The old penalty house on Skólavörðustígur, in the heart of Reykjavik is going to get a new role in the near future.
It is the oldest prison in Iceland, founded in 1874 and according to modern day standards, unsuitable for penal use because of its antique architecture and basic construction. There is no workspace, no cantina, only a very basic training facility and basically no recreation or common space on the premises, the only place for prisoners to go outside their cells is a backyard that is extensively used.
The transition has been a long time coming. A new prison in Hólmsheiði is well underway and many ideas have been mentioned regarding the new role of the old charismatic building of the old penalty house, its still a prison today, it can house a total of 16 inmates and is usually used for short term prisonment, as an entry point into the Icelandic penal system. Inmates get a medical check and an interview before they are sent elsewhere to serve out their sentences. Prisoners with very short sentences sometimes serve them in the penalty house, also know as the Rock and the Nine.
After some extensive renovations the building’s new role will have a cultural flavor, a multipurpose culture house seems to be the current consensus, although many ideas have been cited in public discourse in Reykjavik. A hotel and a restaurant is a popular idea, a spa or a public bathhouse has been mentioned and a museum of criminal history in Iceland. But a public culture house seems to be on the top of the list. In the meantime the prisoners are still occupying the cells of the old building, how ever scheduled for relocation to the new prison. The last inmates will leave on June 1st and the old penalty house will be formally closed on June 3rd
Image from 2006: Guðmundur D. Haraldsson