Imagine a prison cell in almost any country in the world. Your mind has undoubtably conjured an image of a barren room, most definitely under 100 square feet and probably smaller. For those with even more active imaginations, it probably looks a lot like Alcatraz or other classic American prisons, built of cold stone and emanating a musty odor in the darkness. Whether our imaginations are failing us, or the image of a cell needs a 21st century update, it is evident that the Justizzentrum in Leoben, Austria is not a typical prison.
The first clues appear on a drive up to the building. A small green lawn wraps around the classy concrete and glass building, giving the structure an inviting feel, the polar opposite of the stark divisions seen in a typical jail. It looks more like a modernist library or office building than a compound holding 205 inmates, some whom have been convicted of felony offenses.
Josef Hohensinn designed the prison in 2004, and it has since fueled a debate about the treatment of prisoners and the jail of the future. Looming over the entire facility is a philosophy of human dignity and respect, and the catchphrase of the prison echoes the sentiment of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a document ratified by almost every country in the world.
Although few seem to disagree on protecting global citizens' rights, some have suggested the Justizzentrum takes prisoners from dignity to luxury accommodation. Along with abundant natural light, a courtyard and barred-off balconies, the average prisoner is also afforded a living space with his or her own kitchenette. Describing the features of the cells often sounds more like an advertisement for a cozy, one bedroom, and its near opulence by prison standards has drawn resentment from a disbelieving world community.
Despite the obvious jokes surrounding the adage "if you can't beat them, join them," committing a crime in Austria for a cheap stay in the Justizzentrum is not advised. As of now, the prison is completely full and it doesn't take reservations.