Inmates at downtown Reykjavík’s very own jailhouse, Hegningarhúsið on Skólavörðustígur, often request earplugs so that they may get a full night’s sleep. The earplugs are needed to muffle the noise from the city’s “vibrant nightlife” as engaged in at nearby bars and cafés, according to Hegningarhúsið director Guðmundur Gíslason, who spoke extensively with national broadcaster RÁS 1 about the downtown prison.
“I don’t think it’s common for inmates to need earplugs to be able to sleep,” Guðmundur said. However, he added, “we have three restaurants or bars almost right next to the prison walls, and at night the sounds of people having fun tend to keep prisoners awake.” The 140-year old facility, which originally housed 30 prisoners, can now legally hold 24 inmates.
A constant source of debate, Hegningarhúsið’s problems were recently highlighted when a drunken reveller managed to climb onto its roof before promptly proceeding to pass out there, as DV reports. The prison’s problematic city centre location has been a growing concern in recent years, with plans afoot to discontinue the facility in 2016, when the long awaited Hólmsheiði prison is scheduled to open for business on the outskirts of Reykjavík.
The negative impact of Reykjavík’s nightlife on prisoners’well-being is the latest on a long list of Hegningarhúsið’s problems, and simply soundproofing the cells might not be the most pressing of the prisoners’ needs, according to Guðmundur. Indeed, he offers, the cells lack basic facilities that today’s health authorities deem necessary, such as toilets. In line with this, the prison has been operating on a health exemption over the past decade, as Pressan notes.