Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Penal System: USA vs Norway

I keep having a train of thoughts that chase themselves round and round in my head on this subject. So I've decided to regurgitate them here in the hopes that they'd then leave me alone.

I have such mixed feelings about our current penal system. Because on the one hand we have one of the highest rates of recidivism in the world. We have the highest prison population on the entire planet. And there are very many stories about how a stay in our system seems to turn nonviolent, misdemeanor offenders into hardened, violent career criminals. Clearly something is amiss with the current way we deal with people.

And then I see prisons in places like Norway (for example: http://prasetio30.hubpages.com/hub/The-Most-Luxurious-Prison-In-The-World-Complete-With-Pictures) that are so beautiful they look like a high end dorm room on a rather nice school campus. And part of me rebels at this idea b/c I've been thoroughly indoctrinated that prison is PUNISHMENT and as such it should be unpleasant and you should do hard labor braking rocks all day and spend your nights in a bare 8x10 foot cell b/c you're being punished for doing something wrong.

And yet, Norway is clearly doing something RIGHT b/c their prison population is one of the smallest in the world (not really that impressive given they're pretty tiny to begin with) but far more impressive is that their rate of recidivism is a FRACTION of ours. Norway's recidivism rate is about 20%. Thats less than a third of our roughly 67% (http://pcr-consultants.com/2011/07/norway-v-american-criminal-justice-statistics/).

Now THAT impresses me. That says to me we should pay attention. B/c as far as I'm concerned the point of punishing people with prison is so they won't want to do it again.  But clearly we're failing at that b/c all we really have is a revolving door.

And so I wonder if there isn't something to this "soft" handling of prisoners. And yet I've still got this "but they're there to be punished b/c they did wrong. They have to pay".

Part of me thinks back to the stories that I've read in the Book of Mormon. When ever they had prisoners of any kind there they basically tried to teach them the error of their ways (rehabilitation?) and if they learned and promised to be good then they would let them go, but otherwise they would put them to death so that they wouldn't be a drain and a threat to the people.

Kind of an interesting thought there. Granted I don't think massively expanding capital punishment is necessarily the answer (although I'm all for it in the case of repeat sex offenders who show no signs of or desire for rehabilitation but thats just my opinion).

I don't know. I don't have the answer. I just have a really hard time with the concept of the maximum prison sentence no matter how heinous the crime is being 21 years w/ parole at 14. That just doesn't seem remotely just to me. And yet their statistics speak volumes all by themselves. Clearly they're doing something right by their people.

And so I am in conflict. These ideals that I was raised with vs this incredibly compassionate system that focuses so much on rehabilitation (don't get me wrong - I have NO problem w/ the rehabilitation focus. I LIKE that part and think we should work on it more here, I'm balking at the short time frame and the high end accomodations). But the overall standard of living there is through the roof. I'd be really, REALLY hard pressed to justify that kind of luxury living for criminals here when there are children starving in our streets ya know?

One of my girlfriends is living in Norway and was telling me about the crazy benefits you get from the government if you have kids. You get a few thousand dollars just for having a kid. More if you had a job before you had the kid. You automatically get a generously paid maternity leave, as does the father. And more than that the government basically pays you child support every month for the next 16 years!!

Thats just mind blowing.

My next question was "How much do you pay in taxes?" and the response was "About 30%". And I'm like "THATS IT??!!" We pay more than that here and don't get CRAP back in comparison.

This just boggles the mind. OH and the medical care? Completely paid for.

And as far as I'm aware Norway isn't currently in the middle of a fiscal crisis like the rest of the planet so I want to know what the heck their secret is. B/c right now they're makin the rest of us look like the redheaded step child and personally I'm a proud American and I don't much care for that sensation. lol


  1. Ami,

    As you might know - I lived in Norway for two years. I don't know how your friend is getting away with 30% taxes - we (rather Garys company) paid over 70% in taxes and that was typical for how much Gary was making ... Thus all the government programs.

    Also - Norway is a relatively new country, having been under the rule of Sweden until 1905 and are fiercely independent, good people. Crime is almost unheard of there and most murders are solved because the one who killed walks into the police station and confesses having real remorse. That is why this latest senseless killing was so odd - it is totally inconceivable to Norwegians that one of their own is capable of that sort of thing.

    My Norwegian friends were so lost, not having a clue how to process what had happened ... That was something that happened other places - but not here ... Never here. They are having a hard time with that 21 years maximum sentence now, also.

    Norway was a very poor, humble country with it's citizens treated almost as second class citizens while under the rule of Sweden, and had many times in their history been invaded an taken over by one group or another. They never had a big army, didn't fight, just adapted to who ever had conquered them that time ... And were survivors.

    That all changed In the late 1960's when oil was discovered in their waters and now are a ridiculously wealthy country - using the monies earned from their newfound petroleum industry for health care, higher education and generously contributing to the United Nations and countries in need, but the bulk of the monies made is saved and held in reserve for future generations.

    Living there was very interesting and there is a lot to be said about a socialist society when done right. They seem to be healthy, intelligent, happy people and fiercely proud of their heritage. Other than the fact that Norway is one of the most expensive places to live - I had nothing but good things to say about Norway and Norwegians ...except

    ... They are THE MOST xenophobic people I have ever known or even heard of. Discrimination is a given and if you are not a Norwegian ! Good luck having anyone hire you (except in situations like Gary). They are losing their younger population (thus the money paid to families per child) to other countries because if a person marries someone who is not Norwegian, it is impossible for them to live in Norway since the Non-Norwegian spouse will most likely never be hired HUGELY discriminatory and they as a country know they are like this - the newspapers are full of stories about the problems associated with being such a xenophobic country - yet nothing seems to change it ...

    Other than that I totally fell in love with Norway and it's people ... But then, again - that 70% tax rate money was not coming directly out of my pocket - so we had all the fun without having to worry about the financial end of things ... What could be funner?

  2. Wow thanks for your comments Lori! I really appreciate the perspective. Not sure exactly where she gets her numbers but thats what she was telling me the other day.