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May 9, 2011

Does Norway's success with a "cushy prison" suggest we ought to get softer on criminals?

The question in the title of this post is inspired by this fascinating article a helpful reader sent me from the Daily Mail across the pond.  The piece is titled "Norway's controversial 'cushy prison' experiment -- could it catch on in the UK?" and it carries this sub-heading: "Can a prison possibly justify treating its inmates with saunas, sunbeds and deckchairs if that prison has the lowest reoffending rate in Europe?  Live reports from Norway on the penal system that runs contrary to all our instincts -- but achieves everything we could wish for."  Here is one excerpt from an interesting read:

A recent opinion poll showed the British public wants harsher prison conditions; they don't agree with the Government's response to over-population and reoffending by pushing through far-reaching reforms which emphasise shorter sentences while placing prisoners in a working environment.

And yet, an extensive new study undertaken by researchers across all the Nordic countries reveals that the reoffending average across Europe is about 70-75 per cent. In Denmark, Sweden and Finland, the average is 30 per cent. In Norway it is 20 per cent. Thus Bastoy, at just 16 per cent, has the lowest reoffending rate in Europe.

Of course, Norway is one of the wealthiest, most sparsely populated and most stable countries in the world, with a population of just five million, and a prison population fluctuating around 3,500 inmates, the lowest percentage in Europe apart from Iceland; surely a special case.

Even so, whatever is happening here may be condemned, but cannot be ignored. Indeed, it is being positively embraced here - Norway is planning to build more prisons like Bastoy. At the expense of our own deep-seated unease, and with the possible benefits of safer streets, dare we ever contemplate such a prison regime in the UK?

May 9, 2011 at 01:07 PM | Permalink

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Comments

We need to educate them in the Votec areas, so they can get a descent job...Welding, cnc machining, electrical, construction, carpentry....
Good everyday type jobs....Then watch the rcidivism rates go down....Could cut the sentenceing down by 60% and still be far and away ahead....Doesn't take Wile Coyote super Genius to figure that one out...

Posted by: Josh | May 9, 2011 3:24:55 PM

I am sure that the victims of robbers, murders, and rapists will be thrilled to death that criminals will be living in such cushy prisons.

Posted by: jim | May 9, 2011 3:41:54 PM

There is nothing cushy about losing your freedom, but if you learn that society is prepared to give you the creative tools to make something of your life, and yes, treat you with respect for the human being you are (sometimes for the first time in your life), the chances are that given a second chance, you will take it, and reciprocate by treating others similarly. In reality, that is the only way the cycle of criminality can ever be broken. The problem of course for politicians is that the kind of trust involved, and the realignment of resources required, fits uneasily in a system of governance so utterly dependent on the ballot box. That many politicians and political parties have nurtured a fear of crime and criminals, and a psyche of punitive revenge, at the expense of measured and creative management of criminal behavior, makes a positive response to the growing evidence of the success of models such as used in Norway, all the more difficult. But none of this is rocket science. It just needs the political will across the board, to give empirical evidence of benefit, greater weight than the knee-jerk inclinations of a skeptical public. It's called leadership.

Posted by: peter | May 9, 2011 5:06:25 PM

It's easier to keep punishing people for the rest of their lives for making mistakes than try to rehabilitate them back into society as productive human beings again. The payoff would be better to support legislative efforts such as H.R. 5492: The Fresh Start Act ( http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-5492 ) Why not give people a second chance at cleaning up their past???

Posted by: james | May 9, 2011 6:10:55 PM

"It's easier to keep punishing people for the rest of their lives"

Yep, nailed it.

Posted by: Thomas | May 9, 2011 7:11:16 PM

At the very least it suggests Norwegian leaders don't suffer the sort of sissy complex that apparently afflicts so many American politicians.

Nowhere in the articles I've read about the "cushy prison" did I hear a single Norwegian pol lament the damage such a facility would do to the country's tough-guy image.

Posted by: John K | May 10, 2011 11:11:24 AM

Well said, peter.

Posted by: def atty | May 10, 2011 11:30:41 AM

That many politicians and political parties have nurtured a fear of crime and criminals, and a psyche of punitive revenge, at the expense of measured and creative management of criminal behavior

Posted by: red sox tickets | Jul 26, 2011 8:30:42 AM

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