Finland, a Nordic country located in northern Europe comprising 5.5 million people, making it the 25th most populous country in Europe. This highly progressive country is known for having excellent human rights, especially for the prisoners. As a result, it is also responsible for having the lowest rates of incarceration and the highest rates of prison breaks. Dated back in the 1960s, a country known for the highest rate of imprisonment in Europe. 

According to the researchers, with the growing crime rate of Finland, the punishment did not correlate with the possibilities of reoffending, so they came up with a new solution of an open prison system. As the name suggests, open prisons have minimum security, and prisoners aren’t kept under lock and key or even aren’t watched over 24/7 by guards every time. Instead, they work in a community, earn a living, and are also allowed to walk around and shop in the local town frequently. They even get an allowance for short holidays and time at home with family. Surprising, isn’t it?

Architecture of open prisons in Finland - Sheet1


Architecture of open prisons in Finland - Sheet2
©Criminal Sanctions Agency, Finland

The architecture of the open prisons in Finland is like a holiday camp where the focus is more on rehabilitating rather than punishing. Prisoners get their rooms, access to recreational facilities and are transferred to open prisons to prepare them for their release. A softer approach to punishing crime, a progressive system where a prisoner starts his journey in a closed prison and later moves to an open prison. Such a policy has gradually reduced the recidivism rate. 

With no fences, gates, bars all around, there are old farm buildings, a volleyball court, and people moving freely around thus trying to avoid everything associated with an ideal prison. This intentional system of no physical barriers encourages the inmates to develop their sense of self-control. Today, one-third of prisoners in Finland now spend most of their day in open prisons. Treating strangers with so much comfort and leniency sounds strange yet the country has found an effective way to reduce the crime statistics. 

Preparing for gradual reintegration and rehabilitation of convicts back into society has resulted in the downfall of re-offending by 20 percent. Unlike other prisons, ending the cycle of prison and re-offending is seen in most countries. Thanks to the system, which has also reduced maintenance costs, and security personnel substantially and even dropped the number of incarcerations by two-thirds since the 1960s. 

Suomenlinna Prison, Finland

Architecture of open prisons in Finland - Sheet3
©Suomen Ilmakuva Oy

Suomenlinna Prison, an open prison facility, located in the southeast of the capital city of Helsinki is on a main island of the Suomenlinna fortress, known as one of the popular tourist sites. It is tucked away by the fortifications close to the rocky shore. A colony of temporary but comfortable accommodation consisting of wooden huts and youth hostels. Irrespective of the idyllic spots, surprisingly many residents are looking forward to leaving. It has continued to be a prison since 1973 with a sign of a conspicuously unlocked gate calling it a labour colony. A single room and single-story accommodation include a shared kitchen, toilets, lounge areas, barbecue shelter stands near a quiet pond. 

The main idea is to prepare them for release into the community. It doesn’t make sense for a prisoner to be in a closed prison for years together and suddenly enter civilian life. The system also offers rehabilitation to people suffering from drugs or mental illness. Finland’s most popular tourist destination, the national monument building is maintained by the prisoners and many tourists don’t even realize the existence of an open prison due to its integrity with the surroundings. 

Open prisons in Finland are away from the main city center, often on an island or near the seashore. A dormitory hostel kind of arrangement where prisoners have to do their daily chores to be there and overall planning like an institute of rehabilitation with an intention to improve wellbeing and self-control. Shared communal spaces such as kitchens and recreational areas create a civilian environment rather than being locked in a closed room. 

At the Kerava prison in Finland, inmates have a greenhouse and a small menagerie of animals. In the spring season, the prisoners are allowed to sell their plants, shop at local markets, pet animals as well as have supervised fishing and camping trips. The prison is integrated with the surroundings such that it does not get noticed. 

The Hope…

Architecture of open prisons in Finland - Sheet4
©Tim Bird/finland.filife

The dual focus on rehabilitation and development of self-sufficiency is what makes an open prison different from the typically closed ones. Kaisa Tammi-Moilanen the Director of Ojoinen prison in Finland says that we want to create a safer society for all and they do it by giving people a chance to become better versions of themselves. Thus, there is room for improvement and hope of absolutely no intention of coming back. 


Tanya is pursuing her B.Arch from VIT’s PVP College of Architecture, Pune. She believes in a holistic approach towards design and living with nature. Through her bachelor’s study, she has developed an interest in travelling and exploring this profession. Apart from architecture, dance and music are an integral part which has made herself know better.