Monday, July 02, 2007

Tough On Crime Norwegian Style

There was an infamous robbery in Norway that has finally made it's way through the court system with sentences being handed down. A depot holding Norwegian Krones, as well as other foreign currencies, was robbed of 60,000,00 Krones($10,000,000 U.S.) Twelve men were involved in the plot. Wearing paramilitary uniforms, acting as like a military commando squad, they broke in, the authorities were called, and they started firing at the police. A police officer was shot and killed. The men confessed to the robbery, but wouldn't reveal where more than 80% of the loot was hidden. Now read the following.

Norway's Supreme Court handed down generally tougher prison sentences on Friday to the 12 men convicted of planning and carrying out the most spectacular robbery in the country's history.

Prosecutors sought Norway's harshest sentence, 21 years in a special form of protective custody, for both mastermind Toska, and his main partner Kjell A Schumann. Both are career criminals, with Schumann having a long police record and involvement in some of Norway's other major armed robberies.

The top sentence handed down was 18 years. The shooter received 16 years with the potential of serving life because he was a career criminal, but that isn't guaranteed.

Picture how this would have been treated in most any other country in the world. The difference is that Norway considers prison to be rehab more than punishment. Police and prison guards are not armed. A person who received a short sentence of under 18 months or who has that amount of time left on his sentence is put in a facility with no bars because the Norwegians believe that to re-enter society properly, you must be acclimated to it.

Here is prison life at a glimpse at one work farm.
Bastoey is based on the idea that traditional, repressive prisons do not work. "The biggest mistake that our societies have made is to believe that you must punish hard to change criminals," explains Bastoey's governor, Oeyvind Aln├Žs. "This is wrong. The big closed prisons are criminal schools. If you treat people badly, they will behave badly. Anyone can be a citizen if we treat them well, respect them, and give them challenges and demands."

Bastoey's philosophy is that individuals will stop their criminal behaviour if they develop a sense of responsibility, as well as empathy. And the way to achieve that is to take care of the nature around them. In the stables, for instance, each person is responsible for a horse or a cow.

"I've seen people refuse to take leave because their favourite cow is giving birth," says Haavald, 58, who is serving a five-and-a-half year sentence for fraud and who shows the new arrivals how to work with horses. "One guy - who all his adult life had beaten up people to collect debts owed to criminals - one day, a calf was born and it did not breathe. This guy gave it mouth-to-mouth. You could see he was shaken."

The system isn't perfect. I would think that criminals who commit a robbery such as this one should forfeit their freedom because they came in expecting to and did commit deadly violence against a police officer.

But, it does lead one to question the philosophy we have in place in the USA. Our prisons are trade school where prisoners learn to hone their skills. They are surrounded by brutal sadistic corrupted guards in some cases, and they leave prison less adapted to function in society than when they came in.

As offensive as these prison sentences may be to some in this case, Norway with a population of 5,000,000 people, has 3,100 people in prison.The crime rate is incredibly low, recidivism also is much reduced.

In the United States, our criminal justice system might think about being "soft" on prisoners. That doesn't mean letting them lie around all day, it means actively engaging them with trained professionals, giving them job skills, social skills, and a smoother transition period back into civilian life.

If that means our sense of vengeance is lost, what a pity. Warehousing somebody for thirty years to come out useless to fend for themselves and be productive might make us feel better, but ends up not doing much more than that. Criminality doesn't extinguish itself because we lock more people up and treat them harshly. Our crime and prison stats confirm that.

Treating dogs with brutality, harsh punishment produces worse anti-social behavior than what they were "guilty" of to start. We really expect differently from people?