Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons Season 5 finale recap: Greenland

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The season 5 finale of Netflix series Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons deviates from expectations. It’s much like the season 3 finale, where host Raphael Rowe took us inside Norway’s surprisingly humane Halden Prison. This time we get a look inside of Greenland’s Nuuk Maximum Security Prison.  As is the nature of these recaps, you’ll find some of my opinions scattered throughout, but they’re really only meant to function as bits of food for thought.

Though the country of Greenland has a population of less than 60,000, Rowe tells us it has a murder rate twice as high as America, with a total of 148 police officers. Row further explains that Denmark’s colonial rule broke up Greenland’s hunting communities, implying that this may be a factor in its social problems. As an added quirk, most people in the city of Nuuk know each other, creating a potentially awkward experience between convicts and jailers. Prisoners used to be sent to Denmark, but the newly established prison inside Nuuk is an attempt to distance itself from the colonial past while keeping the prison population closer to home.

Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons: Is life in Nuuk tough?

Much like the Halden Prison episode, Raphael Rowe expresses some surprise at the relatively comfortable surroundings in a prison. However, unlike Halden, Rowe does not seem particularly impressed by Nuuk’s prison guards, who seem to strike him as inexperienced if things should ever get out of hand. One of the few guards with more experience is Karsten. At the same time, Rowe might be overlooking the possible advantages of having fresh faces, which might (at least theoretically) present fresh perspectives.

Rowe spends time in the section of Nuuk Prison where most dangerous prisoners reside. Potential dangerousness aside, the inmates enjoy the courtesy of TVs, decent lighting, a fridge, a window, and decent toilets and showers (in stark contrast to certain run-down facilities he’s toured in the past). Rowe also meets Kali and learns that Kali’s brother made hashish cigarettes in his cell. While Rowe focuses on this a little bit, there’s no indication the prisoner was being violent to other prisoners or guards.

Independent living

Much like other episodes of Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons, we learn that, to an extent, prisoners are expected to take care of themselves. After all, why expect guards to basically hold a prisoner’s hand the entire time, guiding them every single step of the way? In this case, inmates cook for themselves. We soon meet Marshall, an inmate transported from Denmark who says he would get beaten up for stealing as a kid, which only helped him become a criminal.

Though the prison has an obnoxious 9 PM curfew, we do witness a therapy session where the prisoners can make Christmas decorations. Rowe also steps out into the prison’s smoking room. While Rowe suggests the guards are a bit too inexperienced, the episode really doesn’t provide significant examples of it being a problem. In fact, people seem to get along pretty well in the prison.

Differences of opinion

Next, we meet an inmate named Kali, who goes into some detail about how he ended up at Nuuk. After claiming he was treated better in Denmark, Kali also laments that many of his friends committed suicide, implying that depression has been a prevalent experience in his social circles. He also says he had anger issues and murdered someone over some political disagreement (though he doesn’t specify which issue set him off). He says he regrets it, but that may be partly because he’s serving an indefinite sentence.


Some prisons on Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons barely allow prisoners to gain skills for careers outside of crime, but Nuuk is quite different. Not only is work available, but well-behaved prisoners can actually leave the prison walls to work outside. One such prisoner, Nikolai, even boasts that he gets paid better than guards, which may well be true.

Nikolai, another man in prison for dealing hash, has a job repairing boats and tells Rowe that he plans on giving up his criminal life. Not only does he compare the prison to a hotel, but he even says he has a date with some woman after work!

Luxury or not?

After seeing so many intentionally tough prisons on this show, it’s pretty easy to say Nuuk seems almost like paradise compared to some places. Kali actually has a mobile phone from the prison, with the safeguard that his calls are monitored. He also has a Playstation and Bluray player. The question is, should prisoners be especially punished or treated like regular people who perhaps need some degree of separation from greater society?

At Nuuk, the prisoners seem encouraged to make themselves at home. It may not be paradise, but they almost seem to appreciate going outside to do mundane tasks like shoveling snow (and it doesn’t hurt when, according to Rowe, people can sometimes see majestic whales in the water). As we’ve seen throughout the series, many prisoners already faced plenty of punishment on the outside anyway, which is often how they end up behind bars in the first place.

For example, Kali went into an orphanage after his parents couldn’t take care of him and say the Danish authorities kept his parents from taking him back (though he communicates with them now). That’s possibly not the harshest story ever told, but how many layers of punishing circumstances would one need on top of that in the name of reforming somebody?

The seal hunt

As the episode winds down, Raphael Rowe encourages us to ask a few key questions: Does having guards who know the prisoners help or hurt? Is the prison staff scared of the prisoners? As noted before, there really isn’t a strong indication of anyone shaking in their proverbial boots regarding the inmates, but it’s still possible that the prison’s unprepared for things getting out of hand. Then again, if a prison’s environment gives inmates less to rebel against, aren’t they a little less likely to lash out?

When Rowe accompanies certain inmates on a seal-hunting trip, it becomes even clearer that Nuuk is a little different. He briefly interviews an inmate named Aku, who’s serving 8 years for killing someone, and he doesn’t even remember why he did it. We also learn that Marshall has family visiting. Lastly, the prison’s governor, identified as Tina, says the prison is focused more on rehabilitation than punishment, which is reflected by nearly every aspect of the episode.

What are your thoughts on Inside the World’s Toughest Prisons? Let us know in the comments!

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