« Two midsummer New York Times editorials lamenting federal sentencing nightmares | Main | Broad perspectives on the narrowness of recent federal clemency and sentencing reform efforts »

August 7, 2016

"Norway Proves That Treating Prison Inmates As Human Beings Actually Works"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy recent Huffington Post piece drawn from a book about prisons around the world authored by Baz Dreisinger. Here are excerpts: 

Bastoy is an open prison, a concept born in Finland during the 1930s and now part of the norm throughout Scandinavia, where prisoners can sometimes keep their jobs on the outside while serving time, commuting daily.  Thirty percent of Norway’s prisons are open, and Bastoy, a notorious reformatory for boys converted in 1982 to a prison, is considered the crown jewel of them all....

Nothing represents the Norwegian way like its prison system, which has adopted a “principle of normality,” according to which punishment is the restriction of liberty itself and which mandates that no one shall serve their sentence under stricter circumstances than is required by the security of the community.

Criminologist John Pratt summed up the Scandinavian approach using the term “penal exceptionalism,” referring to these countries’ low rates of imprisonment and humane prison conditions.  Prisons here are small, most housing fewer than 100 people and some just a handful.  They’re spread all over the country, which keeps prisoners close to their families and communities, and are designed to resemble life on the outside as much as possible.

An incarcerated person’s community continues to handle his health care, education and other social services while he’s incarcerated.  The Norwegian import model, as it is known, thus connects people in prison to the same welfare organizations as other citizens and creates what’s called a seamless sentence ― a person belongs to the same municipality before and after prison.  Sentences here are short, averaging an estimated eight months, as compared to America, where the estimated average sentence was 4.5 years in 2012.  Almost no one serves all his time, and after one-third of it is complete, a person in prison can apply for home leave and spend up to half his sentence off the premises.

And the most highly touted aspect of the humane Norwegian prison system is the fact that it seems to work.  Crime rates are very low, and the recidivism rate is a mere 20 percent.

August 7, 2016 at 10:39 PM | Permalink


No more than Singapore "proves" the opposite. No meaningful conclusions can be drawn in any case. Because of different reporting standards on recidivism rates, "international comparisons are currently not valid." http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4472929/

Posted by: statutory minimum | Aug 7, 2016 11:44:38 PM

The article makes the major error of stating that:

"And the most highly touted aspect of the humane Norwegian prison system is the fact that it seems to work. Crime rates are very low, and the recidivism rate is a mere 20 percent."

There is zero evidence that either the low crime rates or the low recidivism rates are a product of their "prison" system. Clearly, there appears no reason for the prison system to to cause any deterrent effect, initially, or with recidivism.

Those are the producst of many other systems, governmental, social and cultural, as most folks are aware, particularly if you take a look at their system.

What may have been left out is that Norway has a huge deportation rate of criminal non Norweigen citizens as well as of non criminal asylym seekers.

Norway, a country of about 5 million, expels about 8000 folks per year, some with no hearings, the equivakent of 500,000 per year in the US, which is about what we do deport, per year.

Read the series of articles, here:


Not only is oil an overwhelming income source for Norway, but the government has created a hugley successful oil fund which protects them from volitility in the oil markets, unlike many other oil based economies - see the total collapse of Venezuela. Norway's oil fund is so huge and its mabnagement so successful that financial investments has become the major financial source in Norway, not annual oil revenues.


Heck, maybe responsible financial management and criminal control does matter!?


Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Aug 8, 2016 9:36:08 AM

The article doesn't claim that the prison system caused the low crime rate, just that it "seemed to work," which makes sense as long as it doesn't contribute to the crime rate. In other words, if the has equal deterrence value, it would work.

Posted by: Erik M | Aug 8, 2016 2:11:59 PM


The comments help explain why America is "incarceration nation." America is addicted to incarceration, and most citizens love it. Until the citizens complain, America will become like Ronald Reagan joked that eventually half the people in America will be in prison and the other half will be prison guards.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 8, 2016 3:33:27 PM


In fact, it did make that claim:

"And the most highly touted aspect of the humane Norwegian prison system is the fact that it seems to work. Crime rates are very low, and the recidivism rate is a mere 20 percent."

There is zero evidence to support the claim, which gives us insight into the entire article.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Aug 9, 2016 8:46:44 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB