PRISTINA/COPENHAGEN, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Denmark will send up to 300 convicts set for deportation to prison in Kosovo and help fund green energy in the Balkan state in return, Kosovo's justice minister said on Thursday.
The deal, which aims to alleviate strains in Denmark's prison system, has prompted concern over the treatment of the prisoners. Denmark said they would be treated the same.
It is part of plans outlined this week by the Danish government to channel more money into the country's prison system to cope with years of staff exodus and the highest number of convicts since the 1950s, partly due to rising gang violence.
The 300 Kosovo cells are intended for convicted criminals from non-European Union countries who were due to be deported from Denmark after their sentences. They will serve their terms in a correctional centre in the eastern town of Gjilan, the country's Justice Minister Albulena Haxhiu said.
"The inmates who will be transferred to this institution will not be of high risk," he said in a statement.
The agreement, which has yet to be approved by Kosovo's parliament, involves the Balkan country receiving 210 million euros, which will be dedicated to capital investments, in particular for renewable energy projects.
The ten-year agreement between the two countries is due to be signed next week, the minister said.
A 2020 report by the U.S. State Department outlined problems in Kosovo's prisons and detention centres, including violence between prisoners, corruption, exposure to radical religious or political views, lack of medical care and sometimes violence from staff.
Copenhagen-based defense attorney Kristian Braad, a former public prosecutor said the deal was controversial.
"I'm really worried about this idea, because we are headed down a path we cannot control," he said. "The consequence may be that they don't get the rights they are entitled to, both human rights and rules for how we treat prisoners in Denmark."
Denmark's Justice Minister Nick Hekkerup said he is confident sending criminals to Kosovo will live up to international human rights standards.
"We have done what we can to ensure that this is within the rules. The exact same rules will apply as for prisons in Denmark," he told local media in Copenhagen.
"The deported convicts still be able to get visitors, although that will, of course, be difficult," he said.
At the moment, Kosovo, one of Europe's poorest countries of 1.8 million people, has 1,642 prisoners in 11 jails and detention centres which can together hold around 2,400 inmates.
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