oresund, Wikimedia Commons

Difference Between an Open Facility and a Closed Facility

In Denmark, there are two types of prisons: open prisons and closed prisons. Closed prisons are for inmates with sentences over 5 years, and are more secure/strict than open prisons, which are for inmates with sentences under 5 years.

Storstrøm is a closed prison.

Prison in denmarkTorben Eskerod, C.F. Møller Architects, Archello

Accommodation

The institution accommodates 250 inmates (and an equal number of staff) in four standard-security wings and one maximum-security wing. The grounds also include: a visitors’ unit, activity building, workshop building, gate building and staff building.

Image of a new prison design buildingKenneth Bagge Jorgensen, Shutterstock

Building Layout

The layout of the ten buildings forms a small urban community with streets, squares and centrally located community buildings.

aerial image of the prison buildingAnita Nancke, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Views from the Cells

Most of the urban rooms have windows with views of the surrounding green landscapes up toward the main perimeter wall that encircles the entire facility.

PrisonTorben Eskerod, C.F. Møller Architects, Archello

The Perimeter Wall

Unlike similar maximum-security facilities, the perimeter wall is made with a series of recesses, designed to give a diverse and homier impression and feel less like a typical lock-up.

image of the corner of The perimeter WallYigitPekoz, Shutterstock

The Overall Design

The overall design of the building is bright, open, with lots of windows of varied shapes and designs. The walls have textures and designs, and the grounds are immaculately kept.

image of the Prison yardAlexander Chaikin, Shutterstock

The View for Staff

The architectural design of the building is very specifically created in a way that provides staff with a wide view in all directions from central guard stations. There are minimal blind spots, allowing for staff to keep adequate view and control of their inmates at all times.

Person watching at camera security videos on laptopAndrey_Popov, Shutterstock

Staff Safety

The staff have secure rooms and escape routes available to them in the individual apartments, so that they can act quickly and accordingly in the event of any unrest among the inmates.

Sheriff's Office jail facilityRebekah Zemansky, Shutterstock

The Interior

Inside the buildings, the walls and floors are colored to help eliminate the institutionalized atmosphere, especially in common areas.

Prison wallsTorben Eskerod, C.F. Møller Architects, Archello

Artwork

Both works of art and building-integrated decoration can be found all over the facility, including a wall-sized painted mural in the gym and a beautiful bronze sculpture in the urban space.

This is to help make the place feel for comfortable and inviting.

DenmarkTorben Eskerod, C.F. Møller Architects, Archello

The Cell: Size

Each cell is a generous 12.8 square meters or 137.7 square feet. Not only are the cell’s larger than usual, they also include amenities that you wouldn’t typically find in any other facility cell.

Prison in denmarkTorben Eskerod, C.F. Møller Architects, Archello

The Cell: Amenities

Each cell is equipped with a toiler, shower, bed, desk, chair, wardrobe, refrigerator, television and lighting.

PrisonTorben Eskerod, C.F. Møller Architects, Archello

The Cell: Wall Design

The cells are neutrally colored so that inmates can decorate their cells how they wish. They have a curved design so that staff can view most of the cell from the door, and furniture is designed specifically for the cell, with no sharp corners, in an attempt to minimize the risk of self-harming.

white wall empty roomiamsuleyman, Shutterstock

The Cell: Windows

Each cell has two windows, one smaller one looking toward the sky, and another one that is the full height of the cell—giving them a full view of the serene freedom on the other side.

The windows are angled so inmates cannot see into each other’s cells.

White room, glass windowsC. Na Songkhla, Shutterstock

Residential Units

The cells are located in residential units that consist of only 4-7 cells. Each cell has access to a living area and a communal kitchen, where inmates can cook for themselves and are essentially free to cook with other inmates as well, if they wanted to.

Common AreaTorben Eskerod, C.F. Møller Architects, Archello

Active Socializing

The modern facility puts great emphasis on physical activity, as it is known to have a positive effect on inmates’ mental and social well-bring.

Concept of teamwork and partnershipchayanuphol, Shutterstock

Opportunities for Exercise

Outside, there is a decently sized soccer field and a running track.

Inside the activity building is a large sports hall with badminton, basketball, soccer and handball courts. There are two small gym halls in the maximum-security wing, and each residential unit has its own fitness room.

Man using jogging trackOlena Yakobchuk, Shutterstock

Outdoor Spaces

Other outdoor spaces are landscaped with a grassy park and a handful of modern art sculptures. There are paved walkways connecting all the buildings and dedicated structures for various workshops available to the inmates

Outdoor spaceTorben Eskerod, C.F. Møller Architects, Archello

Other Amenities

In addition to the slew of amenities inmates have inside their residential units, they also have access to an on-site grocery store, a full-sized church, a completely furnished visitor’s facility created with young families in mind, and a full-sized library.

ChurchTorben Eskerod, C.F. Møller Architects, Archello

Scheduled Amenities

Though this facility has more than an inmate could dream for, they still have to keep some sort of structure.

Inmates are only allowed a trip to the library once every 14 days. Church visits are once per week only, and shopping at the on-site grocery store is permitted twice per week.

ChurchTorben Eskerod, C.F. Møller Architects, Archello

The Daily Life

For most inmates, they are provided with employment that fits with their wants, needs, and skills. They are given daily yard time, full access to fitness rooms, and they all have community time at the end of the workday, where inmates can cook together, watch tv, and socialize with their residential unit.

tv control in the handYuri Snegur, Shutterstock

Not All Inmates Are Equal

Although the institution places a high value on well-being, it is still understood that not all inmates are created equally. There are many inmates in maximum-security, as well as solitary confinement.

Close up detail of the scales of justiceSergii Gnatiuk, Shutterstock

Less Freedom For Some

There are inmates at Storstrøm that are kept in solitary confinement, or are in different remand programs (for inmates awaiting trial).

These inmates are offered less freedom, and their employment opportunities are different.

Image of modern prison hallAlexander Chaikin

Religion

Inmates are free to practice any religion they prefer. The grounds offer a church, and several other denomination rooms that are open to all inmates.

Rosary on Top of Opened Bible BookPixabay, Pexels

Work

All inmates are required to work while incarcerated. There are various workshops that inmates can choose from. Each workshop has its own space, some indoors and some outdoors.

In addition to working, there are also requirements for therapy and education.

men prisoners sew uniforms at a sewing workshopwithGod, Shutterstock

Responsibility

The Correction Services of Denmark believe that having responsibility—in the sense that inmates ought to perform everyday tasks like cooking, taking care of personal hygiene, and contacting the proper authority on their own when they need something—will prepare them for their everyday life after they are released.

cropped shot of man cooking vegetablesLightField Studios, Shutterstock

Maximum Security

The institution is well-equipped to handle maximum-security offenders. The entire property is fully secure, with a 20-foot concrete wall surrounding the perimeter, as well as over 300 security cameras.

Surveillance Cameras on the WallMateusz Feliksik, Pexels

The Secure Wing

For the inmates who don’t take well to so much freedom and respect, there is a secure wing. This unit is surrounded by a concrete wall, and inmates and staff are physically separated.

The inmates here have less amenities than in the other parts of the facilities.

Concrete wall with barbed wire against blue skyMarko Aliaksandr, Shutterstock

Trouble at Storstrøm

Although there is a high level of trust at Storstrøm, it is important to remember that the inmates are actual criminals, and some will obviously take advantage of the freedoms they are offered.

Police lights on a grey car.Pixabay , Pexels

Trouble at Storstrøm: Knives

As briefly mentioned before, there was a knifing incident in one of the residential units, in which one inmate attacked another with a kitchen knife.

A similar incident was also reported involving a vegetable peeler.

potato peelerPixel-Shot, Shutterstock

Escape from Storstrøm

Another incident occurred when an inmate got access to a Burqa from a visitor. He had apparently put it on and simply walked out of the facility.

He was never found. It is believed he returned to his home country of Morocco.

Image of a man escaping the prisonAkif Oztoprak, Shutterstock

High-Profile Inmate at Storstrøm

One notable high-profile inmate at Storstrøm is Peter Madsen—who was sentenced to life behind bars after brutally taking the life of a female journalist and dismembering her body.

Portrait of Peter MadsenJoi, Wikimedia Commons

Madsen at Storstrøm

During Madsen’s time at Storstrøm he apparently had numerous female visitors, and also had an inappropriate relationship with a female guard—who was subsequently fired after the relationship was brought to light.

But that’s not all he did.

portrait of Peter Madsen in the officePer A.J. Andersson, Wikimedia Commons

Madsen’s Plan

In 2018, Madsen was admitted to the hospital after a fight broke out between him an 18-year-old inmate—in which he lost. This is apparently when he started to plan his escape.

Man fist close up imageNEOSiAM 2024+, Pexels

Madsen’s Escape

It took him two years, but he did it. In 2020, Madsen escaped Storstrøm and was found in a local residential neighborhood, armed with a piece and a belt with questionable devices attached.

portrait image of Peter MadsenOle Jensen , Getty Images

Madsen’s Capture

After being surrounded by various authorities, it was determined that all of Madsen’s devices were decoys and he was once again apprehended and taken back to Storstrøm—where only a small bit of time was added to his sentence.

Court drawing by Anne Gyrite Schütt of Peter MadsenANNE GYRITE SCHUETT, Getty Images

Resocializing

The “resocializing” strategy essentially involves mirroring the routines of free people so that when the inmates—who are mostly incarcerated for violent crimes—are released, they’re acclimated to law-abiding life.

People Sitting on Chairs on the balconycottonbro studio, Pexels

Recidivism in Denmark

Recidivism—which is the likelihood of a convicted inmate reoffending after release—in Denmark is only about 27%. 

This is about half of the United States’ rate, which ranges between 49% and 80%, according to the Washington Post.

Recidivism or Rehabilitation Traffic sign with two optionsM-SUR, Shutterstock

Different Approaches

The Danish system has a different approach which makes modifications to prevent fights, smuggling, and escapes. Although they still occur, these incidents are of a much smaller scale than in America.

judge's gavel and handcuffs on a black backgroundTaniaKitura, Shutterstock

No Cavity Searches

For example, the Storstrøm facility does not perform cavity searches upon entry.

And in the case of an inmate using a knife on another inmate, the solution was to tether the knives to the wall, not remove them entirely.

Body searchdotshock, Shutterstock

Normalization

The whole point is to have the conditions within the institution resembling the norms of everyday life outside as much as possible.

The confining elements of imprisonment should be minimized as much as possible.

Hand flipping wooden block cubes for new normal wordingDilok Klaisataporn, Shutterstock

Success

In general, Storstrøm is fairly successful in their modern approach to rehabilitation. Not only are their reoffending rates much lower than the rest of the world, but the entire population of the facility (including staff) report feeling safe.

surveillance camera in barbed wirepapi8888, Shutterstock

Serious Violence is Rare

Although there have been a handful of incidents at Storstrøm, they are actually fairly few and far between.

Recent reports suggest there are very minimal fatalities in the Danish correctional system as a whole, including inmates who take their own lives—which is a common occurrence in American institutions.

A man with a clenched fistKamil Zajaczkowski, Shutterstock

Escapes Are Uncommon

The Storstrøm facility has fallen victim to an escape, however it’s apparently a very rare occurrence as well. The facility is highly locked down and the only escapes that have been successful had inside help.

In fact, of the 60,000 inmate leaves granted each year, only 3% failed to return.

little birds escape out of birdcagefran_kie, Shutterstock

Comparison to American Institutions

Even though U.S. facilities conduct invasive search routines, the system still reports constant problems with contraband. Not only that, the Supreme Court reported that at least one inmate passes each week in American institutions.

USA national flag waving in the wind in front of United States Court Housemariakray, Shutterstock

The Danish Belief

Danish officials claim that their inmates act out less because they are treated humanely. In fact, all Danish institutions treat their inmates differently than the rest of the world. Open facilities even allow families to live with the inmates if they have children under the age of three.

It’s a whole different world over there.

Denmark flag in Danish cityNick N A, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

Although the Storstrøm prison in Denmark is a maximum-security facility that houses some of the world’s most heinous criminals, its architectural design stands out among institutions all over the globe offering a different approach to rehabilitation.

While the facility boasts upon its success, there are still many people who remain skeptical of their laissez-faire methods.

man with an expression of discontent on his faceFabrikaSimf, Shutterstock

Sources: 1, 2, 3


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