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Hundreds volunteer as test inmates at new Zurich prison

Food is served through a prison door hatch
Test inmates can choose between halal, vegetarian and meat menu options. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

More than 600 people have applied to become test inmates of a new prison opening in Zurich, which has capacity for 241 remand prisoners.

Successful volunteers will experience real prison conditions between March 24 and 27. Inmates will have to surrender electronic devices, including mobile phones, and will be offered halal, vegetarian or meat menus. Strip searches on arrival are optional and successful applicants cannot transfer their ‘get into jail’ pass to anyone else.

The cantonal authorities came up with the unusual idea to give the facility and staff a test run before the prison starts taking real inmates in April. Some of the wardens and other staff have been newly recruited.

The deadline for volunteering as an inmate expires later this month. But Le Temps newspaper reports that the number of applications from people living in the canton is already nearly three times the capacity of the prison.

Prison director Marc Eiermann told the newspaper that volunteers should not expect a “holiday camp” but would be free to leave at any time.

He added that the pilot project should be a good way of “ensuring the proper functioning of daily operations and allowing wardens to familiarise themselves with the facility”.

The project is only open to adults living in canton Zurich and applicants must agree to background checks to check their suitability to participate.

The new Zurich West prison was built partly to alleviate criticism of conditions for remand prisoners in the canton.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR