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Sweatsuits have replaced uniforms at Denmark’s Nyborg State Prison, where the prison officers have become trainers for inmates looking to get in shape. The new roles have made life on the inside better for both groups.
Over a period of three months, a group of prison officers at Nyborg State Prison, on the central Danish island of Funen, have traded in their uniforms for exercise clothes as they served as instructors in a thoroughly planned programme that involved 13 inmates playing football and volleyball, meditating, spinning and learning about healthy diets.
The sports and health programme is called Peppy Prison (or ‘FUT’ in Danish) and has gone a long way toward improving the prison as a place to live and work.
Instead of the antagonistic relationship that used to exist between prison officers and inmates, thanks to the programme the two groups now speak more pleasantly to each other. There are also fewer threats and tense situations, according to Nyborg State Prison Governor Arne Tornvig. That has led to an improved relationship between the two groups.
“The Peppy Prison programme has broken down barriers. Now it has become more acceptable for prisoners to talk to the prison officers – and not only just to ask when the post is being delivered,” Tornvig says, adding that it is ‘natural’ that a friendlier tone has helped bring down the tension.
First time The project is the first time the Danish Prison and Probation Service has sat its inmates and its employees down together as a way to improve relations. Officially known as ‘User-driven Improvement of Employment and Correctional Environments in Danish Prisons’, the project has also made use of elements such as collages, games and brainstorming boards.A group of four inmates and four prison officers have formed the backbone of the project, but anyone working or living in the ordinary association units has been able to chime in at any time with their ideas.
COWI and VIA Design have codesigned the project, facilitating the processes and contributing to the formulation of ideas and solutions that the inmates and officers put into practice.
Bettering conditions for both groups may be the immediate goal of such projects, but for Una Jensen, Nyborg’s Deputy Governor, the long-term aim is to have an impact on the outside as well.
“It’s hard to say how the project can help prisoners start living a normal life after they are released, but I hope we can give them a different perspective on things and that we’ve inspired them to turn over a new leaf.”