OSLO (Reuters) - Norway plans to rent prison space in the Netherlands as the queue of convicts awaiting cells is growing and renovation work at Norwegian jails is expected to cut capacity, the justice ministry said on Monday.
"At the moment, the queue is at 1,300 custodial sentences, and there is a great demand for detention space," it said in a statement. "The Netherlands has already leased prison capacity to Belgium for several years."
Norwegian prisons are known for their relatively humane treatment of inmates, with non-violent offenders often held in open prisons with some free personal movement, jobs, recreation facilities and focus on rehabilitation.
A deal for several hundred prison places would allow Norway to avoid overcrowding and maintain its standards while prison renovation work costing up to 4.4 billion crowns ($700 million) is carried out.
The Nordic country's incarceration rate is around 72 for each 100,000 people, about a tenth of the level in the United States, and its re-offending rate of around 20 percent is among the lowest in the world.
"In Norway there is a capacity shortage, and right now we have a surplus," Fred Teeven, the Dutch state secretary with responsibility for prisons, said in a letter to the Dutch parliament.
The Netherlands already has a contract to house overflow prisoners from Belgium - roughly half of whose population speaks Dutch - in a prison near the Belgian border.
"The situation with Norway will be different," Teeven said, "because Norway is not an immediate neighbor, is not a member of the European Union and the language is different."
A deal would provide for Norwegian sentences to be carried out from 2015 in accordance with Norwegian law on Dutch territory.
The Netherlands' prison population stood at 11,160 at the end of 2012, and has been falling continuously since 2008, according to the Dutch prison service.
Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam; Editing by Tom Heneghan