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Tuesday's papers: Prisons proposal, baby bonus bust, sick suburbs and a pricey ticket to Parliament

A bold plan to overhaul prisons, a baby bonus deemed illegal, worries over sick suburbs and a 50,000-euro MP's seat.

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The Oulu-based paper Kaleva reports on a proposal by the Criminal Sanctions Agency, Rise, to reform the country's prison system, partly by centralising prisons in large cities and new growth centres. The proposed locations for correctional facilities would be the Helsinki region as well as Turku, Tampere, Jyväskylä, Kuopio, Oulu, Vaasa and Hämeenlinna.

The paper's reporting is based on a memo acquired by the Lännen Media news consortium, which contains an analysis of the current prison network. The agency handed the document over to the Justice Ministry in April, Kaleva noted.

"We are hoping for a decision in next year's budget schedule, or by the end of this year," said Rise development manager Pauli Nieminen.

According to the analysis, there are roughly 7,000 convicts in the prison system, with 3,000 of them in custody at any given time. The proposed reforms would reduce the annual number of occupants by 1,000 a year in 20 years. At the same time the number of open prisons and the use of ankle monitors would increase to cover half of the system's inmates, compared to one-third today.

Rise's overhaul of the prison system also calls for complete renovations to existing prisons. In the future, two-thirds of convicts would do time in new facilities. Rise expects that the rationalisation of the prison network would reduce annual spending by up to seven percent or 32 million euros in 20 years. Kaleva wrote that the vision also involves preventing recidivism or repeat offences by devoting an additional 260 person-years in resources to working with inmates, thereby further decreasing the annual prison population by 1,000 in 20 years.

Baby bonus goes bust

The tiny town of Sulkava in southeastern Finland found itself on the wrong side of the local administrative court when it tried to boost its population by introducing a kind of baby bonus, reports the tabloid daily Ilta-Sanomat.

The paper writes that with a population of just 2,500 give or take, city officials agreed to introduce a baby bonus in the form of a tax rebate. However the measure proved to be illegal because it set families on an unequal footing. City leaders agreed to the measure last February, however one councillor opposed it and filed a complaint with the local administrative court.

The Eastern Finland Administrative Court sided with the complainant and revoked the benefit, which would have refunded taxes paid by families with babies born last year or this year as a fixed "stipend". It also blocked the city council from paying out any gratuities.

The court estimated that a resident earning 1,500 euros a month would have paid 900 euros in local taxes last year, while another with a monthly salary of 5,000 euros would have contributed 11,600 euros in taxes. Both would have received the same stipend. IS concluded that residents in Sulkava apparently "got busy between the sheets" but got no baby bonus.

Worries over apartment block suburbs

Finland's 600-odd apartment block suburbs are in social and economic decline and pose a challenge to the incoming government, according to research highlighted by capital-based daily Helsingin Sanomat.

The paper unravels the work of Helsinki University researcher Mats Stjernberg, whose urban geography dissertation argued that concentrations of multi-story flats feature higher levels of unemployment and lower incomes than other areas. Stjernberg also found that on average, residents of such communities also fell ill more often and died younger than people living in other areas.

Apartment blocks constructed in the 1960s and 70s account for one-third of all residential buildings in the country. However they are now coming to the end of their useful lives, Stjernberg said. That means a cycle of costly renovations to homes that are less likely to sell on the real estate market. While it makes sense to spend on home improvements in Helsinki, homes are likely to be demolished in other locations experiencing population loss, the dissertation argued.

HS writes that the new administration led by Antti Rinne is worried about the situation. It aims to build new transportation connections and affordable housing as well as strengthen local democracy. It has developed a cross-governmental programme to promote wellbeing and inclusiveness and to revitalise residential areas.

The price of a ticket to Parliament

With the deadline approaching for MPs to declare their political campaign spending, IS runs an analysis of incoming lawmakers' campaign budgets. Topping the list of big spenders was the National Coalition Party's Pauli Kiuru, whose overall ticket to parliament cost nearly 77,000 euros, of which 18,096 came from donors. According to IS, Kiuru's out-of pocket spending -- around 59,000 euros -- could buy a fancy car or even pay off a loan. The paper asked Kiuru if it made sense to invest that much in a job.

"Before the election, Ilta-Sanomat wrote a story saying that Pauli Kiuru has the cheapest car of all MPs, a 1,500-euro Mazda. I have no loans and I have a second [investment] home. Now I also have a job for four years," Kiuru countered.

Prime Minister Antti Rinne was also a major league spender with a declared campaign budget of 62,691 euros, all of it coming from well-wishers.

At the far end of the spectrum, NCP MP and former television personality Jaana Pelkonen got more bang for her campaign buck than any of her parliamentary colleagues. According to her declaration, she spent a total of just 872 euros on her campaign, more than half of which (487 euros) came from donors.

IS noted that with the filing deadline due on 17 June, just one-third of elected MPs had filed campaign spending declarations.

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