Convicted sex offenders and violent criminals were let loose from a Norwegian prison this week when guards went on strike, forcing the government to free 52 inmates.

“Some of these are prisoners convicted for violence, drugs, economic crime and sex crimes,” Harald Aasaune, the manager of the Bjoergvin prison outside Bergen, said on Friday.

“Bjoergvin is an open prison, but still, many of them are sitting in relatively long sentences,” he added. “I don’t think this has ever happened before.”

Four of Bjoergvin’s prisoners were released on probation while 48 were granted a five-day furlough as guards joined other public workers on strike.

State workers in Norway, whose rapid economic growth stands out in a troubled continent, went on strike for the first time in 28 years on Thursday after pay talks broke down, shutting schools, child care centres and other public institutions.

The indefinite strike initially affected up to 30,000 of the 600,000 people employed by the central and local governments but it is expected to widen unless the two sides reach a settlement.

Norway’s open prisons allow inmates to roam freely, primarily in a natural setting, as the Nordic nation’s justice system focuses on rehabilitation over incarceration.

Violent criminals who pose a danger to society are not allowed in open prisons but even they, particularly toward the end of a sentence, are sometimes transferred to such facilities.

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