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September 24, 2013

Lengthy discussion of "Why Scandinavian Prisons Are Superior"

The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this notable lengthy new article at The Atlantic by Doran Larson. The piece carries the subheading "'Open' prisons, in which detainees are allowed to live like regular citizens, should be a model for the U.S." Here is a snippet from the piece:

Nordic prisons are not all open facilities. Closed prisons here date to the mid-19th century, copied from Philadelphia’s Eastern State, or New York’s Auburn, back when those prisons represented models of humane treatment. To an American eye, these prisons look like prisons: 10-meter walls, cameras, steel doors. I’ve heard men describe Scandinavian closed-prison conditions in ways that echo those of the American prison where I have led a writing workshop since 2006: officials intent on making life onerous, long hours in lockup, arbitrarily enforced rules.

Yet inside the four high-security prisons I’ve visited in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, common areas included table tennis, pool tables, steel darts, and aquariums. Prisoner art ornamented walls painted in mild greens and browns and blues. But the most profound difference is that correctional officers fill both rehabilitative and security roles. Each prisoner has a “contact officer” who monitors and helps advance progress toward return to the world outside—a practice introduced to help officers avoid the damage experienced by performing purely punitive functions: stress, hypertension, alcoholism, suicide, and other job-related hazards that today plague American corrections officers, who have an average life expectancy of 59.

This is all possible because, throughout Scandinavia, criminal justice policy rarely enters political debate. Decisions about best practices are left to professionals in the field, who are often published criminologists and consult closely with academics. Sustaining the barrier between populist politics and results-based prison policy are media that don’t sensationalize crime—if they report it at all. And all of this takes place in nations with established histories of consensual politics, relatively small and homogenous populations, and the best social service networks in the world, including the best public education. Standing outside a Nordic closed prison, the American son would have felt perfectly at ease. But inside, northern Europe’s closed facilities operate along the lines of humanism that American prisons abandoned early, under a host of pressures -- such as overcrowding, the push to make prisons profitable by contracting out collective labor, the use of unpaid prisoners as private farmhands, and, since 1973, the rise of an $80 billion mass incarceration industry. There is also the matter of scale. The prison population of Sweden (6,900) is less than half the population of Rikers Island at its height (14,000). Several prisons in the U.S. each hold nearly twice the prison population of Finland. This is not simply the difference between large and much smaller countries. U.S. incarceration rates are the highest in the world, about 10 times those throughout Scandinavia, which are among the world’s lowest.

September 24, 2013 at 06:53 PM | Permalink

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The low crime rate of these nations is a left wing propaganda myth. Try reporting a rape at knife point to a police station. You get thrown out unceremoniously, and the paper you attempted to fill out gets torn up, and filed in the trash. Inside those houses, the crime meter of abuse, alcoholism, and beatings is whirring apace. People are more passive, less likely to complain.

They are letting in dark skinned immigrants in a suicidal left wing pandering, and attempt to insure left wing victories in perpetuity. The left has been rebuked recently, and right wing parties are in government. This is the same tactic as the Democratic Party immigration reform, to overwhelm the other side with government dependent people. When immigrants, such as dark skinned Africans, Haitians, strive and outperform white people on the census, the Democratic Party gangbangers beat them up. The dark skinned immigrants maintain family values, are intelligent, hard working, and far more likely to vote for Republicans than the light skinned blacks of the USA. So they must be crushed.

The rate of bastardy in Scandinavia is very high, the influence and power of the neighbors to suppress crime will be eradicated, as is being done here, and crime will soar.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 24, 2013 7:07:38 PM

"Sustaining the barrier between populist politics and results-based prison policy are media that don’t sensationalize crime—if they report it at all."

Just so. God forbid that information about crime get out.

Don't I keep hearing from liberals about transparency? So which is it -- that we get told about crime or that it gets swept under the rug?

"And all of this takes place in nations with established histories of consensual politics, relatively small and homogenous populations, and the best social service networks in the world..."

Well right there you can see the difference. Our politics are deeply divided (equal numbers approve and disapprove Obama); our population is the third highest in the world; and it's anything but homogenous.

"...including the best public education."

Maybe allowing parents to choose their kids' schools (or homeschool them) might be a good idea after all. As long as we prop up failing schools with tax money, we'll continue to get failing students.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 24, 2013 7:26:52 PM

Scandinavia is populated by Scandinavians. When they admit more immigrants they will have more crime.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Sep 25, 2013 12:05:19 PM

"Scandinavia is populated by Scandinavians. When they admit more immigrants they will have more crime."

From Wikipedia:

According to Eurostat, in 2010, there were 1.33 million foreign-born residents in Sweden, corresponding to 14.3% of the total population. Of these, 859,000 (9.2%) were born outside the EU and 477,000 (5.1%) were born in another EU Member State.

That 14.3% a similar number to the US in 1980 (14.1%), according to census.gov. I don't know if their situation is similar to the US, where immigrants are far less likely than native-born citizens to commit crime.

Posted by: Allen | Sep 25, 2013 12:16:05 PM

Oops, I made a mistake in my post. The 1980 figure was the population in millions. The chart was a little confusing. It's close to the US's *current* immigrant population (12.9%), which is the highest since 1920.

Posted by: Allen | Sep 25, 2013 12:21:31 PM

This article very eloquently addresses a lot of the fault(s) within the American criminal justice system. It seems the system, and the American electorate, are less concerned with addressing the root causes of crime, or preventing crime, so much as merely inflicting as much pain and suffering as is (constitutionally) permissible onto those who commit it, whatever the societal costs.

There is, after all, an entire industry and politic that depends upon that very ideology. It's just such a shame that we have to sacrifice so much humanity in order to maintain our status quo.

Posted by: Guy | Sep 25, 2013 1:06:26 PM

Guy --

"It seems the system, and the American electorate, are less concerned with addressing the root causes of crime, or preventing crime, so much as merely inflicting as much pain and suffering as is (constitutionally) permissible onto those who commit it....It's just such a shame that we have to sacrifice so much humanity in order to maintain our status quo."

Actually, we are doing far, far better than maintaining the status quo. Crime is down by 50% over the last generation. That's a huge change in the "status quo." We must be doing something right, wouldn't you think?

Are our vastly more expensive anti-poverty programs doing anywhere near as well? Where's the evidence for that?

The reason the Left never likes to talk about the great success we have had in fighting crime -- and the humanitarian and economic benefits less crime creates -- is that it belies the Left's narrative that compassion and rehab work while cops and prisons don't. The truth turns out to be the opposite: Cops and prisons work, and rehab and compassion don't.

Sixties vs. Nineties, Guy. The figures are not even close.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 25, 2013 3:22:27 PM

You know, I didn't fear my government and the erosion of Constitutional rights in the sixties as much as I do now.

I still think that the use of video games and unleaded gas today vs leaded gas in the 60's and 70's is a better explanation of the reduction in crime than cops and prosecutors.

Not even close!

Posted by: albeed | Sep 25, 2013 9:58:42 PM

Crime was a product of various things and citing prisons as the only reason there was a decrease in it is myopic. It is not like there was too little punishment when crime rose.

And, even if such a high imprisonment rate is necessary, the "root cause" of this unfortunate (even if allegedly necessary) result should be addressed. Likewise, better treatment of prisoners themselves (especially given the fact they will eventually leave prison in most cases, even Bill Otis not thinking many of them should be lifers or executed) as spelled out in the article is quite conceivable.

Finally, the cost of education, anti-poverty programs etc. repeatedly are much lower than the cost of prosecuting and imprisoning people. If cost effectiveness is your angle.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 26, 2013 10:49:13 AM

Joe --

"Crime was a product of various things and citing prisons as the only reason there was a decrease in it is myopic."

That is why, in this thread and previous ones, I did not cite prison as the only reason.

"It is not like there was too little punishment when crime rose."

The numbers, and the studies, show that's EXACTLY what it was like.

The human race has known from the dawn of civilization that there is a direct relationship between crime and punishment. This ancient truth has not disappeared because it has become inconvenient to the let-them-out crowd.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 26, 2013 12:45:43 PM

Bill Otis writes that "crime is down by 50% over the last generation. That's a huge change in the "status quo." We must be doing something right, wouldn't you think?" I think that Mao Tse Tung said something similar.

Posted by: Sandra from Ohio | Sep 26, 2013 12:56:06 PM

'As long as we prop up failing schools with tax money...' and I'm so ecstatic that it's your tax dollars also

'The human race has known from the dawn of civilization that there is a direct relationship between crime and punishment.'... along with corresponding counter reactions of revolt and anarchy against those heavy handed law setting 1 percenters throughout history

Posted by: walter white | Sep 26, 2013 7:54:04 PM

Bill --

We're spending more money on prisons than on education (and, indeed, sentencing reform is being grown out of the realization that we cannot continue to afford to incarcerate so many of our citizens, questions of morality and efficacy of crime prevention aside). Our life expectancy & health care is akin to some third-world countries. We have the greatest gap between the wealthy and the poor in the developed world (a gap that continues to grow). Our societal health indicators, generally, are among the poorest in the developed world.

Yet, we are really good at one thing: locking people up. Yet, for our incarceration fever, we only get returns that put our crime rate on par with other nations that don't share our affinity for lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key "justice." Why, if you were correct Bill, you'd figure America would be the safest place that there had ever been. It's post hoc ergo propter hoc, and a notion which I don't imagine anyone will ever disabuse you of.

Posted by: Guy | Sep 27, 2013 9:40:09 AM

Guy --

So we'd be better off having left the crime rate where it was 20 years ago?

Yes or no.

And locking up more criminal doesn't help reduce crime?

Yes or no.

Forget the propter hoc stuff and just say what you (obviously) actually think, to wit, Amerika stinks. That's about it, right?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 28, 2013 8:54:06 PM

Sandra from Ohio --

"Bill Otis writes that 'crime is down by 50% over the last generation. That's a huge change in the "status quo." We must be doing something right, wouldn't you think?' I think that Mao Tse Tung said something similar."

And Hitler said that two plus two equals four.

Your point is............what? That's crime is not down dramatically? That that's not a change in the status quo? That reduced crime is a bad thing?

What? Do tell.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 28, 2013 8:59:58 PM

The notion that Scandinavian media do not report crime is very, very wrong. Crime, after all is much rarer there. A murder that might not even merit an article in Los Angeles or New Orleans can make the fron pages for a week. A rape makes the front pages not only in the city where it happens, but about a quarter of the country.

Posted by: Grim | Oct 1, 2013 4:04:18 AM

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