“I thought that modern penology has abandoned that rehabilitation thing”
November 12, 2012 12:54 PM   Subscribe

In Sentencing Criminals, Is Norway Too Soft? Or Are We Too Harsh?
It’s not very often the concept of restorative justice gets much play outside scholarly publications or reformist criminal justice circles, so first, some credit for Max Fisher at The Atlantic for giving it an earnest look last week. In seeking to explain Norway’s seemingly measly twenty-one-year sentence for remorseless, mass-murdering white supremacist Anders Breivik—a sentence that is certain to be extended to last the rest of his life—Fisher casts a critical eye on the underlying philosophy that animates that country’s sentencing practices, finding it to be “radically different” from what we’re used to in the United States.
The Effectiveness of Restorative Justice Practices: A Meta-Analysis

Inside The World's Most Humane Prison at Halden (previously), Norway, called by The Economist Plush and Unusual Punishment (Norway's Modern Prisons, previously). Norway also has the famous prison island of Bastøy.

Terror, Trial and Justice in Norway
The contrast in these figures is quite striking, and despite the initial shock at what seems to be the near luxury of the most recently built prison, the statistics show that the Norwegian approach is relatively effective. However, we do need to bear in mind that, unlike the U.S., Norway is a small country, with a fairly homogeneous population.
Anders Breivik and the Norwegian Justice System

'Restorative justice emphasizes repairing the harm caused by crime. When victims, offenders and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformational.'

Brief Information About The Norwegian Legal System, from NORLAG, Norwegian Mission of Rule of Law Advisers to Georgia.
posted by the man of twists and turns (87 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." -Dostoevsky

We're too harsh.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:03 PM on November 12, 2012 [28 favorites]


Scandinavia : The Culture :: US : Idiran
posted by leotrotsky at 1:16 PM on November 12, 2012 [29 favorites]


Ultimately, there is really only one set of statistical measures that matter: crimes per unit population, violent crimes per unit population, and recidivism per unit of previously convicted population.

While I am personally appalled at the (provisionally) light-seeming 21 years for Breivik, I also think that the "or until deemed no longer a threat" is actually painfully open ended, and it is difficult to dispute the success (for the most part, and probably only exclusively within its own cultural milieu) of Norway's criminal justice system.
posted by chimaera at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Softer sentences are usually doled out by ingroups to others of the group. Had Brevik been a Muslim immigrant from Somalia, you would've seen many calls within Norway to reform the prison system or find a way to punish the criminal more harshly. This isn't unique to Norway but may help explain the US a bit better as one of the most heterogeneous countries on earth, that also happens to have higher incarceration rates of minorities.
posted by cell divide at 1:30 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's... No evidence of that whatsoever?
posted by Artw at 1:35 PM on November 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


When you send a guy to prison for a mandatory minimum sentence of 80 years for doing something that actually complied with state laws, well, harsh isn't the first word that comes to mind.
posted by DreamerFi at 1:35 PM on November 12, 2012 [15 favorites]


crimes per unit population, violent crimes per unit population, and recidivism per unit of previously convicted population

One of these things is not like the others...
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:36 PM on November 12, 2012


One of these things is not like the others...

That's right, it's not. But in order to determine the effectiveness of your incarceration practices, one must not consider it successful ONLY if crime in general drops, but if recidivism also drops. These goals (lower crime in general, less repeat criminality) go hand in hand.
posted by chimaera at 1:39 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it fascinating (and somewhat depressing) that Max Fisher cannot comprehend that a rational human being might believe that 21 years is a "just" sentence for an act of mass violence. Clearly those socialist Norweigans have been "subverted" somehow.

Also defending the US Justice system on the grounds that it meets an "intrinsic emotional need"? Really? That's Max's view on how public policy should be determined?
posted by Frank Exchange Of Views at 1:39 PM on November 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


These goals (lower crime in general, less repeat criminality) go hand in hand.

I was referring to the fact that "crime in general" and "recidivism" are not only correlated but also highly sensitive to what is considered a crime (e.g., smoking a joint vs. wiping out billions in public assets). By changing the laws to avoid victimless crimes, one can have an immediate impact on both of these, whereas violent crimes, while also sensitive to definition (see, e.g., "stand your ground" laws), are a little harder to affect.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:46 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Restorative justice plays a big role in the U.S. justice system, and it has at least since William Penn tried to reform prisoners through hard work. But it is expensive as hell, and the will to implement it across the board for everyone who is convicted just isn't there--particularly when everyone agrees that social services for non-criminals are still inadequate. It's much easier for a country like Norway to commit to expensive restorative justice programs: they have a much higher GDP per capita than the U.S. and five gun homicides, total, in 2005.
posted by hyperbovine at 1:46 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your analogy made me headtilt, leotrotsky. Isn't it Scandinavia : The US :: The Culture : The Idirans?

Either that or there's a major civilizational patronage arrangement happening that nobody told me about.
posted by Scientist at 1:46 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


These are difficult issues, but I tend to believe that Breivik's sentence was far too harsh. I believe strongly in restorative justice; but the expectation of a 21-year sentence, even as open-ended as it is, is that it will take 21 years for Anders Breivik to confront what he has done and come to terms with having killed all of those people so that he can become an honest citizen and retake his place as a happy and productive member of society. That's a ludicrous expectation to set for any human being; even the best kind of person would have great difficulty facing up to a crime of that enormity. The court asked Anders Breivik to do two things: to rationally contemplate the meaning of his crime, and to envision a future life as a member of society. I genuinely don't believe this is possible; and demanding that a human being attempt something so soul-crushing is unfair and in fact cruel.

There is no way any human being can work his or her way back to humankind, to happiness and wholeness, after having done what Breivik did. The most merciful sentence for Anders Breivik would have been a death sentence.
posted by koeselitz at 1:48 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Your analogy made me headtilt , leotrotsky. Isn't it Scandinavia : The US :: The Culture : The Idirans?

Either that or there's a major civilizational patronage arrangement happening that nobody told me about.


God damn it. No signal discipline around here.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:49 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]




Oh, and the man of twists and turns? Thank you for this post. I've put the main paper in my bibliography for future reference.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:49 PM on November 12, 2012


Ah, I see your meaning, Mental Wimp, and am in total agreement -- consider my comment changed to be violent crime rates/recidivism, as those are indeed less sensitive to political redefinition/cultural variation.
posted by chimaera at 1:49 PM on November 12, 2012


What we in the U.S. too easily forget is that all those criminals and prisoners are going to be back out in society soon. Now "all" is not literal--0.01% or 0.1% or maybe even 1% will die (or be executed) behind bars. But for the purpose of this argument, that doesn't matter. Essentially all of them are coming back out to live and make their way among the rest of us.

A massive number of people cycling in and out of prison means that our culture as a whole is more and more influenced by prison culture.

And U.S. prison culture is very, very bad.

I can't speak in generalities, but the people I know who have gone to prison have had some very serious social and personal problems to start with.* Those problems led to a series of poor decisions ultimately resulting in the crime that finally sent them to prison.

And then they spent years in prison, which in the U.S. is about the most dysfunctional social situation one could probably imagine or design. You're cut off from essentially all positive social support and thrown into a system where all your social contacts are with people even more screwed up than you are.

So they go in screwed up and after years of living in prison they come out--you guessed it--even more screwed up.

And then in this 'even more screwed up' state, they're back out in society, and generally with minimal support of any kind. To this, add difficulties finding jobs, housing, partners, etc., even more so than before they went in to prison. The result is all to often a person with few to no employable skills, screwed up social skills, emotional and mental problems, and little or no support base.** This is not a recipe for success!

And the Norwegian example tells us it does not have to be that way.

I care about restorative justice for prisoners because I'm a do-gooder, but care about it for our society because I care about myself and my family and my neighborhood and our own safety. And because it's a lot better for everyone involved to have a the highest possible percentage of people convicted of crime get the help they need to become functioning, productive, and contributing members of society, to the degree they are capable of it. Because the alternatives to that are not very pleasant for anyone.

*I realize this isn't the only possible path the prison but it's the pattern followed by pretty much everyone I personally know who's ended up there.

**Again this is a generalization and thankfully there are many individual exceptions.

posted by flug at 1:50 PM on November 12, 2012 [43 favorites]


The Fisher article seems to assume that there is some universal sense of what consistitutes "just punishment" for a given crime; and that the good ol' USA is of course much closer to the mark then those Norwegians.

He just doesn't want to face the facts that most US Americans must be sadists because some people feel that 21 years is pretty much close to the mark.
posted by mary8nne at 1:52 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


chimaera, thanks for the follow-up. I see we are on the same page.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:55 PM on November 12, 2012


It's much easier for a country like Norway to commit to expensive restorative justice programs: they have a much higher GDP per capita than the U.S. and five gun homicides, total, in 2005.

They also don't incarcerate ~1% of their adult population, which means they can afford to splurge on restorative programs.
posted by Frank Exchange Of Views at 1:55 PM on November 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


The Fisher article is an interesting read, and I felt that he was genuinely trying (while admitting ultimately his failure to do so) to understand how a different justice system works - but he does end up setting up something of a false opposition between punishment in the US versus restorative justice in Norway.

For a start that model elides some rather different concepts of restorative justice. In its broadest sense restorative justice is used rather loosely to mean any justice system that prioritises trying to mend the harm that crimes causes, and involves victims and the community in doing that. So many western justice systems try to meet those objectives, at least in part, that I was interested at how Fisher started by the end to wonder about how these objectives could comfortably sit alongside punishment at all. Without much difficulty, is the answer that a number of justice systems have found.

There is a much narrower definition or restorative justice, though, focused on the victim and the offender coming together either directly or indirectly to discuss the impact of the crime and potentially agree on how it should be resolved. It's this sort of intervention (direct conferencing in particular) that can have the most significant impact on re-offending rates for some offences, and also has very high levels of satisfaction for victims (although participants on both sides can be self-selecting - if the offender is not showing genuine remorse, or the victim isn't keen on confronting the offender, then the intervention simply won't happen). This, I presume, is not the sort of intervention that Breivik will be getting.

And as for punishment, as chimaera points out, 21 years is not a fixed length of sentence and really what Breivik's serving is a form of preventative detention: "we will not let you out until we are comfortable you won't re-offend". That is something which lots of western jurisdictions have. While it's possible to see it, as Fisher does, as lacking a primary focus on punishment, it's also been characterised by many critics it as an illiberal approach to sentencing that leaves the offender in limbo about their eventual fate and which is ultimately disproportionately punitive compared to a purely retributive system in which everyone gets a fixed measure of punishment according to the seriousness of the offence. Ultimately Fisher seemed to return to the argument that 21 years simply isn't enough: which is an argument that takes for granted (without digging further) that Norway doesn't have sufficient focus on punishment.
posted by greycap at 2:05 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Damnit, Scientist is right. I can't see how I could have gotten that wrong, seeing how often I use analogies in my daily life.
posted by leotrotsky at 2:08 PM on November 12, 2012


you really have to take outliers like breivik off the table if you want to have a policy discussion about incarceration. your mansons and your breiviks have essentially nothing to do with why we have prisons and what (if anything) they're good for.
posted by facetious at 2:11 PM on November 12, 2012 [24 favorites]


I'm surprised- Fisher writes about the space provided for victims in the trial, their biographies, their hopes and dreams, and explains that it is a place for the victims to be remembered and their families to have an opportunity for some healing. Yet, he only perceives justice as being retributive, or punishing the criminal, rather than allowing for a little bit of healing.

He has such a narrow sense of what justice must look like, as others have already noted.

Facetious brings up a great point about outliers.

In other articles comparing Norway's system, I've noted that Norway seems to find a way to acknowledge societies place in the crime, while places like the US or the UK refuse to recognize that criminals often have been failed by society. It seems that is part of the reason that Norway is open to rehabilitation and the US is not. THere was a case in particular that compared two young boys who commited a murder in England, with a boy who committed a similar crime in Norway, and the huge differences in the way the entire country seemed to respond. If anyone knows what I'm referencing, the link would be useful, but I'm uncertain what to look for.
posted by thankyouforyourconsideration at 2:20 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


THere was a case in particular that compared two young boys who commited a murder in England, with a boy who committed a similar crime in Norway, and the huge differences in the way the entire country seemed to respond. If anyone knows what I'm referencing, the link would be useful, but I'm uncertain what to look for.

I believe this comparison with the infamous Jamie Bulger case is what you are looking for.
posted by dsfan at 2:24 PM on November 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


The court asked Anders Breivik to do two things: to rationally contemplate the meaning of his crime, and to envision a future life as a member of society. I genuinely don't believe this is possible; and demanding that a human being attempt something so soul-crushing is unfair and in fact cruel.

There is no way any human being can work his or her way back to humankind, to happiness and wholeness, after having done what Breivik did. The most merciful sentence for Anders Breivik would have been a death sentence.


So asking a mass murderer think about his actions (which there is no guarantee he will do) is cruel and the death sentence is merciful?

Welcome to Metafilter opposite land, where schmoopy hippie nonsense gets blended with right-wing death cult fetishism to bring us the best of both worlds.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:26 PM on November 12, 2012 [12 favorites]


OTOH, Breivik is complaining that his prison conditions are inhumane because they rush his morning ablutions.
posted by hariya at 2:32 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it were my kid he killed you could chop of his head and I would feel ok about it.
posted by Postroad at 2:43 PM on November 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Fisher article seems to assume that there is some universal sense of what consistitutes "just punishment" for a given crime; and that the good ol' USA is of course much closer to the mark then those Norwegians.

That's the result of a mix of "objective" journalism and American exceptionalism, where obviously the truth has to lie somewhere in the middle, while of course America can be criticised, but not too harshly when compared to foreign standards

The most merciful sentence for Anders Breivik would have been a death sentence.

Which is what he wanted, but the Norwegians might be gentle, kind, people, but they're not afraid to kill with kindness, for example by mass singsongs of the one hippy drippy multiculti song he hated more than most or by giving him enough time to life to reflect on what a miserable, hateful fuckup he was, how little what he did will matter in the long run for how Norway as a country develops. If he at any time will develop enough of a consciousness to realise what he did to the people he murdered and their families, finally realises that he didn't kill commies or internal enemies or any of the other labels he had to give them to be able to kill them, it will destroy him.

And that's a much harsher punishment than hanging him, one that does justice to the country's nature.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:46 PM on November 12, 2012 [18 favorites]


On a more general note, hard cases make bad law and one of the things that has impressed me the most about the Norwegian response to this atrocity is how little call there has been for harsher punishment, for law reform to punish monsters like Breivik better.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:48 PM on November 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


I didn't reckon that I would ever get the chance to say this, but Knut Hamsun's novel 'The Growth of the Soil' is relevant to this discussion.
posted by mr. digits at 2:50 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


MartinWisse: And that's a much harsher punishment than hanging him, one that does justice to the country's nature.
That was my thought as well. I also thought of this well-worn quote:
“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”—J. R. R. Tolkien
posted by ob1quixote at 2:56 PM on November 12, 2012 [7 favorites]


If he at any time will develop enough of a consciousness to realise what he did to the people he murdered and their families, finally realises that he didn't kill commies or internal enemies or any of the other labels he had to give them to be able to kill them, it will destroy him.

Do you know what it's like to wake up one morning and discover you're a monster, a murderer?

I'm not trying to draw parallels, I was just reminded.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:58 PM on November 12, 2012


The Fisher article is an interesting read, and I felt that he was genuinely trying (while admitting ultimately his failure to do so) to understand how a different justice system works - but he does end up setting up something of a false opposition between punishment in the US versus restorative justice in Norway.

It's an interesting case study in how someone can have the instrumental intelligence to write clearly without actually being very good at thinking. The numerous, proven benefits of the Norwegian system and the lack of a wave of crime predicted by advocates of the Hang 'em High school of justice are waved aside like so much factual detritus. The actual testimony from the victims and their families that they find the process healing is just a sidebar to him.

What's really important here - elevated to the rank of counterpoint to the evidence is Mr. Fisher's feeling that he doesn't like it! No need to even consider, by the way, several thousand years of Western and non-Western philosophy regarding what "justice" means. His personal views are of paramount importance.
posted by atrazine at 3:06 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


However, we do need to bear in mind that, unlike the U.S., Norway is a small country, with a fairly homogeneous population
Shorter: non-whites warrant harsher treatment than whites.
posted by scelerat at 3:14 PM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]


Flug, I couldn't have said that better myself. The US prison system is so cruel and dysfunctional that there's no way to justify it except though an appeal to vengeance, and even that doesn't apply to huge numbers of the people who get trapped there.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:18 PM on November 12, 2012


From the article:
Norwegians, of course, including survivors and their family members, seem to have widely accepted Breivik’s sentence, suggesting that the system has actually fulfilled their desire for justice and fairness (a fact Fisher acknowledges and finds “jarring”). “That’s how it should work,” one survivor of the massacre said of the sentence. “That’s staying true to our principles and the best evidence that he hasn’t changed society.”

God damn, that gave me pause for thought.
posted by Lucien Dark at 3:22 PM on November 12, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's sad. There are monolithic institutions in place that make prisoners slaves for the benefit of privately owned entities, and their mere existence is a tragedy of justice. When individuals benefit financially from incarceration, the profit motive will find a way to imprison people for any reason to suit the needs of the institution instead of the needs of society.

My own father was chewed up and spit out by that system. If you're poor, you simply have no chance: once misdemeanor ticket turns into a bench warrant for failure to show up. Short on gas? You have to work because you're living hand to mouth? Fuck you: show up. If you get fired for your job and then you have to steal or deal to try and make rent, fuck you again. If all this stress causes you to lash out against a cop, fuck you, it's felony assault for telling the cop to kiss your ass right before he grinds your face into the pavement to "subdue" you.

It's so bad that my father received a charge of obstructing justice for calling 911 and reporting police brutality. Not to mention the stories we hear of cops murdering people in their homes for the crime of having forbidden vegetables. It's utterly bizarre for a free society to have these kinds of problems because we don't live in a free society.

Anyway, soon the bench warrant combines with any other minor infraction so that the police now target you and pull you over when they see you, because they know there's something they can probably take you in for and check a box on a quarterly report.

There are a lot of good cops out there, but they are just as culpable as the bad apples. They don't snitch. They don't turn the guy in shaking down kids for weed and pills to sell to their friends later. They just watch, with indifference, as long as their paycheck clears and they get perks too from being masters in the sado-masochostic farce that is our justice system.

My dad is a white guy who has family that can help him out. Minorities, people in need of mental health programs, and the truly poor have such an enormous institutional mountain to climb on a daily basis that I cannot imagine the strength it must take for anyone to make it out alive.

Now that we know the majority of the country believes in sensible taxes and that it's okay to have a minority president, I think the next triumph of progress should be the elimination of poverty. We have the money. The system is just broken, and it's falling into all of the wrong hands, and being invested in an apocalyptic vision of the future that by it's nature will lead to more injustice.

I'm going to go break the law by lighting one up and listening to Bill Hicks talk about ending poverty world wide and thus ending all reason for war by investing in constructive technology instead of destructive technology. Let me do the math quickly:

The River Bend food bank has an operating budget of approximately 12 million per year, and with that money, they distribute 6 million pounds. That includes the entire apparatus: food banks, food pantries, and I assume deliveries. Let's assume it would be less in other parts of the world.

We're spending about 3 billion dollars a year on our Drone program. That 1.5 billion pounds of food, and with each person needing 250 pounds per year, we could feed 6 million people.

Let's take just one quarter of our combined defense budget of 700 billion: that would feed 280 million people. If we could get that matched by other economic zones, you can see that it would be possible to feed the neediest of the world's poor, which would relieve a major stress that causes instability, which often leads to tyranny and terrorism.

Anyway. Some things are impossible. Redirecting our efforts to focus on rehabilitation instead of punishment is frankly something that should already be happening, and America's policies on these issues is nothing less than shameful. It's not that we lack the resources to help people who need it, but the institutions that benefit from the strife have entrenched themselves and we need to throw them out. We can redirect the money towards positive ends for less money, and have a more just society and less taxes to boot. This is an issue that can unite both Libertarians and Democrats, and I think the time has come to put an end to the fear mongering that has led America astray these last 70 years.

All we have to do is organize, and then vote.

Anyway, I'll get back to my illegal hobby and stop rambling. Stay saucy out there, folks. The long arc of justice is going in the right direction. Just make sure you're lending a hand instead of wishing, even if it's just ten bucks here and there. The difference you feel when you look in the mirror is worth a million times more than any material reward that you would have instead.
posted by tripping daisy at 3:27 PM on November 12, 2012 [22 favorites]


Comparing the United States, a country of over 314 million of a extremely wide variety of races, cultures, origins, religions, and more with Norway, a country of 5 million people of a mostly homogenous population is silly.

You might as well as compare the criminal sentencing of Los Angles with Dubuque, Iowa
posted by 2manyusernames at 4:13 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Restorative justice works when you have a vision for society and for people's place in it. The more structured that society is and the more universally shared the vision is the better you're going to do at enforcing universally accepted standards of behavior. Of course that works both ways- in a totally homogeneous society it's also easier to get people to go along with bad or repressive ideas. I think the last 12 years has shown us that many, many American's don't have any kind of cohesive vision of their society or anyone's place in it. In fact many American's are actively opposed to the idea of pulling together for the common good. So punishment becomes just a lesson in keeping your head down and law enforcement is one big round of whack-a-mole.
posted by fshgrl at 4:16 PM on November 12, 2012


Comparing the United States, a country of over 314 million of a extremely wide variety of races, cultures, origins, religions, and more with Norway, a country of 5 million people of a mostly homogenous population is silly.

Implicit in your argument is that human beings don't share the same basic goals, and I completely disagree with that sentiment. Who said Americans don't want to feed the poor because they are from different backgrounds?

The main difference between Norway and America is that the Norwegian government exists to further the interests of Norwegian individuals, and the American government exists to further the interest of moneyed interests because they haven't been voted out. That's it.
posted by tripping daisy at 4:22 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the last 12 years has shown us that many, many Americans don't have any kind of cohesive vision of their society or anyone's place in it.

No, there have definitely been portions of American history where we had visions for society and for peoples' places in it. A lot of them still have those visions!

On a less sinister note, can you really have a single, unifying vision for society and remain committed to diversity? You are going to run into people who don't share your vision. What happens to them?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:23 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are going to run into people who don't share your vision. What happens to them?

They can piss off to a new world and burn witches at the stake!

:P
posted by palbo at 4:37 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Comparing the United States, a country of over 314 million of a extremely wide variety of races, cultures, origins, religions, and more with Norway, a country of 5 million people of a mostly homogenous population is silly.

The implication seems to be that sentencing should be affected by the race/culture/origin/religion/etc of the participants. But obviously that's not right. So maybe what's meant is that the end result (i.e. recidivism rate) from the same sentence carried out in both places would vary because of these factors? If so, it seems that at the very least a case needs to be made for this.
posted by glhaynes at 4:45 PM on November 12, 2012


They should have given him 21 years per killing.
posted by delmoi at 4:47 PM on November 12, 2012


The implication seems to be that sentencing should be affected by the race/culture/origin/religion/etc of the participants. But obviously that's not right.

No, the implication is that a tiny country with massive oil revenues, extremely high GDP per capita, no responsibilities to protect the rest of the world, no borders with developing nations, with a tiny, homogenous population all relatively well-educated and ideologically close, and that therefore does not have to deal with extremely complicated, huge-scale issues of multiculturalism, immigration, and urban poverty over a vast geographical terrain, may be more easily able to spend its money on plush prisons and restorative justice -- and on a cradle-to-grave welfare state generally.
posted by shivohum at 5:01 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm really not seeing why a "we're larger, we're more diverse" argument can or should be maintained. Basically what I think you're saying is that you have a permanent underclass of black people, and that's the reason you have more prisoners and more recidivism. To which i say, hmmmm....
posted by wilful at 5:04 PM on November 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


You might as well as compare the criminal sentencing of Los Angles with Dubuque, Iowa
According to this list the incarceration rate in California is 0.47% while the incarceration rate in Iowa is 0.29%.

So the incarceration rate is 62% higher in California then in Iowa

On the other hand, according to this list the incarceration rate in the US is 0.73% while the incarceration rate in norway is 0.073.

So the incarceration rate in the US is 900% higher in then in Norway.


So no, the difference between the US and Norway is nothing at all like the difference between California and Iowa, not even close.

(Also, note that the state and nation stats differ on overall US incarceration, with the state list giving a figure of 0.503 for the US. I'm just using those numbers to compare CA and IA. I've seen numbers as high as 1% for the US incarceration rate)
The implication seems to be that sentencing should be affected by the race/culture/origin/religion/etc of the participants.
Well, the most charitable view of the statement is that some "cultures" in the US have more punitive views about incarceration. A quick view at the list of states to see which ones have the highest rates should give you a pretty good idea what kind of "cultural" viewpoints lead to high incarceration rates.
posted by delmoi at 5:05 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm really not seeing why a "we're larger, we're more diverse" argument can or should be maintained. Basically what I think you're saying is that you have a permanent underclass of black people, and that's the reason you have more prisoners and more recidivism.

I don't think it's that at all. I've seen this expressed, with studies, though I sadly can't remember enough of the right words to google them. Basically, the idea is that since humans are evolved to think of tribes as small groups of people, it is mentally easier for them to consider helping people who are very similar to them - as part of their "tribe" - than it is to consider helping others. There's something else about the moralities of scale, too - it's hard for our brains to wrap around the difference between killing five and killing a thousand.

Someone doesn't have to think multiculturalism is wrong to think that this is a possible monkey-brain issue.
posted by corb at 5:11 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Just gonna fisk that statement shivohum

>a tiny country with massive oil revenues, extremely high GDP per capita,

Actually Norway was like this before the oil boom, and other scandianvian countries are like this, so i don't think that's it. Also, the US is still very very wealthy.

>no responsibilities to protect the rest of the world,

really, you don't have that responsibility thrust on you, it's your own choice. The rest of the world isn't really asking for it.

>no borders with developing nations,

So it's the brown people?

>with a tiny, homogenous population all relatively well-educated

Australia is just as multicultural as the USA, yet has a far lower incarceration rate. Though i think you're onto something about education standards.

>and ideologically close,

yes, it is about ideology. that's the point.

> does not have to deal with extremely complicated, huge-scale issues of multiculturalism, immigration,

The Us is not uniquely multicultural.

>and urban poverty over

Yes, there is this. However, you're trapped in a vicious circle here - incarceration makes urban poverty worse

> a vast geographical terrain,

this really has nothing to do with it.

>may be more easily able to spend its money on plush prisons and restorative justice

Where is the data that says Norwegian prisons cost more? Reduced recidivism would suggest they cost less.

>and on a cradle-to-grave welfare state generally.

Well that's your country's problem, not the rest of the world's.
posted by wilful at 5:11 PM on November 12, 2012 [13 favorites]


On a less sinister note, can you really have a single, unifying vision for society and remain committed to diversity? You are going to run into people who don't share your vision. What happens to them?

Robert Putnam found* that diversity in a community is inversely correlated with trust. If people don't trust each other, they're unlikely to have a shared vision for the community, so there's a conflict (and probably the strongest group just forces its vision). He suggested that the way around that was to define diversity away, and create new identities that bring people together.

* I think this is the original paper.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 5:16 PM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think what some others are pointing out is that Norway is far more culturally homogeneous than the US. That is, by and large, most Norwegian citizens have common beliefs on legal outcomes, what constitutes fair punishment, the role of the government, and so on.
posted by orrnyereg at 5:17 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's about racism.
posted by wuwei at 5:18 PM on November 12, 2012


[Folks, make your case without insulting entire nations of people, or come back when you can.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:51 PM on November 12, 2012


Well, since we're throwing all the countries in the pot (or under the bus), let me mention that Singapore has a very low crime rate and a population similar in size to Norway, but manages it by being much tougher on crime.
posted by FJT at 5:58 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Basically, the idea is that since humans are evolved to think of tribes as small groups of people, it is mentally easier for them to consider helping people who are very similar to them - as part of their "tribe" - than it is to consider helping others.
*rolls eyes* typical evo-psych nonsense. There are a ton of "theories" based on stuff like "Oh, back in the day people who did X would be more likely to pass on their genes, therefore, we evolved to do X" (where 'X' is some common thing in society). It's completely non-falsifiable and ignores the fact that evolution is actually pretty convoluted and things that might have evolved to do Y might also randomly cause X. Or things may have evolved long before we were even "human"

Anyway, one of the problems with that specific argument is that early humans would have never seen people of other races. Nearby "tribes" would have looked exactly the same. (just look at the bloodiest ethnic conflicts in recent years - most of them were between groups that are visually indistinguishable. Sunni and Shia in Iraq, for example)

----

Also, speaking about Anders Breivik - I don't really get how you could ever let him out. How would you know if he was "fixed" or just faking it?

I think he is fundamentally different from a normal criminal, or a normal psycho. In his mind he was fighting for a "community" he believed existed based on reading fringe websites - but not that fringe. There are probably millions of people in Europe and the US who agree with his ideology, if not his methods.

In his mind, he's a soldier and now a POW. What's to prevent him from going "back to the fight" if he's released in 20 years? He was obviously capable of long-term planning.
posted by delmoi at 6:17 PM on November 12, 2012


Basically, the idea is that since humans are evolved to think of tribes as small groups of people, it is mentally easier for them to consider helping people who are very similar to them - as part of their "tribe" - than it is to consider helping others.

You would think 2000 years of 'Love one another' would have made a dent.
posted by carsonb at 6:20 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your analogy made me headtilt, leotrotsky. Isn't it Scandinavia : The US :: The Culture : The Idirans?

Either way, the US is Azad, not Idir.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:29 PM on November 12, 2012


I'm really not seeing why a "we're larger, we're more diverse" argument can or should be maintained. Basically what I think you're saying is that you have a permanent underclass of black people, and that's the reason you have more prisoners and more recidivism. To which i say, hmmmm....

That's not what I'm saying at all and I don't appreciate being called a racist. What I'm saying is that it's become clear there is a lot of division in the US about what society should look like, what people want it to look like and a lot of people basically don't want to participate in society at this point except for commerce. When a significant chunk of your populace genuinely believes that they are solely responsible for their own success and is actively opposing things like universal health care and science education and is engaged in an ongoing ideological battle with another huge chunk of your populace who thinks they're mad then it's going to be pretty hard to rally everyone around the idea of a functioning society with expected behavior that's necessary for restorative incarceration.

I'm not assigning moral values to anyone's actions here I'm just pointing out that Norway and the US are apples and oranges when it comes to being able to go to an incarcerated prisoner and say "this is the role society expects of you ongoing and it's the best thing for us all so we're going to support you and make it happen". After all, if my local newspaper is to be believed a significant chunk of the US population believes that the best thing for us all would be if prisoners died in a ditch. And that's only if the homeowner misses and they make it to prison in the first place.
posted by fshgrl at 6:35 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, speaking about Anders Breivik - I don't really get how you could ever let him out. How would you know if he was "fixed" or just faking it?

I very much doubt he will ever be released.
posted by fshgrl at 6:36 PM on November 12, 2012


Fisher: "A German study from last year found that people who believe they've witnessed injustice become less happy, as if living in a just society were an intrinsic emotional need."

I guess he and I would differ on whether we think that living in a just society is shown by a socially inclusive welfare net and a desire not to give up on people or just very long prison sentences and police/prison brutality. YMMV of course, and don't bother tipping the Norweigan waiter as he's on a living wage anyway.
posted by jaduncan at 6:51 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is an excellent post, and the Fisher article was interesting, if not convincing.

I really have to wonder if there is some fundamentally different psychological process going on between myself and people who favor retributive justice.

The idea that criminals need to pay some price for society to be whole truly has no resonance for me. And I know it's really THE only consideration for many other people. And I don't know that there's any bridging that gulf.
posted by graphnerd at 7:00 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is no way any human being can work his or her way back to humankind, to happiness and wholeness, after having done what Breivik did. The most merciful sentence for Anders Breivik would have been a death sentence.

I am inclined to agree, not that I think it is what they should do, but that it would be more merciful.

I was imagining two things while thinking about this.

First I remembered the scene at the end of 1984, Winston with tears in his eyes saying "I love you, Big Brother". Of course Brevik's thinking and his deeds were horrific. But what they are asking of him is the same as what was asked of Winston - reject everything you ever thought, and rework yourself into the mold that society accepts. Again, not wrong to want to do this to him, but it will be a very tough order for him to ever truly be a happy and productive "normal" person.

Second, I tried to imagine him as a postal carrier back in society as an older man, going around door to door telling people who he was, and what he did. I just couldn't imagine that being possible.

Because if he really, truly, really really became right in the head there is just no way he could live with the horror that he was. It is a paradoxical place he is in now. We'll know he is reformed when he kills himself.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:03 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because if he really, truly, really really became right in the head there is just no way he could live with the horror that he was. It is a paradoxical place he is in now. We'll know he is reformed when he kills himself.

I'd call bull on this. There are plenty of examples (post-WWII Nazis, individuals involved in ethnic violence in the Balkans or Central Africa) of people who have admitted their evil pasts and gone on to survive and even thrive. Some have found solace in religion or a secular equivalent which offers redemption and a purpose to replace their former worldviews, other simply turn to the same basic elements of human life - pursuing physical and emotional sustenance, relationships, etc. to provide their ongoing rationale for life.

It's also possible that he could come to feel remorse for the killings while retaining his more fundamental anti-immigrant, anti-multiculturalist views, which would allow him to be integrated into the political spectrum as a more-or-less accepted spokesman for those views (after expressing suitable public remorse, of course). Given that there will always be people who share Brevik's views (if not necessarily his overtly violent way of expressing them) it is possible he could be let out of jail and then become some sort of fixture on the Right-wing talk circuit, or whatever the Scandinavian equivalent is. Hell, he could move across the Atlantic and find himself a new home.

Plenty of people do horrible things and then go on with their lives. Arguably that has been the core experience of the surviving soldier returning home from Odysseus onwards. The will to live is a powerful thing.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:47 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Which, looking back over my comment, is not to make Brevik's actions the equivalent of those taken by soldiers on the battlefield (especially given how much he'd probably love that comparison) - the point is, people can hold the two thoughts of "I did terrible deeds to innocent people" and "I want to continue to live/feel I can contribute to the world in a positive way in future" in their heads and not be "paradoxical". Ironically, this notion that DEATH IS THE ONLY WAY TO EXPUNGE THIS PAST DEED is one of the key roots of the justice-as-punishment model being derided in this thread, and thus a) rather weird in this context and b) something which we cannot reasonable assume to be shared by Brevik, coming from his culture and not ours.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:54 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I disagree, AdamCSnider. I could say that this comes down to personal responsibility, and on some level I think it does – it doesn't really matter what culture you come from; when you've done something wrong to hurt others, the good demands that you make it right, and doing so it the only path to restorative justice.

But more to the point, I guess, there are things a person can do that can make death preferable to life. I sincerely believe that to say otherwise is to utterly underestimate the enormity of Breivik's crimes and their particular character.

To be more precise: I accept your caveat that you aren't making a strict comparison between Breivik and soldiers come home from the battlefield. However, the significant difference between these situations can't be ignored. Soldiers off the battlefield can come to terms with what they did in the understanding that in some sense they did what was right, or if not, they did what they believed at the time was right. That doesn't make it simple, it doesn't make it easy, but it does make healing afterwards something that is possible in a sane world. Experiencing trauma is terrible, but is not a moral culpability. But as Socrates said, it's worse for the soul to have done injustice than to have suffered injustice. The sheer personal pain, spread out over an entire nation, that Breivik would have to come to terms with to really comprehend what he did – it's beyond my comprehension, it's beyond the comprehension of any one person, and it's certainly beyond the comprehension of Anders Breivik.

And, for what it's worth, I think your example is wrong. Or I guess I should say I'd be interested to hear of a notorious Nazi guilty of terrible crimes who went on to live a healthy, productive, full life. But even then, this is still different – Anders Breivik is one man, and for the rest of his life wherever he goes in his native land he will meet only people who hate him and what he's done, who suffered deeply because of his crimes. Millions upon millions of people with the same experience of him, everywhere he goes. I just don't believe that's something anyone could or should really bear.

As I said, this is just because I think there are some times when it's better to die than to live – times when a person has had all the goodness of life that they'll ever have, when the only thing that person can ever look forward to is unhappiness or insanity (which amounts to the same thing). I've watched horses put down because they'd never feel anything but pain again if they lived. In the same way, sometimes I really believe humans get to a certain point where it's kinder just to end it.

AdamCSnider: “Ironically, this notion that DEATH IS THE ONLY WAY TO EXPUNGE THIS PAST DEED is one of the key roots of the justice-as-punishment model being derided in this thread, and thus a) rather weird in this context and b) something which we cannot reasonable assume to be shared by Brevik, coming from his culture and not ours.”

I don't believe 'justice-as-punishment' and 'justice-as-restoration' are different. I don't believe there is a clear line between the two. I believe the United States has all but perfected justice-as-revenge, and that is one of the great tragedies of our time. But the notion that punishment must only be given with restoration in mind, restoration of the victim and of the criminal, is an old notion; I know that it exists at least as far back as the writings of Plato 2,500 years ago. We should punish to make criminals better, to give them an opportunity to be happy, to restore the balance in their souls and in society, and most of all to restore what they lost by committing their crimes. And when it's impossible to do that, when it's impossible to offer an individual any chance to ever be happy again, when an individual has committed such crimes that they've forever separated themselves from human community as Anders Breivik has – then the kindest thing is to put them out of their misery.
posted by koeselitz at 8:20 PM on November 12, 2012


What I'm saying is that it's become clear there is a lot of division in the US about what society should look like

That simply isn't true. Just look at the polls:

Publics Views of Political Terms (NG=Negative, PS=Positive)

NG PS Political Term
=====================
60 31 Socialism
37 38 Libertarian
40 50 Capitalism
39 50 Liberal
39 62 Conservative
22 67 Progressive


It's like we've won the lottery, but we haven't checked the ticket yet. Don't forget that Fox News, and frankly every news outlet, has two primary goals: convince the population into believing that there is a crisis, and then ask inane questions about which political party should be blamed for the gridlock caused by media panic that is incentivized to create gridlock so ratings can go up so you can watch advertisements about Chantix. I'll never forget reading it here, but it's absolutely true: if you're getting something for free, like a television show, you are the product, and the buyer is a corporation.

And Fox News, as a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate power, has two further functions: create a fantasy reality for the GOP faithful to be exploited, and convince political opposition that compromise between these largely invented and absolutely overblown "sides" is impossible. Don't fall into their game on either side: the vast majority of Fox viewers are fine people. Your task should be to convince them to reform their own party and rejoin modern political conversations, not by claming that they're all racists. Sure, there are some racists, just as there are some wacky black bloc anarchists who vote democrat. Just don't let the lack of a more modular political system perpetuate the cycle. It's dumb and it needs to stop.
posted by tripping daisy at 8:33 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess I've got a simple pov, which is usually erroneous because it doesn't take into account every issue. But I think sometimes, if I were the mother of the criminal, what would I think was the best approach to justice served after the event. It's not an easy pov to take - I was a jury member on a case where we found a man guilty of a number of sex crimes against a 6 year old child, and yes, his mother testified, neither for nor against him, but in the sequence of events, where she took care of the child and passed her onto an ambulance officer. I have not thought as often or deeply as I should about this woman, who would have felt the guilt of her son's crime (again - it was not his first offense) and her obligation to justice, which she fulfilled admirably. But she loved him. I have no doubt of that.

My son is not a criminal but he has human flaws that I struggle with, and try to help him with in his 20s. (I too have flaws, do not mistake me, but the position of a mother, is different to that of a self, that can rationalise, and ignore).

I would like to see a world that sought to prevent recidivism. But we don't, for the most part - why not? We see punishment as the solution when education and support has been proven to always be more successful.

I like that Norway has good prisons. I like that Norwegians had the strength and mental fortitude and belief in their systems to cope with a 21 year prison sentence. It seems the sweeter, kinder side of civilization.

I don't believe crime is inevitable. At the risk of conflating criminal behaviour with childish behaviour, I think we need to be careful, and thoughtful in our approach. I think any less is uncivilized. Sure, prevent those who are at high risk of offending from having access to the usual world, as we prevent those with significantly dangerous mental illnesses from doing the same. But, please, can't we be kind, can't we be wise, can't we realise that no act occurs in a vacuum, whether it is a crime or a kindness?

I hope that if ever my family is dealt a blow by those without a conscience that I can maintain mine. I doubt that I have the same strength as the Norwegians.
posted by b33j at 8:44 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


They can piss off to a new world and burn witches at the stake!

It's a hard thing to answer, I'll admit.
Robert Putnam found* that diversity in a community is inversely correlated with trust. If people don't trust each other, they're unlikely to have a shared vision for the community, so there's a conflict (and probably the strongest group just forces its vision).

That, to my mind, comes dangerously close to confirming the views of people like, yes, Breivik on multiculturalism. Even if you can shimmy out of that, it still gives us a really ugly, foul dichotomy: homogeneity and society versus diversity and punitivity. I kind of hope that this split between equally ugly alternatives means that something's being overlooked. That "assimilate" deal seems like kind of a dark option, though, considering how it's worked for minority cultures in the past.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:54 PM on November 12, 2012


Putnam was pretty challenged by his own results and essentially tried to wish them away. It's a very interesting and controversial and difficult topic. But don't sound off against Putnam until you've read his research and his opinions on them.
posted by wilful at 9:47 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, the implication is that a tiny country with massive oil revenues, extremely high GDP per capita, no responsibilities to protect the rest of the world, no borders with developing nations, with a tiny, homogenous population all relatively well-educated and ideologically close, and that therefore does not have to deal with extremely complicated, huge-scale issues of multiculturalism, immigration, and urban poverty over a vast geographical terrain, may be more easily able to spend its money on plush prisons and restorative justice -- and on a cradle-to-grave welfare state generally.

Your argument is wrong becasue Canada.
posted by srboisvert at 9:55 PM on November 12, 2012


Your argument is wrong becasue Canada.

Canada has less population than California.

There's a lot of disparity between US states/districts too. Looking at intentional homicide rates (per 100,000 people), New Hampshire has the same rate (0.8) as Spain or Germany, while Washington, D.C. has the same rate (24) as Sudan or Tanzania. If you ONLY want to compare states (thus discounting DC, but also Puerto Rico), you have Louisiana with the same rate (11.8) as Grenada or Paraguay.

With all this talk about Canada and Norway, it might just be they have less crime because it's too darn cold.
posted by FJT at 11:08 PM on November 12, 2012


Norwegians, of course, including survivors and their family members, seem to have widely accepted Breivik’s sentence, suggesting that the system has actually fulfilled their desire for justice and fairness (a fact Fisher acknowledges and finds “jarring”). “That’s how it should work,” one survivor of the massacre said of the sentence. “That’s staying true to our principles and the best evidence that he hasn’t changed society.”

Here's another thing Fisher misses: Breivik is not just another serial killer or spree killer, he's somebody who murdered for a political cause, one that is fundamentally opposed to the view stated above. His victims were (mainly) youth members of a social democratic party, whose family is likely to be of that persuation as well. Of course the victims and bereaved are going to defend the system he wanted their murders to destroy.

It really is an outlier and any conclusions drawn from it for both the Norwegian justice system and how the Norwegian people really feel about it will likely be skewed. Furthermore, it will very likely have also a heavy influence in more general terms on the debate about multiculturism, crime and punishment and the welfare state, if the Dutch experiences in the wake of the murder of Pim Fortuyn can be trusted. Because Breivik attacked multiculturalism and murdered for it, critics of it will have a harder time being heard, while those who'd normally have little to no opinion of it or are in favour of it, will be more likely to speak out or defend it, if only as a fuck you to that asshole.

In the case of Fortuyn what happened was that his killer murdered him because he thought he was a rightwing extremist and a danger to multicultural Holland (with which I'd largely agree), but the result of his murder was that the current of rightwing criticism of immigration and multiculturism that Fortuyn gave voice to, strengthened immensely and ultimately led to the rise of Wilders and his party...
posted by MartinWisse at 11:17 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Canada has less population than California.

How many tens of millions of people are needed to have whatever prison economies of scale seem to uniquely affect the US and US only? Could you compare the US to Germany, or is 81 million people not enough to have the same sort of prison issues?

Like, I can get that Dubuque, Iowa isolated by itself (or a country with similar population, like Kiribati or the Seychelles) maybe couldn't support the full set of organizations that make up a full-on justice system, but surely someplace with 30 million people can. You're perfectly willing to treat New Hampshire (1.4M) and the District of Colombia (700K), as comparable to other states. Surely Florida and Illinois could be compared; but they have a smaller population put together than Canada alone.


Even if you can shimmy out of that, it still gives us a really ugly, foul dichotomy: homogeneity and society versus diversity and punitivity. I kind of hope that this split between equally ugly alternatives means that something's being overlooked.

Last week, the people of a large (more population than Canada!) state were asked about whether they should continue to have the death penalty or not. The counties that supported banning the death penalty were basically Los Angeles and the Bay Area, generally thought of as the most diverse areas of the state. If you extend the diversity = tension = lack of society = punitive justice idea, you are forced to conclude that punitive punishment is supported by ethnically diverse big cities, against the desire for clemency from the more homogeneous rural areas.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:42 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Homeboy Trouble: It might as well just be said. Familiarity decreases the fear of the unknowable Other.
posted by jaduncan at 2:39 AM on November 13, 2012


As the deputy manager of a high school for kids with special needs in the UK ( many of whom are already familiar with the justice system and social services ), I found questions directly adapted from restoratice justice techniques actually work better than any others I had used.

Any incidences of violence or bullying are immediately addressed, but the utlimate question ... the word "Why"... is never used. It immediately makes one defensive, and you never get a satifactory answer.

Instead you ask what happened, what were you were thinking about, how do you think the other felt, and what are you gonna do to make it right.

More often than not, it works.

My colleagues blame my shock on it's success down to the fact that I'm born and raised American.
posted by Hickeystudio at 5:34 AM on November 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Last week, the people of a large (more population than Canada!) state were asked about whether they should continue to have the death penalty or not. The counties that supported banning the death penalty were basically Los Angeles and the Bay Area, generally thought of as the most diverse areas of the state.
This whole idea that "diversity causes tension OMG" stuff is just another example people trying to come up with "evolutionary" explanations to explain cultural problems, in this case a "culture" of racism and racial tension in some places.
posted by delmoi at 8:02 AM on November 13, 2012


The whole puritan "how dare you tell us we can't oppress ourselves, we're f'ing off to the new world then" thing aside, the U.S. has colonial and frontier influences that Europe has had the benefit of dealing with over thousands of years.

Retribution had to be meted out as a show of power. Legitimacy in both the frontier and as a forming nation had to be a demonstration of power and the working of justice, not justice itself.

Directly contrary to Fisher's point, restorative justice assumes legitimate authority as a given and has the benefit of doing justice by way of making amends rather than doing the theater.

It's odd that in the U.S. we don't derive more authority from "The People" symbolically, or that in some senses this is seen as "soft" as opposed to Fisher's apparent sense that "hard" justice is derived from harsh measures.

But Anders Breivik's trial in the Norwegian model seems at least somewhat similar to Jared Loughner's trial in that the victims spoke publicly, worked through their issues, etc. and the process seems to contain some healing.

Perhaps this isn't inherent in the design of the U.S. model, but it's something we seem to crave more than the retribution, at least for people who are involved or who have better things to do that hang outside of prisons celebrating someone else's pain.

And so it's provided for, perhaps in part because of the puritan tradition of democracy and in spite of the puritan tradition of a harsh, No-I-won't-mind-my-own-business-thank-you, justice.

But it seems to be a more human thing to move on and heal through the pain. Because either you survive it, or you don't.

And either your society helps you or it doesn't.
If it does, or genuinely does, the work has to be meaningful and you have to code your society to function properly.

Looking at the difference in sentencing - it makes more sense to me to sentence Breivik to 21 years than to sentence Loughner to 7 consecutive life sentences - plus 140 years without parole.

Well what the hell does that even mean in any real sense?
It's at best symbolic. It's an abstract of the system meant to symbolize that this particular crime was SO egregious that we refuse to acknowledge the reality of human life, but instead look to block the very process we have set up in case he is cured of insanity or redeemed in some way.

It's sort of a protest vote against the death penalty as well. But even then - you can only kill him once.
We could come up with novel methods of execution like the Romans (tie someone in a sack with a snake, a rooster, a dog and a chimpanzee and throw them in the river), but that again is an appeasement to the masses, not an actual fix.

It makes more sense to discard the pretense that the justice system is unbound by human limits or is eternal in some way (whether supported by God or not) and look at what can be fixed in the aftermath of the crime.

It's odd that almost any modern society would want to keep up the pretense when, unlike a frontier judge, we have the power and resources to heal the victims and perhaps even restore an obviously broken human being.

But again, like the Romans, that's more of a theater of symbols politicians put on to associate themselves with the concept of justice rather than a useful social good.

Rehabilitation is a better design for a society because it drops that pretense and so embraces the elements that lead to crimes by embracing human beings and the reality connected to them over an abstract.

Blaming a perpetrator or a given segment of society is essentially the same thing.
Scapegoating generally allows a cloak over how your system (and the people running it in their "public mask") actually works.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:29 AM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


The whole puritan "how dare you tell us we can't oppress ourselves, we're f'ing off to the new world then" thing aside, the U.S. has colonial and frontier influences that Europe has had the benefit of dealing with over thousands of years.

Yeah, about that, I'd be careful about the whole "America is a young country and Europe is old and that's why we can't do X" argument.

For a start, Norway is actually a younger country than the US, only managing to free itself from Danish oppression in 1905.

More seriously, American mores, laws and traditions didn't spring fully formed from Zeus' forehead, but are of course a continuation of European influences (English, French, Spanish, some Dutch and others) as well as native ones, American civilisations having not that much less history than Euro-Asian civilisations, if perhaps a less well known history.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:38 AM on November 13, 2012


>This whole idea that "diversity causes tension OMG" stuff is just another example people trying to come up with "evolutionary" explanations to explain cultural problems, in this case a "culture" of racism and racial tension in some places.

Tell that to the guy who got, what?, 80 years from the feds for growing weed after the state told him he could do it repeatedly. A diversity of opinions and laws does indeed cause problems for this model of justice. (A model I'm totally in favor of).
posted by fshgrl at 12:04 PM on November 13, 2012


After the 21 years Breivik has to be ready to join society, but also society has to be ready for Breivik re-joining it, which likely won't happen, so they won't let him out. Both conditions are taken into account if i've understood things correctly.

Also, i wonder what would've happened if he didn't end up being white and blond. I remember, when i was there right after the bombing and when the news about the shootings started coming in, hearing reports of people beating up random muslims and vandalizing stores. I imagine it would've been a whole different mess, and i actually remember some people being somewhat relieved, if you can be, that he wasn't a muslim. I was too.

In any case, Breivik is an extreme outlier, and borderline derail in a topic like this. The norwegians could've gone full 9/11 and use it as an excuse to pass whatever shit orwellian laws they wanted, but correctly noted that an event like this is exceptional and it should be dealt with normally as much as possible.

I agree in some way that you can't compare the US and Norway in this case, mostly because there's such a big difference in how both societies view basic human rights for its populations. I'd argue that the huge inequality in the US makes the society as a whole very detached, so they stop caring about people, and i think any fix to prisons and rehabilitation philosophies the whole of society should shift its views on some basic tenets such as getting rich fast at the expense of everyone else, "fuck you i got mine", black-and-white all-or-nothing winner-takes-all view of the world, the idea that to succeed one must exterminate all competition, education across the board (and the favorable views on being ignorantly opinionated), health care, lobbyism, unions and worker's rights, enslaved illegal immigrants, money as a measure of importance (and influence), etc etc etc.
And then you go into the fact that, in some places, the prison system is set up to generate profit, and well, yeah. If profit is at the top of society's priorities, then you're fucked before you start, i think.
I think all of these things contribute to the idea that people bring problems on themselves, instead of thinking that they might be caused by how society itself is configured.

Norway has its own problems, but in general the society there has (or strives for) the polar opposite of the views above (sometimes to arguably bad extremes, like Janta law.)

These problems are usually big, systemic problems, and usually need big, systemic solutions, like fixing all the problems that contribute to it at once, perhaps very slowly.

I'm rambling now.
posted by palbo at 12:21 PM on November 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Who said Americans don't want to feed the poor because they are from different backgrounds?

A whole lot of Americans, if what they do in the privacy of the voting booth is any indication. It's just not polite to come right out and say that, at least not in the past few decades.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:28 PM on November 13, 2012


How many tens of millions of people are needed to have whatever prison economies of scale seem to uniquely affect the US and US only? Could you compare the US to Germany, or is 81 million people not enough to have the same sort of prison issues?

That's a good question. But, I think the original point was that there's a lot of factors that contribute to this problem. The US's large population is just one element that makes it more complicated.
posted by FJT at 11:38 PM on November 13, 2012






Escape To Alcatraz- Some Notes On Prison Tourism
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:15 AM on December 11, 2012


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