Norway's modern prisons
May 27, 2010 2:38 AM   Subscribe

Norway's penal system has gathered some attention recently, as the new Halden prison just opened. The $217 million facility will house 252 prisoners, some long-term and some short. The new prison is notable for, among other things, use of armoured glass instead of bars on windows, natural lighting and single-inmate cells with private showers, TVs and access to a gym and a sound studio. There was also an art budget, and Norwegian street artist Dolk was commisioned to decorate some of the walls. The Norwegian penal system is similar to the other Scandinavian countries', with no death penalty, and a "life" sentence of 21 years. In Norway there are no privately run incarceration facilities, and the opening of the rather plush-seeming Halden prison spurred some discussion, but garnered no big controversy.

Another example of Norway's prisons is the 115-inmate open facility Bastøy, profiled here. This is an island, where inmates are housed four to a house and expected to work restoring the historical buildings on the island and help run its working farm. Then-warden Øyvind Alnæs is quoted in the article as saying "The biggest mistake that our societies have made is to believe that you must punish hard to change criminals. 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."

Norway's incarceration rate is 69 per 100,000 population, compared to the United States' 760 (Wiki). The murder rates are 0.7 and 5.4, respectively (Wiki). A Daily Mail article on the new Halden prison claims the recidivism rate of released prisoners in Norway is about 20%, compared to the UK's 50-60%.
posted by Harald74 (111 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
See also: Austria's 5-star prison.
posted by Ljubljana at 2:51 AM on May 27, 2010


Michael Moore visits Bastøy.
posted by klue at 2:52 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Bet the Norwegian prisons are run by the state, and not by some firm with good lobbyists on the payroll.
posted by ijsbrand at 2:55 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Money well spent in officially the best country in the world, but wouldn't having to look at 'Banksy-style art' day in and day out constitute cruel and unusual punishment?
posted by Abiezer at 2:57 AM on May 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's interesting how the Scandinavian penal system, with its relatively comfortable facilities, contrasts with the Anglo-Calvinist ideology that prison should above all things be a place of punishment and making it too comfortable would introduce that greatest of all sins, moral hazard. In the Anglosphere, rehabilitation is a nice theory, but not something one can believe in, and it'd be immoral to fail in one's duty of punishing evildoers in the name of it.

Though, on the other hand, I wonder how much of the Scandinavian prison system's low recidivism rate is down to the system being part of a Jante culture.
posted by acb at 3:13 AM on May 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I suspect that the 20 per cent re-offence figure, mentioned in the last line of the Daily Mail article, was included only rather grudgingly. I wonder how many of its readers will get that far before they move on in disgust to a more satisfying story about Iain Duncan Smith cutting benefits.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 3:13 AM on May 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


This seems so civilized.

(A 20% recidivism rate is unacceptably low in a free-hand-of-the-prision-market country like we have here in the states. There's no profit in that kind of commie dreck. Thankfully ours is about 120%.)
posted by maxwelton at 3:14 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Norway is routinely being criticized (link in Norwegian) by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment for their use of police custody, yet refuses to do much about it.
posted by klue at 3:20 AM on May 27, 2010


Bet the Norwegian prisons are run by the state, and not by some firm with good lobbyists on the payroll.

There are plenty of state-run prison systems that are appalling shitholes, alas.
posted by rodgerd at 3:21 AM on May 27, 2010


Whereas in Northern Ireland we have just had a prisoner come off a 42 day hunger strike in protest at conditions and ill-treatment.

Apparently the prison service here didn't learn any lessons from our 30 years of conflict.
posted by knapah at 3:23 AM on May 27, 2010


acb, I'm not sure how jantelov impacts criminality specifically - it generally doesn't apply to the social groups habitual criminals move in particularly strongly - they're transgressing in so many ways as is. Besides, it's not like someone committing a robbery is trying to place themselves 'above their station', really - so the jantelovs-disapproval doesn't come into play.
posted by Dysk at 3:35 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's interesting how the Scandinavian penal system, with its relatively comfortable facilities, contrasts with the Anglo-Calvinist ideology that prison should above all things be a place of punishment and making it too comfortable would introduce that greatest of all sins, moral hazard.

You know who else makes the same comparison? Criminals.

I don't know how things are over in Norway, but here in Sweden the country is being invaded by armed bank robbers from Russia, Serbia, and other places where the downside of robbing banks is being shot on the spot or spending a long stretch in a Russian or Serbian prison.

Unarmed peaceful little Sweden is having a difficult time dealing with this. Every week you read of another armoured truck, or bank, or post office, being held up at gun point. Some nice gentelemen from Serbia even hijacked a helicopter and made off with USD165m.

Score a few million and the only risk is a few years in a Swedish prison? The math is simple.

Hopefully Norway's luxury prisons and rich banks will be just the flypaper we need in Sweden.
posted by three blind mice at 3:38 AM on May 27, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm thinking more of the indirect effects of Jante law and the values it emerges from. The values seem to place more of an emphasis on individuals being inseparable components of a greater whole (the community and/or society in general), especially when contrasted with the romanticised individualism at the core of Anglo-American society. Surely when one has been released from prison and is facing the road back to one's place as a honest member of society (or the other road back to criminality), these values could shift the balance. (Or, alternatively, the combination of the every-man-for-himself individualism and neo-Calvinist rejection of rehabilitation as a concept in Anglo-Saxon countries could hamper offenders' reintegration into society and push them out onto the criminal fringes.)
posted by acb at 3:44 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


three blind mice, in Denmark we've had problems with professional thieves coming across from Sweden and Germany for a long time now. So your flypaper's been around.

What exactly are you proposing, though? A return to a punishment-based system a-la the US or UK, with the associated social problems and re-offending rates, just for the sake of saving a few banks from robbery? That doesn't sound like a good idea to me...
posted by Dysk at 3:46 AM on May 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


Unarmed peaceful little Sweden is having a difficult time dealing with this. Every week you read of another armoured truck, or bank, or post office, being held up at gun point. Some nice gentelemen from Serbia even hijacked a helicopter and made off with USD165m.

Is this at a statistically significant level?

Also, given that these criminals aren't party to of the Scandinavian social contract, is there anything preventing Sweden from deporting them back to Russia or Serbia? Surely the nationals of both countries need visas to enter the EU.
posted by acb at 3:49 AM on May 27, 2010


acb, coming from just down the road from the town Jante was based on, let me tell you that your interpretation of Janteloven is off - it doesn't really provide any real sense of belonging or co-operation, except in opposition to others. Janteloven is a very confrontational beast - we're only standing together in our dismissal of the worth and achievements of others. As soon as one of us does anything, they're the outsider.

If anything, the strong Jantelovs-tradition in rural Denmark encourages criminality, because it's not like anyone's going to fucking help you better your lot any other way. In fact, you'll get derided and excluded for even trying.
posted by Dysk at 3:51 AM on May 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm looking at the pictures of Halden Prison and reading 'luxury prison', 'spa resort' and what not. Somehow it doesn't match. Prison sucks. Prison with a flat screen sucks even more.

Other than building prison palaces, Halden's major contributions to the world includes sending Olaf Julius Herman Emil Rove off in a boat to Milwaukee in 1886. I'm sure you're all thankful for that.
posted by klue at 3:51 AM on May 27, 2010


I've got a new retirement plan...
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:52 AM on May 27, 2010


acb: Surely when one has been released from prison and is facing the road back to one's place as a honest member of society (or the other road back to criminality), these values could shift the balance.

Or more likely the reason is that once one has come into contact with the Norwegian social services one is so well-supported with government money one has no further need to engage in crime.

So in a way, sure, it could be a form of "jantelagen" - this just means that Scandinavian society hammers down any nail that sticks up. Putting ex-cons on the dole for life is certainly one way of hammering down a nail.
posted by three blind mice at 3:53 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Brother Dysk: That's interesting. So would you say that modern-day Scandinavia (with its strong social cohesion) can be better characterised as a post-Jante value system?
posted by acb at 3:54 AM on May 27, 2010


Or more likely the reason is that once one has come into contact with the Norwegian social services one is so well-supported with government money one has no further need to engage in crime.

There is a correlation between the level of social inequality and criminality (and thus the required amount of guard labour) in a society; as US economist Samuel Bowles pointed out. Which suggests that some significant proportion of crime is motivated by inequality, and that, living in a more egalitarian society, a proportion of people who would commit crimes in a less equal society have no motivation to do so.
posted by acb at 3:58 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


acb, I'd say that janteloven doesn't apply particularly amongst younger generations in larger cities. Out in the country, particularly amongst older generations, it still very much characterises group dynamics. I'd also not see the social cohesion as a consequence of janteloven, or its lack. If anything, janteloven is more likely to have come about as a result of strong social cohesion.
posted by Dysk at 3:59 AM on May 27, 2010


Brother Dysk I'm not proposing anything, I'm only making the observation that moral hazard is, in fact, real. From the kid who shoplifts to the armed bank robber, there are some people who commit crime based on simple profit and risk calculations.

Mr. Pink: "I had to shoot some cops, but I got away."

Mr. Brown: "You shot some cops?"

Mr. Pink: "Of course I did. The choice between shooting a cop and spending ten years in prison ain't a choice."
posted by three blind mice at 4:03 AM on May 27, 2010


three blind mice: how does that explain Norway's crime statistics being an order of magnitude lower than those of the US?

I'm not saying that moral hazard does not exist, just that it is not the only factor, and that the US tends to overemphasise it in its reasoning on human motivation.
posted by acb at 4:10 AM on May 27, 2010


There was some debate on prisons as a form of punishment recently in Norway. Here's a (poor) article in English: [P]rofessor in the History of Ideas at the University of Oslo, believes public whippings are a constructive alternative to being sent down. The most interesting part was that people working within the prison system seemed to agree.
posted by klue at 4:19 AM on May 27, 2010


See also: Austria's 5-star prison.

Wow, what do you have to do to get in? Forge classical art?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:19 AM on May 27, 2010


Sweden has a lower rate of robberies per capita than Norway, and way lower than the United States.

I think what is more worrying than moral hazard is media hyperbole.
posted by knapah at 4:20 AM on May 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


acb: is there anything preventing Sweden from deporting them back to Russia or Serbia?

Only the fact that neither Russia nor Serbia are obliged to prosecute their citizens from crimes committed in Sweden. Deportation just means flying them home for free.

how does that explain Norway's crime statistics being an order of magnitude lower than those of the US?

I don't think we talking about the same thing here and I think I answered this in response to BrotherDysk's observation.

Professional criminals make the risk/profit calculation. As BrotherDysk suggested, it may be well a decent trade-off to suffer more big robberies in order to discourage many more smaller ones. I don't know. But there is a trade-off.
posted by three blind mice at 4:39 AM on May 27, 2010


I think what is more worrying than moral hazard is media hyperbole.

For now...
posted by gjc at 4:42 AM on May 27, 2010


acb: I'm not saying that moral hazard does not exist, just that it is not the only factor, and that the US tends to overemphasise it in its reasoning on human motivation.

Sorry acb. I didn't read this carefully enough before responding. I think you're right. The spectacular crimes pulled off by professional criminals - motivated by moral hazard - are always going to garner more media attention.
posted by three blind mice at 4:46 AM on May 27, 2010


Is it weird I have some kind of collective crush on countries like Norway and Sweden and such, who just seem to have their act together?
posted by adipocere at 5:03 AM on May 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


It's not THAT weird, but they'd certainly prefer it if you stopped calling.
posted by Ritchie at 5:09 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I never knew about the Scandanavian prison system until a recent car trip where we listened to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo audiobook. A minor subplot involves a Swedish magazine publisher losing a libel case and being sentenced to a short prison term. He's released for holidays, and he has a computer in his cell so he can work on his novel.

The way the author drops the line about the protagonist being released for holiday and then coming back a few days later to continue to work on his novel.....it's just so casual, that my wife and I had rewind that part a couple of times until we were like wait, does he mean he got out of jail for like arbor day or something.

It was written for a Swedish audience, so no further explanation is necessary. I think the way that holiday release was casually mentioned in the text is significant.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 5:12 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


"This is wrong. The big closed prisons are criminal schools. The biggest mistake that our societies have made is to believe that you must punish hard to change criminals. Anyone can be a citizen if we treat them well, respect them, and give them challenges and demands."

There are many aspects of European versus US life that make us seem like two different planets, but the differences between our penal system and Norway's make them seem like they're in two different universes.
posted by blucevalo at 5:18 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Norway is routinely being criticized (link in Norwegian) by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment for their use of police custody, yet refuses to do much about it.

Here's links to the original reports, and links to reports about other states.

From the latest report regarding Norway (2006):
"During the 2005 visit, the delegation was informed that, under the terms of Section 4.1 of the Regulations to the Execution of Sentences Act,[8] the transfer of a prisoner from a police cell to a prison must be effected "without undue delay" once the remand decision has been taken,[9] and that the Norwegian authorities aimed - as in 1999 - to carry out the transfer within 24 hours following this decision ("24-hour rule"). Weekly checks took place; this rule was still not consistently observed but the situation was improving.[10] This was confirmed by the delegation’s findings. Thus, at Trondheim police station, during the first half of 2005, the average time that elapsed between a person’s arrival there and being transferred to a prison was 24 hours and 32 minutes, and the average time between the decision of the tribunal to remand a person in custody and the transfer from the police station to a prison was less than thirteen hours; the "24-hour rule" had not been respected in only nine cases. (...) The CPT welcomes the efforts made by the Norwegian authorities to reduce the time of detention in police establishments for remand prisoners. It must nonetheless emphasise that the objective should be to put an end, except in exceptional circumstances, to the practice of accommodating remand prisoners in police establishments."

In other words: something has actually been done. And The CPT critizes every state they write reports about.

Btw, Norway has 5 million people spread out over a large area. It's not realistic to have prisons in every single town and village. Is custody inside a police car during a 6 or 12 hour drive to the nearest prison better than spending a few hours at the local police station?
posted by iviken at 5:36 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


three blind mice: 12Unarmed peaceful little Sweden is having a difficult time dealing with this. Every week you read of another armoured truck, or bank, or post office, being held up at gun point. Some nice gentelemen from Serbia even hijacked a helicopter and made off with USD165m.

The article is a little confusing, but it appears that the thieves "only" made off with $5.4 million.

As to the Norwegian prison system, yes, I'm green with envy. We could have such a prison system here in the states-- there is nothing stopping us except that we have different priorities. Getting tax payers to rally around the idea of making life better for prisoners is not just impossible, it's unthinkable.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:03 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I think that the Scandinavians are the Federation and we are the Cardassians.
posted by Avenger at 6:31 AM on May 27, 2010 [22 favorites]


So if I'm going to kill someone I should invite them on a trip to Norway with me first?
posted by bwg at 6:32 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints, I just saw the Swedish film adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and was amused by the prison scenes. His prison cell looked quite a bit nicer than the dorm rooms that I lived in when I went to a large public university.

I later studied abroad in Sweden and of course was shocked at the quality of the student housing there. It was horrible- a large red house where I had my own bathrooom, a sunny comfortable bedroom for myself...and worst of all, I was forced to share a large gourmet kitchen with several attractive Swedes. My Swedish boyfriend's student housing was even worse- a well lit modernist high rise in a trendy area of Stockholm. Just terrible.
posted by melissam at 6:41 AM on May 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


i guess that's why their suicide rate is so high then
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:44 AM on May 27, 2010


It's pretty difficult to appreciate your sunny, comfortable bedroom if it's winter and you're in the North. Largely because it won't be sunny.
posted by Dysk at 6:51 AM on May 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's pretty difficult to appreciate your sunny, comfortable bedroom if it's winter and you're in the North. Largely because it won't be sunny.

Unfortunately, kind of true, though the summer is wonderful and sunny enough to almost make up for it.
posted by melissam at 7:07 AM on May 27, 2010


Sometimes I think that the Scandinavians are the Federation and we are the Cardassians.

But then who would be the Borg?
posted by biffa at 7:09 AM on May 27, 2010


Or more likely the reason is that once one has come into contact with the Norwegian social services one is so well-supported with government money one has no further need to engage in crime.

Criminals thriving in luxury prisons (on your dime!) because the Scandinavian "nanny state"? Are single mothers with twelve children driving Cadillacs there too? Any more bogeymen you want to trot out to make your case?
posted by inoculatedcities at 7:16 AM on May 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Spot the difference: - Black People in Louisiana with" problematical" political beliefs who don't rape or kill other people are incarcerated in Solitary confinement for the rest of their lives.
People in Norway irrelevant of their colour or political beliefs who do rape or murder people are incarcerated in a humane way and encouraged to reform through a social system which functions.
posted by adamvasco at 7:42 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


i guess that's why their suicide rate is so high then

Norway's?

Yeah, the suicide rate is Soooo high, so high it ranks after Switzerland... Japan.. (the sunny) Trinidad/Tobago... New Zealand.... France and 32 other nations.
posted by edgeways at 8:37 AM on May 27, 2010


three blind mice , didya you notice that Halden is located "close to the Swedish border"? ;)
posted by dabitch at 8:46 AM on May 27, 2010


People in Norway...

90% of whom are ethnic Norwegians

irrelevant of their colour...

as the migration of non-European peoples in significant numbers began well into the latter part of the 20th century
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 8:46 AM on May 27, 2010


Oh yeah, spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints , the holiday releases are for nearly all prisoners who behave. Mattias Flink hasn't had a home release, but he has been out campaign with other prisnóners, he's not likely to get a holiday release. The soviet spy Stig Bergling famously used his holiday release weekend with his new wife (whom he married while in prison) to escape and flee to Russia, only to return to Sweden years later for free cancer treatment.
posted by dabitch at 8:53 AM on May 27, 2010


I have no idea how Imanaged to misspell all that - I meant "camping" and "prisoners". My keybord thinks it's french.
posted by dabitch at 8:54 AM on May 27, 2010


Bet the Norwegian prisons are run by the state, and not by some firm with good lobbyists on the payroll.

rodgerd : There are plenty of state-run prison systems that are appalling shitholes, alas.

Absolutely true, and there are private prisons that, I'm sure, are very nice. But to my mind, one of the largest problems facing the US is that the privatization of the penal system has led to a sort of trickle down effect on policy which has ended up with one in a hundred of us behind bars.

If I could change one thing about the US, getting rid of private prisons would be really near the top of the list.
posted by quin at 9:24 AM on May 27, 2010


But then who would be the Borg?


Obviously the Swedes are the Borg.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:24 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


So if I'm going to kill someone I should invite them on a trip to Norway with me first?

I'll know to be wary of invitations to Scandinavian countries from you from now on.
posted by acb at 9:30 AM on May 27, 2010


Yeah, the suicide rate is Soooo high, so high it ranks after Switzerland... Japan.. (the sunny) Trinidad/Tobago... New Zealand.... France and 32 other nations.

Has anybody tried correcting suicide/depression statistics for length of day/amount of sunlight in winter? I imagine that, far from the equator, SAD would increase the incidence of depression (and suicide) to some extent.
posted by acb at 9:33 AM on May 27, 2010


Sometimes I think that the Scandinavians are the Federation and we are the Cardassians.

Gul Dukat: A true victory is to make your enemy see they were wrong to oppose you in the first place. To force them to acknowledge your greatness.

Yeah, that sounds about right.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:34 AM on May 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Actually I think that about 7 out of 10 inmates in the Halden prison are foreigners, about one out of three overall in the Norwegian prison system. And as said over, Norway has about 11,4% immigrants, although I think there are a lot of foreigners here on a tourist visa/European citizen visa, like the Lithuanians that recently were taken for robbing shops all along the Western Coast.

Like in Sweden and Denmark we have gotten an influx of foreigners who have found Norway to be a nice place to do crime, mostly rape, robbery and some trafficing (I might be wrong though, it's just the cases I remember on top of my head.)

The high number of foreigner in Norwegian prisons, on top of the fact that they actually earn points in our social security system while inprisoned (link in Norwegian), has made even more Norwegians sceptical to our prison system, social security system and immigration in general (as if they weren't already), thus giving the populist right-wing party wind under their wings again.
posted by mummimamma at 9:56 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ain't it amazing what you can do when 30% of your revenue comes from petroleum?

The United States' highest security prison, ADX Florence cost approximately $86 million inflation-adjusted dollars and houses some five hundred inmates. It's 100% supermax, so it's one of the BOP's more expensive facilities too. Looks like Norway just spent almost three times that to house half that many prisoners. Cause that's something the federal government can afford right now.

Maybe you think the US prison system needs reform. That's an argument that can be made. But this constant "Norway is awesome OMG!!" fanboyism isn't helpful. None of their solutions would work in the US. The US population is sixty-six times Norway's, land area is thirty times Norway's, and there are more non-citizens and non-English speakers living in the US than there are Norwegians.

And Norway's "solution" doesn't come without its costs either. Their birth rate is about stagnant, their population is rapidly aging, and the Scandinavian welfare state is showing signs of significant hidden consequences.

So yeah, maybe the United States would be a different place if it had half as many people in it and was simultaneously one of the world's largest exporters of oil. That not being the case, can we please try stick to comparisons that mean something?
posted by valkyryn at 10:01 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Like in Sweden and Denmark we have gotten an influx of foreigners who have found Norway to be a nice place to do crime, mostly rape, robbery and some trafficing (I might be wrong though, it's just the cases I remember on top of my head.)

I would be cautious about this not because it's necessarily untrue, but because media everywhere (I think) loves to publicize evils done by those dastardly furriners.

The United States' highest security prison, ADX Florence cost approximately $86 million inflation-adjusted dollars and houses some five hundred inmates. It's 100% supermax, so it's one of the BOP's more expensive facilities too. Looks like Norway just spent almost three times that to house half that many prisoners. Cause that's something the federal government can afford right now.

Does Norway have its own WOD? Three strikes? Is it the prison or the policy you can't afford?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:08 AM on May 27, 2010


the Scandinavian welfare state is showing signs of significant hidden consequences.

Unfortunately, those of us who refuse to read an article about fucking Stieg Larsson will never know what they are.
posted by klue at 10:17 AM on May 27, 2010


Is it the prison or the policy you can't afford?

A good turn of phrase, I grant, but not little more than rhetoric. The countries aren't remotely the same. If you're suggesting that doubling our expenditure on prisons would miraculously halve the number of inmates, you need to have your head examined.

The US has between seven and eight times as many violent offenders per capita as Norway. Say what you like about the prudence of the War on Drugs, I don't think we're talking about something you can fix with a little reform legislation.
posted by valkyryn at 10:22 AM on May 27, 2010


rodgerd : There are plenty of state-run prison systems that are appalling shitholes, alas.

Some Western European countries, like France, have fucking awful, overcrowded prisons that are fully state run.
posted by wcfields at 10:26 AM on May 27, 2010


Is there a significant movement for harsher prisons in Scandinavia? Is it on the scale of British support for reintroduction of the death penalty (said by some to be a majority, certainly into double digits) or more like Dutch support for marijuana prohibition (negligible)?
posted by acb at 10:33 AM on May 27, 2010


And Norway's "solution" doesn't come without its costs either. Their birth rate is about stagnant, their population is rapidly aging, and the Scandinavian welfare state is showing signs of significant hidden consequences.

BBC News, 2006:
"Norway's welfare model 'helps birth rate'.

In the third of a series about motherhood and the role of the state in encouraging couples to have more children, the BBC's Lars Bevanger in Oslo examines whether generous family policies explain why Norwegian women give birth to more babies than most of their European sisters."
posted by iviken at 10:41 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's not all about oil. Sweden has no oil, but their penal system is very close to the Norwegian one in the treatment of prisoners, and Norway in turn only discovered their oil some time ago. It's about being civilized. Yes, there are vast cultural differences between the U.S. and Scandinavia, but trying to discern the impact of the penal system on criminality is difficult and I'm not in any way a social researcher. I have only anecdata to offer. Back in the 70's and early 80's drug usage was sky rocketing throughout Sweden. Amphetamines were being smuggled in by Yugoslavian gangs, heroin by the Greeks, and hash by everybody (pot was very rare) - Swedish criminals initially were distributors, but eventually got in on every part of the operation. As happened, my first girlfriend was a small time hash dealer (mostly to support her own use), and I got to see quite a bit of the drug subculture which was very exciting to someone like me who was raised with zero exposure to drugs etc. Eventually she moved on to amphetamine use and we broke up. Hanging around her, I got to learn a bit about how criminals operated in Sweden, and my conclusion is that when the penal system is "soft", it softens up the criminal. A Swedish robber would not dream of shooting his way out of a jam, because he wasn't faced with spending 25 years or worse in prison like a Yugoslav in Yugoslavia might. It was amazing - the Yugoslavs would always marvel at how soft the Swedish criminals were (with an undercurrent of contempt). I imagine it's even worse in the U.S. - if you are holed up in a bank with the prospect of doing 20 in an American "pound you in the ass" joint, you might think it worth shooting your way out. The Swedish robber facing two years in a civilized prison - no incentive to add murder raps... take two and call it a day. Anyhow, it's hardly scientific, but I was always struck by the difference between the cynical and hardened criminals from Eastern Europe and the "sissies" from Sweden. It seemed that the worse you treated them, the worse they got. That's my anecdata.
posted by VikingSword at 11:10 AM on May 27, 2010 [14 favorites]


BBC News, 2006:
"Norway's welfare model 'helps birth rate'


I'm aware of this. I'm also aware that their fertility rate is 1.77 infants/woman, which while higher than much of the rest of non-British-Isles Europe, still falls a decent amount below the 2.1 infants/woman you need to maintain your population.

It's not all about oil.

No, but it helps. Sweden had a massive economic crisis in the 1990s which led to a significant reduction of the welfare state there, though it's still bigger than almost anywhere else in the world. Norway, supported by oil revenues, had no such crisis. Also, your anecdata makes some pretty hefty assumptions about correlation and causation while smuggling in a huge chicken/egg problem.
posted by valkyryn at 11:27 AM on May 27, 2010


I don't know how things are over in Norway, but here in Sweden the country is being invaded by armed bank robbers from Russia, Serbia, and other places where the downside of robbing banks is being shot on the spot or spending a long stretch in a Russian or Serbian prison.

I think we have stricter laws and control when it comes to owning and importing guns. We also tend to get more Pakistanis, Somalis, Turks, etc., than Russians or Serbians. In the past our immigration laws have been stricter than yours, but currently I think we're about the same.

I don't know what to tell you, but for some reason we're not seeing that kind of behaviour here.
posted by MaiaMadness at 12:04 PM on May 27, 2010


Sweden had a massive economic crisis in the 1990s which led to a significant reduction of the welfare state there [...]

Yes, but it did not affect the penal system - the topic at hand. Prison conditions didn't suddenly get worse in the 90's that I heard.

Also, your anecdata makes some pretty hefty assumptions about correlation and causation [...]

Which I freely admitted. I was basing my impression on hearing Swedish criminals and Yugoslav ones talk, and such reasoning was pretty explicit by the people involved. Of course I absolutely realize that that the penal system is hardly the only factor that impacts criminality. Just reporting my experiences. Ultimately, we all have a world view that is based on assumptions and extrapolations, since it is impossible to have a scientific basis for all our political/social views, especially that some things have never been studied and perhaps never can be studied. I - like every human being on earth - look at how various social systems function and I form my political opinions - clearly they differ from your assumptions and extrapolations. I happen to believe that the penal system has some non-trivial impact on criminal conduct, conditioning and rates of recidivism, and it is a factor worth addressing; obviously it is not the only factor, and the penal system doesn't exist in a vacuum apart from the context of the rest of a given society or culture or even history.
posted by VikingSword at 12:06 PM on May 27, 2010



Other than building prison palaces, Halden's major contributions to the world includes sending Olaf Julius Herman Emil Rove off in a boat to Milwaukee in 1886. I'm sure you're all thankful for that.


Yeah, sorry about that... In Halden's defense, though, Karl Rove got his surname from his stepfather, not his biological one, and as such is probably not a descendant.
posted by MaiaMadness at 12:16 PM on May 27, 2010


The countries aren't remotely the same. If you're suggesting that doubling our expenditure on prisons would miraculously halve the number of inmates, you need to have your head examined.

Nowhere do I make such a suggestion. But if money, and not the theory and practice of rehabilitation is the issue, then you might consider that you could pay for pricy prisons by having fewer of them. Sure, incarcerate your 7x as many violent criminals. Do they cost more to house than the non-violent ones? I suspect yes if you're talking SuperMax styled warehousing, but surely without the WOD you've have a ton more money to spend on those hardcore criminals. Now whether or not you think rehab is possible for these people, whether Norway has a different class of criminal, is a different matter, though I think that case has to be made rather than assumed.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:17 PM on May 27, 2010


Or more likely the reason is that once one has come into contact with the Norwegian social services one is so well-supported with government money one has no further need to engage in crime.

It would have been lovely if that was true, but you seem to have a slightly skewed idea of our welfare system.
posted by MaiaMadness at 12:18 PM on May 27, 2010


Why in the heck is a falling population a bad thing? In the other direction lies disaster and madness.
posted by maxwelton at 12:31 PM on May 27, 2010


Why in the heck is a falling population a bad thing? In the other direction lies disaster and madness.

Umm... you haven't been paying to the pending demographic crises gearing up to hit Japan, Eastern, and now Western/Southern Europe. In short: if you've got a ton of pensioners and not a ton of taxpayers, you're screwed six ways to Tuesday.

Lower populations might be desirable, but falling populations are almost always massively problematic.
posted by valkyryn at 12:38 PM on May 27, 2010


Like in Sweden and Denmark we have gotten an influx of foreigners who have found Norway to be a nice place to do crime, mostly rape, robbery and some trafficing (I might be wrong though, it's just the cases I remember on top of my head.)

Hey, another Norwegian! :D Hei, hei!

I don't actually think that anyone comes here with the intent to rape, though. And while there is probably an overweight of immigrants with regards to assault rape, the much larger area of date-rape and cases where the victim knows the offender from before, I believe is dominated by ethnic Norwegians.
posted by MaiaMadness at 12:44 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


but surely without the WOD you've have a ton more money to spend on those hardcore criminals

Okay, look, I get that you don't like current US drug policy. I understand that. I don't like it either.

But you're treating reform of drug laws as some sort of panacea for fixing the US criminal justice system.

It's just not like that.

Look at the numbers: only about a third of prisoners' most serious offense was drug related. Slightly more than a quarter are violent offenders, and slightly less than a third are in for property crimes. These would be crimes no matter what you think about drug laws.

Would reforming our drug laws help? Absolutely. You'd probably clear out the 17% of inmates in on possession and "unspecified drug" charges immediately and more than half of the traffickers.* That's a total of 25% of the prison population right there. Then there's the untold number of criminals who did some violent or property crime related to their drug activities. Getting rid of these guys would be a good change.

But it wouldn't be a big enough change to support the sort of things you're talking about. Knock 25% off the US incarceration rate and we'd still be in first place. Cut it by half and we'd be third. The courts are full to the brim with people doing stupid, evil shit without narcotics being involved at all. Bank robbery is still something you can go to jail for. So are arson, assault, and grand theft. Liberalizing US drug laws would really only alleviate some prisoner overcrowding. This would be a good thing, but it wouldn't permit the sort of things Norway is currently doing. We've got bigger problems than that.

So if you want to change the drug laws because they're irrational, unjust, expensive, and burdensome on the prison system, I'm with you all the way. But if you think that this is somehow going to radically reshape the face of the American penal system, you're just wrong.

*Even if we legalized, regulated, and taxed drugs, this wouldn't go away. Prescription drugs are legal, but people are busted for trafficking those all the time, and I don't see any good reason to change that. They're controlled substances for a reason.
posted by valkyryn at 12:55 PM on May 27, 2010


the Scandinavian welfare state is showing signs of significant hidden consequences.

This is what you choose to assault the Scandinavian Welfare State with? A review of a work of fiction? Socio-politically charged fiction, yes, but fiction none the less.
posted by MaiaMadness at 1:07 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there a significant movement for harsher prisons in Scandinavia? Is it on the scale of British support for reintroduction of the death penalty (said by some to be a majority, certainly into double digits) or more like Dutch support for marijuana prohibition (negligible)?

It's a bit of a non-issue, really, at least in Norway... I mean, there are a couple of mainstream political parties talking about it, but no one campaigns on it, you know?
posted by MaiaMadness at 1:11 PM on May 27, 2010


I'm aware of this. I'm also aware that their fertility rate is 1.77 infants/woman, which while higher than much of the rest of non-British-Isles Europe, still falls a decent amount below the 2.1 infants/woman you need to maintain your population.


It's 1.98, now, according to Statistisk sentralbyrå.
posted by MaiaMadness at 1:19 PM on May 27, 2010


Bank robbery is still something you can go to jail for. So are arson, assault, and grand theft. Liberalizing US drug laws would really only alleviate some prisoner overcrowding. This would be a good thing, but it wouldn't permit the sort of things Norway is currently doing. We've got bigger problems than that.

I'm scratching my head over your responses to this. It reminds me of how some people talk about combatting terrorism with near-indiscriminate violence -- a fundamental failure to see how you are contributing to the problem.

So you go completely harm reduction, save a few $, but not enough to put everyone in Norway-style lux-prisons, if that's the argument. So what? IF (and sure, it's a big if), this cuts your recidivism rate because the focus is on rehab and not punishment, then you are getting $$ back by future criminal processing and imprisonment -- not to mention the societal cost of the future crime itself. Why you are boiling this down to "We can't afford this for every criminal" is a mystery to me. Maybe part of the reason is the WOD, and another part is that we (your country and mine) are so rehab-averse that prison is the gift that keeps on giving.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:21 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


If your starting point is "this doesn't really reduce recidivism; our guys are simply different/subject to different pressures than yours" then ok, different conclusions follow. I haven't seen you say that. You've simply said you have too many criminals, so it's too expensive.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:22 PM on May 27, 2010


I'm also aware that their fertility rate is 1.77 infants/woman, which while higher than much of the rest of non-British-Isles Europe, still falls a decent amount below the 2.1 infants/woman you need to maintain your population.

Links to more Norwegian statistics below. Summary: population numbers are rising due to more births, higher life expectancy and net immigration. The fertility rate has risen to 1,98. The largest number of immigrants come from Nordic countries, Baltic countries and Poland.

Statistics Norway on immigration:
"Immigrants and those born in Norway to immigrant parents constitute more than 552 000 persons or 11.4 per cent of Norway's population. Broken down by region, 257 000 have a European background, 199 000 persons have a background from Asia, 67 000 from Africa, 18 000 from Latin-America and 11 000 from North America and Oceania.

The majority of the immigrants are from Poland, Sweden, Germany and Iraq. Thirty-five per cent of the immigrants have Norwegian citizenship."

Statistics Norway on population increase:
"Highest birth surplus in 36 years

Norway's population increased by 15 000 to 4 873 000 in the first quarter of 2010. The population increase was 2 100 higher than in the same period last year. This was due to the high birth surplus and a larger immigration than in any previous first quarter. (...)
Polish citizens still constitute the largest group of immigrants. Some noteworthy changes could be seen in the immigration pattern of the first three months.

A total of 2 500 Swedish citizens arrived in the first quarter, and this was 850 or 50 per cent more than last year. Nine hundred Swedish citizens emigrated, and this resulted in a net immigration of 1 600, towards 950 last year. A total of 1 800 Lithuanian citizens arrived, twice as many as in 2009. Only 300 emigrated, resulting in a net immigration of 1 500, whereas last year it stood at only 600.

Latvian citizens made up the fourth largest group this year, and for the first time were to be found on the list of the countries from where most immigrants came. Immigration by Icelandic citizens also increased, from 250 last year to 400 this year. Refugees showed differing developments. Net immigration among Somali citizens doubled from 200 last year to 400 this year, whereas net immigration by Iraqi citizens decreased from 300 last year to 150."

Also: "The total fertility rate for 2009 was 1.98. This is among the highest in Europe. In the mid-1980s the rate varied between 1.66 and 1.75.

A boy born in 2009 can expect a life duration of 78.60 years, and a girl can expect 83.05 years. Both are slightly up from 2008, and high compared to the rest of Europe. "

In short: if you've got a ton of pensioners and not a ton of taxpayers, you're screwed six ways to Tuesday.


That's correct. But will this actually be a big problem for Norway? Even if you don't consider rising birth rates in Norway and net immigration, Norway has the "oil fund" to pay for future pensions and related health care expenses.
posted by iviken at 1:24 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm aware of this. I'm also aware that their fertility rate is 1.77 infants/woman, which while higher than much of the rest of non-British-Isles Europe, still falls a decent amount below the 2.1 infants/woman you need to maintain your population.

We are just fine. According to this (link in Norwegian, sorry) our population is estimated to reach 5 billion in 2012, and by 2060, we'll be somewhere around 6.5 billion (that's the median estimate).
posted by MaiaMadness at 1:25 PM on May 27, 2010


Bank robbery is still something you can go to jail for. So are arson, assault, and grand theft

Very true. But how many of these crimes are committed by people who've already been through the system for a non-violent offense, and were damaged by the prison culture? I'd be really curious to see how many of our violent criminals, bank robber, and the like are the direct result of recidivism due to what they became inside.
posted by quin at 1:33 PM on May 27, 2010


But how many of these crimes are committed by people who've already been through the system for a non-violent offense, and were damaged by the prison culture? I'd be really curious to see how many of our violent criminals, bank robber, and the like are the direct result of recidivism due to what they became inside.

Not for no reason prisons are called universities for crime. This is such a truism - even in the context of political prisoners (Nelson Mandela for a relatively recent famous example). This has been true for every country and in every culture. You go in a novice, and often come out a hardened criminal.

I don't know how much the WOD is responsible for incarceration rates, either directly or indirectly, but it might be interesting to compare U.S. incarceration rates as percentage of population before the WOD and after and compare that to other countries. I suspect the U.S. rates were always somewhat higher and the WOD only exacerbated the problem.
posted by VikingSword at 1:50 PM on May 27, 2010


Other than building prison palaces, Halden's major contributions to the world includes sending Olaf Julius Herman Emil Rove off in a boat to Milwaukee in 1886.

In Norway, Halden is less known for the prison and better known as the location for the popular TV show "Allsang på grensen".
posted by iviken at 1:58 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I applaud them. America's prisons are in the dark ages, and until we change them AND the economic inequities which lead people to crime, nothing will change.
posted by agregoli at 6:02 PM on May 27, 2010


See, the other reason I'm not all that thrilled about this whole idea is that I'm not actually all that interested in rehabilitation. I'm basically into retributive justice, full stop.
posted by valkyryn at 6:33 PM on May 27, 2010


This is what you choose to assault the Scandinavian Welfare State with? A review of a work of fiction? Socio-politically charged fiction, yes, but fiction none the less.

The reason I didn't go back to Sweden was because my relationship with a Swede didn't work out. One of the reasons it didn't work out is that I'm half Jewish and got pretty sick of his (and his family's) blatant anti-semitism and racism at some point. Not all Swedes all like this, but it was the dark underbelly I encountered that made me afraid to tell people my heritage and hesitant to move back there.

I did live a wonderful life there, but the housing projects I lived near were pretty dismal and mostly populated by unemployed refugees who seemed to struggle to get jobs. Of course it's pretty hypocritical to criticize them considering that the thing shocking about them was that they were *almost* as bad as the ones here in NYC. I think things that are bad in Sweden are laughably insignificant compared to what's bad in America, but shocking given how nice everything else is.
posted by melissam at 6:47 PM on May 27, 2010


"Umm... you haven't been paying to the pending demographic crises gearing up to hit Japan, Eastern, and now Western/Southern Europe. In short: if you've got a ton of pensioners and not a ton of taxpayers, you're screwed six ways to Tuesday.

"
Lower populations might be desirable, but falling populations are almost always massively problematic."

Infinite growth is impossible; the current human population level on Earth is probably unsustainable. The problems of falling populations are going to have to be dealt with sooner or later, probably best to do it sooner.
posted by Mitheral at 7:05 PM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Have Scandinavian countries traditionally had this kind of penal policy? Or is this a fairly recent thing? I'd like to know how this got started in the first place.

My country has a very vocal lobby which advocates longer sentences in harsher conditions, and a neoliberal party that wants to privatise our prison system. I am very interested in hearing about other countries that changed to a more "enlightened" system, as opposed to always having been that way.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:14 PM on May 27, 2010


valkyryn, even when that ensures that criminals will continue doing crimes? Against new victims? What's the point of that? Prison doesn't need to be a resort, but it does need to be WORK - work towards becoming a better person and citizen.
posted by agregoli at 7:45 PM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know the best way to combat recidivism? The death penalty!

I kid.
posted by WalterMitty at 11:57 PM on May 27, 2010


So are arson, assault, and grand theft. Liberalizing US drug laws would really only alleviate some prisoner overcrowding. This would be a good thing, but it wouldn't permit the sort of things Norway is currently doing. We've got bigger problems than that.

I don't know. It's almost as if you're suggesting that human nature is different depending on the geography, and that we have nothing to learn from other societies which do things differently with better results. I find that to be nothing more than prideful ignorance, but maybe I'm missing something.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:17 AM on May 28, 2010


*Even if we legalized, regulated, and taxed drugs, this wouldn't go away. Prescription drugs are legal, but people are busted for trafficking those all the time, and I don't see any good reason to change that. They're controlled substances for a reason.

Yeah, because the best way to treat addiction is to put the addict in prison.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:20 AM on May 28, 2010


valkyryn: Prescription drugs are legal, but people are busted for trafficking those all the time

They're not legal for getting high. Hence the trafficking.
posted by daksya at 1:59 AM on May 28, 2010


See, the other reason I'm not all that thrilled about this whole idea is that I'm not actually all that interested in rehabilitation. I'm basically into retributive justice, full stop.

Are you serious?
posted by knapah at 2:35 AM on May 28, 2010


I'm basically into retributive justice, full stop.
And therein lies the problem within America, which alienates you so much from other first world countries and "civilized" people.
posted by adamvasco at 3:00 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do wonder at the fairness of the incarceration rate in Norway. The casual racism/anti-immigrant sentiment is not rare here, really (I'm visiting), and it makes me wonder if the prison population is skewed to immigrants not *only* because they commit more crimes but because they are more likely to be caught and more likely to be pushed into prison awaiting deportation.

My hostess is fond of sweeping generalizations about immigrants: "Poles are criminals who walk into your house to rob you in the middle of the day, Somalis are all unemployed losers who suck off the public teat forever..."

She professed to be "shocked" when she came with me to Minneapolis and saw Somalis in middle class cars with jobs and such. But I spent the day walking around Trøyen and Grønland (Oslo neighborhoods) the other day, and it didn't seem any different to me than Minneapolis, except that it seemed less grim.
posted by RedEmma at 3:08 AM on May 28, 2010


Have Scandinavian countries traditionally had this kind of penal policy? Or is this a fairly recent thing? I'd like to know how this got started in the first place.

Finland made a conscious policy change in 60's and 70's from a strict russian style penal system to lenient scandinavian system. According to this article the change was an expert-led process, with very little politics involved. In the early 2000's there was a swarm of similar articles about Finland, but the current situation isn't as rosy anymore, as prison capacity is not enough and the conditions have become more difficult because of that. Still, 64 prisoners per 100 000 is quite NOT EVIL.
posted by Free word order! at 3:18 AM on May 28, 2010


Finland made a conscious policy change in 60's and 70's from a strict russian style penal system to lenient scandinavian system. According to this article the change was an expert-led process, with very little politics involved.

Thanks for the article. Judging by it, it seems that a key philosophical difference is that, in Russia/the Anglosphere, prisons provide a service to the victims of crime (society and/or the state) by exacting a measured revenge on their behalf, whereas in Scandinavia, prisons provide a service to their inmates, by helping them to make amends and reenter society.
posted by acb at 8:41 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The reason I didn't go back to Sweden was because my relationship with a Swede didn't work out. One of the reasons it didn't work out is that I'm half Jewish and got pretty sick of his (and his family's) blatant anti-semitism and racism at some point. Not all Swedes all like this, but it was the dark underbelly I encountered that made me afraid to tell people my heritage and hesitant to move back there.

That's very sad... I can't say I've encountered a lot of racism in Sweden... I've spent a lot of time there, as I have an aunt and uncle in Gothenburg, a brother in Stockholm, another brother in Idre, and friends of the family all over the place. Then again, I'm blonde and blue-eyed, so what do I know, right? :P Still, these things might be very much influenced by where you live and who you talk to. I'm very liberal, as is most of my family and friends, and I've spent most time in cities, where people are by default often more liberal than in smaller places.

Here in Norway, anti-semitism is rarely encountered, probably because we were hit so hard during WWII. There are neo-nazi groups of course, such as Vigrid (scary motherfuckers, basing their anti-semitism on the old Norse religions), but while hobby-racism runs rampant among regular people (as it does; I think that is unavoidable, because people like to place others in boxes, and xenophobia can never be entirely overcome), anti-semitism is very taboo in the mainstream and simply not tolerated by most.
posted by MaiaMadness at 9:16 AM on May 28, 2010


You know the best way to combat recidivism? The death penalty!

You'd be surprised how many people I've encountered online who actually believe this...
posted by MaiaMadness at 9:18 AM on May 28, 2010


Yeah, because the best way to treat addiction is to put the addict in prison.

We've had great results battling drugs here by giving drug addicts jobs. There's a magazine, called =Oslo, which is compiled by ex drug users who are volunteers. Homeless people can buy the magazines for NOK25 a piece, and they have to be sober to buy them, and then they sell them for NOK50 per magazine. Then they can go buy more. The whole programme demands that they be off drugs to buy and sell the magazines. It works pretty well, because people don't buy magazines from people who go shoot up after they've bought the magazines. It's done a world of good. Of course, what would be even better would be if we took a little bit out of that fantastic prison budget of ours to put the people who can't be helped this way through rehab. Going cold turkey on your own is hard.
posted by MaiaMadness at 9:51 AM on May 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Russians reportedly have a highly effective prison drug rehabilitation project. It involves tying the addicts to a bed frame for two weeks and beating them with iron bars when they start complaining about withdrawal. The recidivism rate is said to be very low.
posted by acb at 9:57 AM on May 28, 2010


She professed to be "shocked" when she came with me to Minneapolis and saw Somalis in middle class cars with jobs and such. But I spent the day walking around Trøyen and Grønland (Oslo neighborhoods) the other day, and it didn't seem any different to me than Minneapolis, except that it seemed less grim.

Let me guess: Your friend has never set foot at Hauketo or Holmlia, right? Sounds like she's from the centre, or the west side. There's a lot of prejudice going around, and hobby-racism is a particularly common trait among Norwegians. It's not that you really believe the stereotypes, but you end up repeating them anyway.
posted by MaiaMadness at 11:47 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Russians reportedly have a highly effective prison drug rehabilitation project. It involves tying the addicts to a bed frame for two weeks and beating them with iron bars when they start complaining about withdrawal. The recidivism rate is said to be very low.

Jesus, that's barbaric!
posted by MaiaMadness at 11:48 AM on May 28, 2010


She professed to be "shocked" when she came with me to Minneapolis and saw Somalis in middle class cars with jobs and such.

Somalis are probably the least integrated and poorest group of immigrants in Norway.

"A Somalian woman who came to Norway more than 10 years ago is harshly criticizing her fellow Somalian immigrants and Norwegian authorities. In a new book, she claims Somalians themselves don't want to integrate into Norwegian society, and that Norwegian welfare programs make it easy for them to remain isolated.
(...)
"I'm tired of being patient with a situation where children aren't getting enough food at home, where women are beaten by their husbands, where welfare payments to the (Somalian) families are used by the men to buy (the narcotic) khat, where the willingness to simply obtain more welfare money is stronger than the ability to care for children," writes Amal Aden. She accuses many spokesmen for the Somalian community of hypocrisy, saying they say they support integration when in reality they don't.

Several Somalian activists in Norway are already rejecting the book and blasting Amal Aden for criticizing immigrants traumatized by war and poverty in their homeland. "Half of the Somalians in Norway have been here less than five years, have little education and have problems integrating," claims Said Abdulwahab. "It doesn't help to criticize them."

It is often said that the integration of Somalis works so much better in the USA than in Norway. I was curious about whether this was the case, and if so, why,” explains Mutema.

In the public debate on this topic, it is claimed that the effect of Norwegian welfare benefits is to make people passive and hinder integration. A relatively large number of Somalis in Norway live off of social welfare schemes, and unemployment is higher in this group than in other immigrant groups. In Omaha, however, all the welfare schemes are linked to participation in the labour market, and unemployment among Somalis is much lower than in Norway."

posted by iviken at 2:45 PM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is true that the Somalis have a bad rep... But there's also a lot of undue prejudice. A friend of mine was robbed in broad daylight, by a man of African descent. She referred to him a Somali. I asked if she'd reported it, and she said, "What am I supposed to tell them? A big Somali man stole my wallet?" I asked if she could describe him, and she said that he looked like a big black man with a broad nose and big lips, the very essence of stereotypical African. She assured me that she wouldn't be able to point him out in a line-up. The interesting thing about her description is that that doesn't sound like a Somali at all. West-Africans have those features. Somalis, like Ethiopians and Eritreans, have much slimmer facial features, and don't look so different from Europeans, apart from skin colour and hair texture, which I pointed out, much to her dismay. Her description of this person was so filled with hatred and racism, it was all I could do not to scream at her.

So it may very well be that many Somalis don't make an effort at integrating themselves, but the fact that every wrongdoing by anyone of African descent is pinned on them isn't making matters any better.

That said, when you get away from the inner East-side of Oslo and out into the East-side suburbs of Hauketo, Homlia and Groruddalen, there are plenty of middle-class Somali families, living in row-houses and driving Volvos.
posted by MaiaMadness at 6:07 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The biggest thing I noticed about the immigrant section of Oslo was the quality of fruit and vegetables went up massively, and costs were lower.

Got some very nice samosas too.

I'm going to be in Norway from the 9th of June for a couple of weeks, I'm looking forward to it (although my bank account isn't).
posted by knapah at 6:23 AM on May 29, 2010


@knapah: Yeah, I know, we're an expensive country... And you're right about the fruits and vegetables. If I really want quality, I go find a Turkish or Pakistani shop. And yellow mango is in season now, too! :D
posted by MaiaMadness at 6:25 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is stupidly late, but if anyone still wants to try and get a handle on Janteloven, and has seen Battlestar Galactica, I give you Gaius' father. His relationship with Gaius is Jantelov - "oh fuck you, think you're better than me, rejecting your heritage by rising above your station" etc. etc.
posted by Dysk at 1:11 AM on June 9, 2010


Also late: Three charts to break you heart, about the US incarceration rate, sinco that seems to figure prominently in the discussion here.
posted by Harald74 at 1:41 AM on June 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


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