Welcome to a modern jail.
One of the most controversial aspects in the governing ways of the western world is how the justice system is handled. The death penalty still exists in more than half of the United States, and prisons such as Guantanamo Bay hold their captives under harsh living conditions that violate human rights. However, some countries, such as Norway, utilise a different approach: restorative justice. Instead of making prisoners live in inhumane conditions, or making use of the death penalty, the concept referred to as ‘retributive justice’ (as the motive is based on hatred and revenge,) the Norwegian government favours rehabilitation over punishment. Through restorative justice, captives are sent to live away from society, but within a community where they can live with, and as human beings, eventually returning to society when they are deemed rehabilitated, achieving all this in a non-punitive approach.
A simple diagram showing the aspects of restorative justice
Retribution and Rehabilitation
“Justice demands retribution.”
A key aspect of a justice system is its purpose; is it to punish its criminals, or rehabilitate them? Many prisons in the United States have stepped back from rehabilitating their inmates in favour of punishment, to make them pay for their crimes. In the US, the 1970s were considered the turning point from rehabilitation to a punitive approach, and since then, the function of a prison switched from rehabilitation to giving them a hard time behind bars. This concept, retributive justice, brandishes a very punishing approach, from solitary confinement, which is harmful to human beings both physically and psychologically, to extreme, staff brutality on prisoners.
Norway, on the other hand, presents a new perspective. Through restorative justice, all prisoners are expected to be released to society once they are deemed rehabilitated, and live productive lives within their prisons, within a community while being provided with various facilities. They only restrict people’s freedom, but allow them to live normal lives, further reinforcing their main focus of rehabilitation. This is summed up by Are Hoidel’s words, director of Halden Prison: “Every inmates in Norwegian prison are going back to the society. Do you want people who are angry – or people who are rehabilitated?”
Human Rights: The Humane Way
It is difficult for western civilisation to see any other way to deal with criminals than to incarcerate and punish them, as this is the way their society has shaped a majority of them. Many American jails even actually fail to uphold basic human rights, yet it still continues on, with no immediate solution and very little concern by society.
In Norway, however, prisoners are actually treated like human beings and succeed in upholding their human rights. They allow them to live in a community that is much like the outside world, residing in small studio-type rooms, complete with a bed, desk, and flat-screen televisions. They are provided with various facilities such as kitchens and music rooms, are provided education, healthcare, and have productive work for them, and all of this in an attempt to both rehabilitate them while still respecting their human integrity. The government even promises that these prisoners should not only have a life inside of prison, but outside too, by providing them with necessities such as housing and employment.
USA vs Norway, on Recidivism Rates
While the two justice systems are radically different in many ways, both ultimately strive to obtain something in the end: Results. Incarceration rates are a statistic that indicate how many people are arrested within that country’s population. Recidivism rates, on the other hand, is the vital statistic that can determine the success of the prison system, and effectively dictates the results of a prison sentence in the respective country, as it is the rate of prisoners being rearrested, due to a repeated offense or a whole new one altogether.
USA: 707 out of every 100,00 people
Norway: Only 75 people out of every 100,00 people
While the two countries have vastly different population numbers, Norway having 5.19 million people, while the US has about 321 million people, and while Norway has 10 times less people committing crimes, the difference between the two recidivism rates, which is arguably the most vital statistic, is still completely staggering, and really do show the results of a restorative justice system, that promotes rehabilitation instead of punishment. If emotions, including the desire for revenge and retribution, were set aside, these results alone indicate the success of restorative justice in Norwegian prisons, making it an incredibly viable option for delivering justice and making society safer while at the same time resolving crime in a proven, effective method.
The Counter-claim: A Limited Sentence
A possible counter-claim to this argument for Norway’s prison system is the length of a prisoner’s sentence. Murderers included, the maximum sentence that a judge can give to a criminal is only 21 years, which is very short compared to most Western Prison sentences. While the Norwegian criminals should ultimately be rehabilitated by the time they are released, they are also expected to be held accountable for their own actions and therefore must pay with time.
The Solution? Extensions
Despite the very limited time frame in which a criminal can be sentenced,the solution is the extension of their sentence. Even though maximum sentence is only 21 years, this sentence can be increased by 5 year increments every five years, and this can be increased indefinitely, if they are not deemed to be rehabilitated and still pose as a threat to society.
Restorative justice should not be such a foreign concept, as it actually is an effective and modern approach to crime. Social standards of the western world are fueled by strong emotions, such as hate, the desire for retribution, and these all promote a socially constructed world ruled by hatred, violence, fear, and ignorance.
Restorative justice presents a great solution to the ever-increasing crime rates in the western world, and should at some point be integrated as the main form of justice as opposed to punitive methods.