When a 75-year-old from the Swiss canton of Thurgau was slapped with a 700-franc traffic fine recently, he took the unusual step of deciding to go behind bars for a week rather than pay the financial penalty.
“I am retired and had time to go to the slammer. My family were against the idea, but I wanted to enjoy the luxury,” he told regional daily the Frauenfelder Nachrichten, which used a false name for the prisoner.
“I really enjoyed the week. The meals always came on time and the service was super,” he said, complaining only that the facility had been a little “stingy” with the coffee.
The pensioner went on to describe a relaxing week of Sudoku and reading the paper, while praising the quality of the bed in his individual cell where, to his surprise, he was even allowed to smoke in his cell.
But the experience of the minimum-security prison did leave the 75-year-old wondering whether the prison regime in Switzerland is tough enough – and whether the high costs are justified.
“I find it totally inappropriate that criminals are dealt with in this way. They could just as well be shut up in a hotel,” he said, suggesting house arrest would be a better solution for people convicted of minor crimes.
“Instead of sitting around, these people could do something – picking up rubbish for example,” he told the Frauenfelder Nachrichten.
'Prisoners being chained up'
But conditions in Swiss prisons do not always receive such glowing reviews.
A recent report from the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture revealed prisoners at the Thorberg prison in the canton of Bern were being chained to the wall while in solitary confinement.
The anti-torture group described the punishment, which saw agitated prisoners being chained at the ankle and wrist, as “inappropriate” and “out-dated”.
But prison director Thomas Egger said the measure was necessary for prisoners' own protection and were only used “once or twice” a year.
In late 2017, some 50 prisoners at the Thorberg prison went on strike calling for better food, more pay and a sex room. The demand for a sex room was honoured, but details of how it would function had yet to be established, Swiss news agency SDA/ATS reported at the time.