Prisoners maintain order in national parks – “Without them, many reserves would have to be closed”

Hundreds of convicts take care of protected forests in different parts of Finland. Last year, Forestry officials would not have been able to cope with the increased workload if it had not been for the prisoners: due to the pandemic, the number of visitors to the reserves has increased by a third.

Few people know how important prison labor is in maintaining order in Finnish nature reserves.

– The nature reserves in Nuuksio, Seitseminen and Helvetinjärvi literally rely on prisoners. Our resources are so limited that without the labor of the prisoners, we would not have coped, many national parks would have to be closed. We simply would not have enough money to keep them in good condition, – comments the employee of the Forestry Department Arto Pummila .

Convicts are mainly engaged in yard procurement and sewage works. They also check the mapped routes, update the identification marks on forest trails, bypass walking trails in the spring and clear them of windbreaks. In the summer, it is necessary to renew the bridges, repair bridges and structures.

About 300-400 prisoners take part in the work every year. Usually, the prisoner participates in the work for several months.

Better working conditions and work in nature attract prisoners

Get to work in Vilppula Open Prison to the national park is considered a real privilege. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the prisoners in the reserve do not work for the prison, but for the Forestry Department. In addition to the fact that work takes place in the fresh air outside the prison walls, the salary is much better: if in prison inmates receive 1.05 euros per hour, then work in the open air is already estimated at 5 euros per hour.

During the pandemic, the Finns began to look for new ways to organize their leisure time and rushed to the national parks. During the year, the number of visitors to the reserves increased by a third and reached 1.5 million.

In the Pirkanmaa region alone, where the Seitseminen and Helvetinjärvi nature reserves are located, the number of visitors rose to 80,000. This means that the volume of harvesting firewood and land cleansing has also increased.

“One rescued addict is a million euros saved for the community”

The cooperation between the Forestry Administration and the Penitentiary Office started at the beginning of the millennium. The Forestry Department believes that the contribution of prisoners is important not only from the point of view of public benefit for visitors to reserves.

– For prisoners who come to work for us at the very end of their term, this is of great importance. Work gives them a perspective, these people, perhaps for the first time, see that there can be other meaning in life other than drugs and alcohol. They learn here to interact with other people, spend time in nature, form a connection with the world around them, – comments Arto Pummila from the Forestry Department.

The first prisoners entered the Nummela reserve in 2004.

– If at least one person after working with us quits drugs and improves his life, this will save society a million euros on average. It is necessary to socialize prisoners and teach them a normal life just before release, this increases the chances of not returning to a slippery road.