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The Norwegian prison where inmates are treated like people (theguardian.com)
260 points by netvarun on Sept 17, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 214 comments

It looks like the Norwegians have gotten over the fundamental problem that we have in the States (and presumably in other countries): the idea that people should be made to suffer for perceived transgressions even if it costs the rest of society more (and yes, I do mean after accounting for the accompanied reduction of the undesired behavior by making an example of offenders).

Apparently we're too primitive to get beyond the juvenile practice of cutting off our nose to spite our face, and it informs our drug policy, the way we deal with the homeless, our prison system, our views on social welfare, etc.

I imagine I might agree with you on many things -- there is much to be admired in this Norwegian system and an there is much to be lamented in the US system. However you lose me when you say 'perceived transgressions'. The transgressions are real -- you might think that certain drug laws are injust (I certainly do) but the transgression is not simply perceived. And certainly I'll grant you that people have been wrongly convicted -- but that is a very small part of the prison population.

That being said, our prisons aim to punish, incapacitate and rehabilitate. Punishment is a legitimate role for society; it is not juvenile.

To me, that means more than "what you did to get thrown in prison". In the US, many people see prisoners as fundamentally failed human beings, they are in prison because they are "Bad", not so much because they broke law X or law Y. You see this when right-wing pundits talk about "thugs" as in the recent Trayvon Martin incident. Often, but not always, there is a racial element. The transgressions that many believe merit such harsh punishment are not the same as the crimes for which a person was convicted, in fact, many people are against letting people out of prison even once they have been cleared!

"In the US, many people see prisoners as fundamentally failed human beings, they are in prison because they are "Bad", not so much because they broke law X or law Y."

I don't believe this -- neither do you. Thus in my strictly scientific sample of people in the United States (n=2), 0% believe that statement.

"in fact, many people are against letting people out of prison even once they have been cleared!" -- I'd ask you to find the name of one person who believes innocent people should be incarcerated.

In the US, there are areas afflicted by various levels of gang activity. Many gang members have grown up in these same areas. Many crimes in these areas go unreported or otherwise unsolved. (Think Brownsville / East New York or something.)

The theory underpinning most of these wishes, insofar as these wishes exist and they have a theoretical rather than emotional underpinning, is that there exist a class of offenders who guilty of crimes far in excess of what they have been convicted for, that they have internalized norms condoning things such as violence and theft, and that if released they would continue to pose an ongoing risk to society.

Assuming their original imprisonment to have been the just consequences of one act for which they have been convicted, then the subsequent fantasy imprisonment would be the just consequences of the other acts of which they are (or are forecast to be) equally guilty but for which they have not been convicted.

N.b. The appropriateness and efficacy of these wishes, specific materializations of these wishes, and the way that they interact with other concerns involving the rule of law, the fundamental dignity and rights of Man, and the greater good of society... all of that is not addressed in this post, because the nature of crime and attitudes towards crime in America is a complicated topic and this post is short.

I do believe this. Is claiming I don't believe the thing I just stated I believe some sort of brilliant rhetorical tool? Or are you just an arrogant idiot?

Just look at how the word "thug" is carefully used in rhetoric. The implication is that someone is a criminal simply for being who they are, not because of any particular infraction. Further implied is that people who are "thugs" deserve whatever "punishment" they end up getting, regardless of guilt or even whether they were accused of a crime. The Trayvon Martin controversy brought quite a bit of this to the surface for all to see.

You can find plenty of instances where there was resistance to letting an innocent person out of prison, start by Googling "innocence project".

I think what JackFR is saying you don't believe, is the thing you said "many" people believe, that people are in prison because of an essential quality of badness. Obviously you think it's a widespread belief, JackFR is saying he doesn't hold it, and apparently you don't either, so who are the 'many'?

> I don't believe this -- neither do you. Thus in my strictly scientific sample of people in the United States (n=2), 0% believe that statement.

> I'd ask you to find the name of one person who believes innocent people should be incarcerated.

There are most certainly stigmas in the US about prisoners. There are also stigmas are about certain kind of crimes and that racist and sexist in nature. This is a country in which politicians do not pledge to ensure fairness in the law but to be even harder on criminals.


> Punishment is a legitimate role for society; it is not juvenile.

What's your rationale for this? Personally I can't agree. I can see the logic behind punishment-as-deterrent (but then it creates perverse incentives), but punishment as an end goal itself isn't an appropriate concern for society.

There's some deterrent in punishment, and there's also the deterring factor of preventing self-justice.

But the most important feature is healing for the victims, the partial return of justice. When someone is murdered or raped (let's not cloud the discussion with morally ambiguous crimes like drugs), the victims and their families have the fabric of their lives completely torn up; they experience immense pain and suffering. Yes, I'm going for pathos, and that's on purpose, pathos is central to the argument. The knowledge that the perpetrator has pain inflicted on him is an important factor in stitching their lives back together. I'd love for a proponent of the "rational" argument to sit down across from a mother whose daughter has been raped and explain that her feelings are irrational.

Yes, this is an irrational argument, but humans are irrational (the rape itself was probably a rather irrational act) - like it or not, that's a fact of how humans work. An order of society that ignores this fact is bound to fail.

There should be strong preventive measures in place, the best policy is the one where the crime isn't committed in the first place. Education and solid ways out of poverty are important factors here. Avoiding recidivism is also important. But once the crime is committed (which is the theme here), a narrow focus on rehabilitation is blind to the "red meat" of the issue.

You're writing with emotions, not facts. What you got right is education and social mobility are key factors to less crime, Norway achieves this.

What you didn't get right is the role of the justice system. It's not the role of the justice system to pander to emotions. A judge does not sit down with the mother of a murder-rape victim and explain to her how she ought to feel, at least that is not the case in Norway. One could argue this is in fact the case in the US, in the sense that the laws the judges rule by pander to emotions.

Humans=\=Society. That is the gist of what I am saying. Society is a construct, and it is not just a reflection of human nature, it is also a product of our ability to coexist. Anyone who has been in a relationship knows coexisting means sacrifice, both emotionally and otherwise.

> It's not the role of the justice system to pander to emotions.

In Oz courts, there is often a "victim impact" statement read to the court, eg a rape victim will tell the court about the negative effects the assault has had on their life (eg can no longer have sex with partner, so is now divorced; can't leave house at night so has lost job). This impact statement will be taken into consideration when sentencing, and is often directly referenced in the judge's closing statement. Eg, "the victim has experienced years of mental anguish and you show no remorse; I am therefore pronouncing the maximum allowable sentence".

So yes, the court very much does "pander" to emotions. I'd love to hear an actual lawyer chime in, the ones I've talked to have a very strong code of professional ethics surrounding this (believe it or not.)

I ought to have been clearer on what I meant. When an action degrades the quality of life (just to use a general term) of course it should matter in a court of law. My point was merely that when deciding on the sentence, the law should consider the need of the society while leaving the emotions of individuals out of it to the extent this can be done without causing further harm.

Sure it does. But not everywhere, and it shouldn't here either.

I couldn't disagree harder with your assertion that society exists independently of the humans in it. Remove the human element from society and you're left with an inhumane society. A system that comes before the people in it. That then leads to perverse conclusions such as the idea that a gross violation against an individual member of society is not a violation against society, and conversely, that there can exist crimes against society that doesn't actually hurt any members of it (such as non-violent possession of drugs).

You completely misread everything in my comment. That is actually quite impressive seeing as I explicitly stated in summation what I meant, I feel I shouldn't have to explain myself because of a lack of reading comprehension but here goes.

> not just a reflection of human nature

I acknowledge the human element, I should think no-one believes a construct doesn't reflect the maker, but society like any invention is also more than that.

> Yes, this is an irrational argument

When this topic comes up I'm always surprised by the flood of comments stating "well golly gee, I'm sure he's real sorry he raped and stabbed those girls, we just need to put him through some advanced reading courses then send him back on his way!" Followed by, "now if you think he should be punished for his actions well you're just barbaric and primitive and irrational".

Punishment is not irrational. It's a fundamental ethical standpoint. Mitigating factors should be weighed (mental health, IQ), but at the end of the day people need to face the consequences of their actions.

"Consequences" are what you get in nature; the consequences of rape is that the perpetrator got his jollies. Do you think that an imprisoned rapist feels bad because he's being punished? If anything he's going to be angry at those meting out the punishment. If he felt bad about rape, he wouldn't have done it, or he would have turned himself in, or killed himself.

And part of the point of rehabilitation is not "golly gee, we just need to put him through some advanced reading courses then send him back on his way!" as you so childishly put it, but that the offender wouldn't be released until it was fairly certain he wouldn't offend again (because he'd been rehabilitated). I'm fairly certain that kind of rehabilitation would take years at a minimum.

> as you so childishly put it

Ad-homs do not improve the conversation.

> the consequences of rape is that the perpetrator got his jollies.

With the further consequence that the rapist has emotionally traumatized an innocent victim, and the still further consequence that the victim may demand justice. The point of punishment is not primarily to make the offender feel guilty. The point of punishment is to make the victim feel better.

Think of it transactionally. If I stole $50,000 from your grandma and got caught, you'd expect me to pay back the money, yes? Now say I beat your grandma with a stick because I thought it would be funny. As we're too civilized for the courts to have me beaten with a stick, instead I repay her emotional trauma with my own - through incarceration.

While your ethics might be different - you may think people should not bear the responsibility for their own actions - my ethics firmly hold that we are all accountable for our own decisions.

So, does your desire to hurt people who do bad things mean that you will accept a 70% rate of re-offending, or would you trade your desire for revenge for a 15% rate of re-offending?

That is the question you really need to answer.

Is it better to stop future offending or feel good about inflicting suffering on others who are "bad" right now?

You might also want to throw into the mix the observation that a very large number of people in prison have untreated mental / behavioral issues and that a very large number of people who commit violent or sexual crimes have themselves been victims of such crimes in their formative years.

My argument is that whatever your ethics are, treating people like animals creates more animals. We all pay the cost of that.

> your desire to hurt people who do bad things > ...feel good about inflicting suffering > ...your desire for revenge

Again, you attack me personally, this is not a good look for you. I wish harm on nobody; I long for a utopian day of mutual respect.

> You might also want to throw into the mix the observation that a very large number of people in prison have untreated mental / behavioral issues

I have already directly raised this point. You are changing the frame.

> [will] you [...] accept a 70% rate of re-offending, or would you trade your desire for revenge for a 15% rate of re-offending? That is the question you really need to answer.

I will boldly answer your question, though you have answered none of mine. Yes, I will accept a higher rate of re-offending. Ethics are not convenient, and are often not utilitarian. I would not kill one person to save ten, nor even a thousand. If holding an individual to account for their actions has a high cost, then so be it.

"Truly ethical behavior is acting according to principles even when those principles are inconvenient."

Yes, I will accept a higher rate of re-offending.

Thus, creating more victims and more criminals in the long run. We have to burn the village in order to save it?

>The point of punishment is to make the victim feel better.

Why should taxpayers have to pay for stone-age, eye-for-an-eye vengeance? Harsh sentencing is expensive.

I answered this in my reply to pgcsmd, but additionally: I don't have kids but my taxes supplement education. I don't drive, but my taxes supplement roadworks. Likewise, my taxes also supplement justice.

Now the US prison system has become a corrupt business - and that's a separate and awful issue. But the fundamental ethical basis for punishment stands: you steal money, you pay it back - you deal emotional trauma, you pay it back.

Money and emotional trauma are not equivalent. When a thief is forced to give back the money they stole, the victim tangibly benefits. Torturing murderers doesn't tangibly benefit the victim's surviving family members, because emotion isn't transferable capital.

Thus, our goal should be the lowest possible crime rate, and I'm not sure punishment for vengeance's sake is ultimately compatible with that goal.

> When a thief is forced to give back the money they stole, the victim tangibly benefits [... while] emotion isn't transferable capital

I propose that you would feel differently if someone had emotionally assaulted you or your loved ones via rape or violence. Perhaps this is a difference in personal ethics, but I despise such assaults more than property damage; at the very least I hope we can agree that such crimes deserve to be redressed.

I believe that it is. I don't want the punishment to be extreme, or to be in any form other than the deprivation of liberty, but I do think that the criminal justice system should inflict punishment for its own sake, and not just for the sake of deterrence.

I cannot prove this, and I personally am not inclined to believe in proofs from first principles in these matters, but I can appeal to people's gut sense of what is moral and decent. Who really believes that a person can murder someone else (and let's suppose that they were not raised in a violent or abusive environment that would tend to normalize acts of violence), out of pure malice, and then be allowed to enjoy the same happiness as if they hadn't committed that act?

I'm aware that there are people who don't really believe in "pure malice" and are therefore more sympathetic to murderers. While I'm happy to here their arguments, my own observations and experience suggest that there is tendency in human nature to do what is wrong, and this should be punished. I'm also not arguing against taking into account a person's upbringing and even their "mental health" when sentencing.

>Who really believes that a person can murder someone else, ... out of pure malice, and then be allowed to enjoy the same happiness as if they hadn't committed that act?

Who really believes that such a thing would be possible, regardless of external punishment?

Surely only a psychopath could kill someone in anger and not ultimately be destroyed by the act, almost by definition, and we've already decided that those people are medical cases, and that punishing them literally does nothing.

I guess it depends on how you personally view human nature; this stuff is hard to pin down. Maybe I'm just naive.

Humans are not quite as psychologically flimsy as we like to paint them. I personally believe the foundation of your logic- that anyone who is not mentally ill will suffer lifelong depression and unhappiness after killing someone- is unrealistic.

Just think of examples of self defense, or crimes of passion (e.g. the killing of your lover's mistress). Why do we never hear of how all of these people fall into bottomless pits of depression?

Particularly in your description of it "destroying" someone, I wonder if you are thinking of "Crime and Punishment". Remember that was not a crime of passion, but a planned killing expressly chosen to be in cold blood. Killing in cold blood is a different story, but we are not talking about that.

Surgeons cut on you in cold blood. I could not be a surgeon. Having a particular trait is not inherently evil nor inherently maladjusted. Geez.

First, it's not clear to me that a persons own feelings of guilt are a sufficient punishment for their acts. A person might feel that they were at least partially justified (even if they were not), or might find other rationalizations to mitigate their feelings of guilt.

On the subject of psychopaths, I don't think this category exists in the sense that you mean it. In particular, the personality traits usually thought of as characterizing psychopathy, do not predict criminal behavior strongly (or at all) [1]. So I think you need to reconsider your factual claim that there is a category of people, defined by certain mental traits, who are "medical cases" and cannot be deterred from committing crimes.

As you say, people have very different views of human nature. I consider the idea that a mentally healthy person would never want to harm someone else, or else would suffer from extreme guilt if they did, to be wrong. Also, most arguments for this viewpoint, including your own, seem to suffer from the No True Scotsman fallacy.

[1] http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/j...

might find other rationalizations to mitigate their feelings of guilt

Count on this. People are excellent at rationalizing their own actions.

The typical rationales are 1) the society as a whole is more well-ordered and better off when people do not benefit from evil acts; 2) such punishments act as a deterrent. One can reasonably disagree with either or both of those. I suppose I took issue with dismissing them off-hand as 'juvenile'

But it's only fair then to ask you how you can be so presumptuous to think you can, or even should 'rehabilitate'?

I don't think the first is a rationale in and of itself, only when combined with the second. I don't think anyone disagrees with the first except perhaps criminals themselves, but I certainly don't think disagreement with the first has much to do with the Norwegian system. Norwegians obviously think that people should not benefit from acts of evil; I mean, they do have laws after all.

Anyway, you are missing a third option. Imprisonment does not have to be about either rehabilitation or punishment. It could also, or even instead, be about detainment and isolation. In other words, you can imprison somebody not out of some sort of desire to "get back at them", and not with any hope of correcting their behavior, but merely to make sure they cannot injure people again.

Consider the case of Charles Manson: That guy is way too far gone to ever really hope that he can be rehabilitated. There is no fixing that guy; the US prison system couldn't do it, the Norwegian system couldn't do it, no "Manhattan Project of Psychiatry" could do it. Even so, that doesn't mean that the only option left is to ensure that he lives in relative misery the rest of his nature life. We could allow him to live the rest of his life out in relative comfort, so long as we never allow him to be free to harm others again.

Where we cannot 'fix', we obviously need to detain and isolate, but doing that for the safety of the public is sufficient motivation. We don't need to do that out of a desire to 'punish'. (Unless you buy into "such punishments act as a deterrent")

In other words, you can imprison somebody not out of some sort of desire to "get back at them", and not with any hope of correcting their behavior, but merely to make sure they cannot injure people again.

This is the only truly just reason for impeding anyone's freedoms. Rehabilitation is certainly a noble end, but anything else seems to be disastrously misguided, as is evidenced by the modern situation we live in. Deterrence? How do you deter someone who has no other avenue to make a living, as we have done to felons? Retribution is also a truly vulgar line of thinking, appealing to our basest instincts, and we need to grow out of it as soon as possible.

"This is the only truly just reason for impeding anyone's freedoms. Rehabilitation is certainly a noble end"

Yes, that makes sense. Rehabilitation is something that you might as well attempt while detaining somebody dangerous, but detainment is obviously the priority.

Indeed. In the first phase of incarceration the priority is to remove threat from society, over time it shifts to rehabilitation.

Consider a non-violent, white collar crime. Bernie Madoff for instance. He bilked billions from people. Say instead of being sentenced to jail, he was merely barred from any type of financial dealings, and forced to repay his victims. Would justice have been served?

The issue then would be deterrence, it would you could try your luck, in which case you could win really big, but if it didn't work out it wouldn't really matter because you wouldn't have lost anything that you had in the first place.

We could allow him to live the rest of his life out in relative comfort

I agree that proactively making his life miserable is silly, but the question becomes "how much comfort do we provide". Different people have different ideas of how much they are willing to pay to fund this man's life in "relative comfort", and of course only naturally their desire to channel their dollars towards his comfort is lower than it probably would be for an individual who is not a convicted criminal...

Consider Bernie Madoff. If ever there was a guy in jail solely for punishment, it is he. Prison is doing nothing to rehabilitate him, "so he can function in society" when he gets out. And his lifetime ban from the security industry incapacitates him from further crimes.

Why on earth is he being locked up. Pissing away the life savings of thousands of people? Water under the bridge. Stop being so vengeful -- it's childish and unbecoming!

Deterrence is the only reason. His punishment must at least negate the years of luxury he got from is scam. Nobody should be tempted to repeat it for a few great years at the prize of prison afterwards.

Frankly, that is impossible to do humanly. How old is he now, and how many years did he live in luxury? You'd need to be waterboarding him or something to strive for some sort of "eye for an eye" equilibrium.

[I somehow inadvertently deleted the comment you responded to sorry]

No worries.

I think Bernie Madoff is an interesting example. He doesn't represent a threat to anybody (he is not a violent man. Furthermore we should be able to make sure he doesn't start running another scam again, even if he is free, since we know he is a con-man now), and if we discard vengeance as a legitimate reason to detain somebody, we then need to consider the value of detaining him as a deterrent to others.

If we are worried about psychopathic con-men who are incapable of experiencing fear, then detainment probably doesn't do much to deter similar crimes. I am not convinced that is an accurate representation of psychopaths though, and I certainly don't think all con-men are psychopaths anyway. Detaining Madoff probably does serve to deter similar crimes.

The question I have is if there are other punishments besides imprisonment that could fill that roll.

Bernie is an interesting example for a number of reasons.

The likelihood of being caught is probably a bigger factor in deterrence than the severity of the punishment itself. White collar criminals probably get away with a lot of small crimes (I am guessing).

Madoff is a very extreme example because he was doomed to eventually be caught. But we can look at it the other direction and consider how many hundreds(?!?) of small and large crimes did he get away with before it all collapsed on him?

He was most certainly not "doomed to be caught" in his lifetime. As you say, he's probably been crooked his entire working life, yet enjoyed a very successful and lucrative career, and was busted only at the age of 70. Plenty of "lucky" criminals die of natural causes before being busted.

I think you overestimate our ability to prevent him from running another scam. As the old wisdom goes, there's a sucker born every minute

I'm sure there would still be people who would give him their money (likely less-than-honest people themselves, knowing he was a con-man and hoping to get in on the game). What I mean though is that obviously all of his finances would be closely monitored (you could probably forbid him from actually being in charge of them), everything would be constantly audited. If he so much as bought a new Honda Accord, it would be taken, sold, and the proceeds would go to pay back his debts.

Basically, just like he isn't allowed to run a business or manage his own finances now, when he is in prison, he wouldn't be able to while outside either. Literal prison walls don't really add that much to our ability to control those things.


I think the only reason of the three that anybody here opposes is the "punishment" reason. I oppose it so far as we cannot demonstrate that it will decrease the number of offenders.

I suspect that in some cases it does. Fear of the law probably does a decent job of keeping most people from enjoying alcoholic beverages on sidewalks for instance. (but I also suspect that in many cases (if not all cases) the imprisonment could be replaced with other punishments. Punitive damages are one obvious example of non-imprisonment punishment.)

In cases like Charles Manson, I doubt punishment is valuable. Crazy people aren't exactly known for their fear of consequences. If this is the case, then punishment of Charles Manson would be pointless and frankly verging on barbaric (though detainment of Charles Manson would of course be absolutely essential).

I don't really know how to effectively comment on this. I raised a son for whom punishment would absolutely not have worked. I know there is a place for it in the world but most of the time it comes from a place of a) spite and b) not knowing how to get good results. Those are usually poor reasons to do a thing.

I was something of a pain in the ass as a kid. Attempts to punish me would typically embolden me and either make me act even worse in the future or merely work harder to not get caught. My parents found that talking to me (aka, 'reform') was more effective.

At the same time, the reason why I do not currently break the speed limit (to an excessive degree) when I feel that it is safe is that I am not keen on being slapped with a fine. Speeding fines are a punishment that seems effective at discouraging me from speeding.

I don't think speeding fines are really punishment. It is a cost that you are not willing to pay without good reason. If you had sufficient reason to be in a rush, you might decide it was an acceptable cost. But the occasional fine doesn't really have pain and suffering attached, like loss of your license, damage to your reputation, jail time, etc.

Cost benefit analysis makes sense. "I am going to hurt you and make you suffer" rarely does. There are exceptions but it is generally a desperate ploy, not one focused on a goal. It is generally an admission that we don't know how to accomplish a civilized environment. We don't know how to design an effective society. We are too stupid, collectively, as Americans to achieve civil solutions. So we are sfimply going to hurt you.

> I don't think speeding fines are really punishment. It is a cost that you are not willing to pay without good reason.

I think that it would be fair to say that this sort of imposed cost is a punishment. It seems to meet definition 2b here (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/punishment). That cost/punishment/whatever isn't worth the reward, so I don't do it.

I mean, it isn't a "speeding tax" or "speeding fee" that you pay for the retroactive right to speed for a while.

As another example, the fine here for violating open container laws in a public park is something like $25, which I would gladly pay on some nice summer days for a personal permit to drink in the park. I don't drink in the park and accept the possibility of that fine though, despite the naive cost/benefit ratio working out. It isn't just about the $25, I also don't want to be fined. The "fine" part I don't like; the "$25" part is okay.

(Repeat offense will of course result in the loss of your license, a penalty that acts as a more severe punishment but also a form of detainment. When your license is taken the idea is that you cannot endanger the public until you prove yourself capable of driving safely (prove yourself rehabilitated))

Speeding fee or speeding tax or speeding fine is kind of a matter of semantics. Some people would view it exactly that way. I knew a doctor who got three speeding tickets in one month and thus had to go traffic school, which he viewed as ridicilously stupid stuff. He had nothing but contempt for the entire thing, tickets, class, all of it. So I guess you and I shall continue to disagree.

Thanks for the discussion.

I guess we disagree on terminology but don't actually disagree in practice. I think that punishment is okay only so far as fines are punishment, while you think that fines are not punishment, but that fines are okay and punishment is not. Basically the same thing. :)

From your two points the weight of punishment can be concluded. The punishment should be higher then the benefit of the convict and high enough to deter others from repeating it. The interesting point is that the damage does not come into the calculation. This means crimes of passion (especially murder) should have a lower punishment than robbery, because the robber has some benefit, but the murderer basically already punished himself.

So, imagine a violent crime; a robbery attempt goes awry, and a convenience store clerk is killed. The murderer (in a perfect incarceration system) is "rehabilitated" in a year. Should he be freed after 365 days?

> So, imagine a violent crime; a robbery attempt goes awry, and a convenience store clerk is killed. The murderer (in a perfect incarceration system) is "rehabilitated" in a year. Should he be freed after 365 days?

I read about a case like this in Sweden. Kjell-Eric Eliasson, who was a soldier at the time, was sentenced in 1986 for a sadistic murder of a young single mother. He butchered her and dumped the corpse into a well outside his mother's farm.

The man was sentenced to a mental institution. He was treated for a single (1) year and then released to as "cured", much to the horror of the relatives of the murdered woman. Some 25 years later, in 2010, he lost his job as a highly paid government official, when the truth about his dark past hit the internet.

Was it right to release him? It seems he lived the next 25 years well, with a great career and paying his taxes. So society didn't need to be protected from him any more. But was it morally right? There is a perceived need of revenge, of punishment. Of some justice.


Details of the case are here (use google translate to read) https://www.flashback.org/t1287612

Justice is just a fancy word we use to mask that what we really seek is "eye for an eye" retribution. We can and should attempt to move to a more enlightened view. Society should definitely not be meting out retribution.

Of course, why should he stay more if he has been rehabilitated?

Because rehabilitation is a very nebulous concept. Does it mean having employable skills? Being nice to a parole board? Being apologetic? The reason many in the US are very skeptical about rehabilitation is because there's not a strong link between rehabilitation efforts and recidivism rates. There are far too many factors involved than whether the prisoner was treated "well" while incarcerated.

And if "rehabilitation" is all that's required for freedom, it shows a disconcerting lack of value for the victims of crime.

> there's not a strong link between rehabilitation efforts and recidivism rates.

[citation needed] for that claim.

I'm friends with a woman who works with prisoner rehabilitation and treatment of violent prisoners and sex offenders, and the work they do is scientifically sound, using evidence-based methods. There are very strong, proven casual links between the rehabilitation and recidivism.

Try, http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=sex+offender+evidence+ba...

> And if "rehabilitation" is all that's required for freedom, it shows a disconcerting lack of value for the victims of crime.

Indeed. "Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done." -- Lord Hewart

Have you ever seen Shawshank Redemption? Sometimes you can tell when someone is truly rehabilitated. Yes, it is a hard problem, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to employ a system more just for all involved.

I think basing our ideas about incarceration on a Stephen King movie and novella isn't the wisest strategy, any more than using The Silence of the Lambs would be.

Imagine a violent crime: A person takes some medical drug which this time causes a psychotic break wherein he kills a store clerk. How long should he be locked up? Clearly he's pretty much "rehabilitated" as soon as he's of the drug.

If he were truly no longer a danger to society and this could somehow be proven, then yes.

In the real world, this can't be proven.

Imagine another incident, a careless driver who runs over someone at a stoplight because they're texting. How should this manslaughter be treated? With a remedial driving course?

Of course in the real world this can't be proven, which is exactly why a one year sentence for murder is also purely a hypothetical. The point is that if we had perfect knowledge into the mind of an individual that could prove they have been "rehabilitated", why on earth would you keep them locked up? There's just no rational reason for it.

In practice judging rehabilitation with perfect knowledge is impossible, and so are one year sentences for murder. In the real world we would balance out the likelihood of actual rehabilitation with concerns regarding public safety.

if murderer is rehabilitated would he use the chance to go free after 365 days?

Are you implying that two wrongs make a right?

Statist logic 101. Governments must establish their authority with violence and punishment. Without punishing those who disobey, society would be lawless and chaotic.

You're a very naive anarchist if you think a stateless society won't have punishment for criminals. It will, and it will be really quite severe: Banishment. Unlike in a statist society, no-one can be forced to cooperate with a criminal, and without the safety net of the state, that's not a pleasant situation to be in.

Is the purpose of banishment to protect the rest of the tribe from the offender, or is the purpose of banishment to punish the offender?

The difference may seem academic, but I don't think the difference in attitude could manifest itself in how the banishment actually takes place. For example:

If you are part of a group of sailors that want to banish that big meanie captain and start their own little floating hippy commune, do you throw the captain overboard? Or do you throw him into a lifeboat with a radio and enough food to last until he is found?

The second is not best described as 'punishment'.

A ship is something of a special case where the constraints require certain considerations. First of all, a ship will likely be owned by someone, who then had to hire sailors to come work on the ship. This is an excellent framework for setting up some clear rules to which those who come aboard must sign up. The answer to your scenarios lies in what those rules are. Throwing someone overboard implies violence, so that's no-go, but it's perfectly plausible that there could be a clause for a majority to buy out a minority.

To answer your answer in the more general sense: If you raped someone in my community, I might maintain that I'm not justified in causing you direct physical harm. But I do know that you're never doing any business with me. Other people in the community might feel the same, some might not, and if they shelter you, depending on the circumstances, I may or may not include those individuals in my exclusion. If I'm too broad in my banishment, eventually, I myself lose out, so there's a feedback mechanism somewhere in there. I guess that's punishment.

Of course, if you're a direct physical threat to the community, that community is justified in using proportional force in resisting that threat. That would be protection.

Sometimes it's one, sometimes it's the other. I suspect most of the times it would be a mix.

Don't get hung up on the example of the ship, obviously a ship owned by somebody else is not a good place to establish a "hippie commune" (is anywhere?).

It could however, hypothetically, be the case that the sailors felt that their lives were being endangered by the captain (who perhaps seemed intent on sailing off the edge of the world, as historically inaccurate that fear may be) and felt that he needed to be removed from command for their safety. This could be done non-violently (perhaps by simply threatening 'civil disobedience') and the captain could decide to not fight the will of the sailors and just live out the rest of the voyage in his quarters, but it is doubtful that any captain would choose that option. When this ship-turned-hippy-commune was eventually caught (the rightful owner would be furious after all), the captain certainly wouldn't want it to look like he tolerated the arrangement. The mutinous hippies, ever understanding of the captain's plight, could therefore offer the option of non-violent banishment by lifeboat.

Anyway, this non-violent banishment by lifeboat would not be done out of a desire to punish the captain. I think that banishment can either be done out of a desire to punish, or a desire to remove a threat. It doesn't necessarily need to be both, though usually it probably is. Anyway, I think we are agreeing there.

Without the safety net of the state, as the last few millenia of evidence shows, the default fate of suspected criminals is lynching.

I think it's due to lack of imagination that statists prefer the threat of violence to organize society. We focus on punishing bad behavior rather than creating a reward structure for good behavior. Violence is the state's hammer, and every issue its nail. I think it's possible for people to organize without the threat of violence being the primary factor and that's the only claim I make. I see website's like stackoverflow and become more convinced people are better incentivized by carrots than sticks. But then again, caging humans for disobedience is a pretty big stick.

And in 2013 where do you banish to? All I see is swift execution by either the banishing fiefdom or probably swift execution by the resulting "accepting" fiefdom.

> Punishment is a legitimate role for society; it is not juvenile.

How so? Who benefits from punishment, and what do you mean by "legitimate"? Do you consider punishment ethical?

Well the dictionary definition of society is: the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community. "More or less ordered" comes from the creation and enforcement of norms. That's how I get legitimate.

I do consider punishment ethical, from a utilitarian perspective it acts as a deterrent, and preventing men from benefiting from evil acts appeals to a human sense of justice and well ordering.

> Who benefits from punishment ?

Society benefits, in that it is deterrent to crime and as a tool to uphold law.

But that doesn't mean that the punishment should be the highest priority for imprisonment.

> That being said, our prisons aim to punish, incapacitate and rehabilitate. Punishment is a legitimate role for society; it is not juvenile.

The point is that positive reinforcement is more effective than negative reinforcement.

While it's true that "our prisons aim to punish, incapacitate" (see three-strikes law), I doubt about the rehabilitation part; there is undeniably an interest in making them profitable.

    "And certainly I'll grant you that people have been 
    wrongly convicted -- but that is a very small part of the 
    prison population."
Given the perverse incentive for prosecutors interested in pursuing a political career and plea bargains, I would hardly be surprised if a greater percentage of people in prison have been wrongly imprisoned than you might expect.

Oh I certainly agree. I added perceived because my broader point included perceived transgressions like poverty. Drug offenses are (generally) perceived transgressions that are justified; poverty and homelessness (generally) are not.

> ... but the transgression is not simply perceived.

Prosecutorial discretion.

> Punishment ... is not juvenile.

Criminal law making shows little evidence of utility analysis, operations research, actuarial research, experimental psychology, etc. For the most part it appears to just be one big emotional carnival act designed to draw in the rubes and part them from their money.

"Apparently we're too primitive to get beyond the juvenile practice of cutting off our nose to spite our face"

Don't be too hard on yourself. A conservative coalition that includes a right wing populist party that want prison to be less about rehabilitation and more about suffering and punishment just won the general election here. The next four years will see how much impact they can have on the system..

Prison in the US isn't about punishment or rehabilitation. It's about money. Incarceration is big business.

It's not. Only a small percentage of prisons are for profit (http://www.propublica.org/article/by-the-numbers-the-u.s.s-g...), and our tendency to incarcerate people dates back to long before we had for profit prisons. Our incarceration rate is mostly a backlash against desegregation. It's mostly because of the war on drugs, which is at its base a war on black people.

In California at least the prison-guard union does have a significant role, which is a kind of profit motive. They successfully campaigned for the three-strikes law, for example, and have been a strong influence on politicians for decades.

I agree the war on drugs is a much bigger factor.

Looking at what bills the Prison Guards union gets behind or tries to stop, it is a very big amount of money. Corporations are not the only ones with a profit motive.

"Only a tiny percentage of prisons are for profit" Can you source that?


128k out of 1.6m, or 8%. Graph of the incarcerated population: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_incarceration_timeline-.... The prison population started exploding in 1980 with the drug war and the war on immigration, but for-profit prisons had less than 10,000 prisoners as of 1990. It's a lagging effect--the for-profit prisons are sprouting up because we put so many people in prison, not the other way around.

> I do mean after accounting for the accompanied reduction of the undesired behavior by making an example of offenders

Do you really account for it?

Assuming that there is a certain percentage of people who will not commit a crime under any circumstance, another percentage of people who will commit a crime and are not deterred by any punishment, there remains a sub-population who will offend if the cost-benefit ratio is right. The only way to drive up cost for this population is by making them suffer, unfortunately.

Do you see another solution?

There are many factors besides contemplation of future punishment that influences whether people become more or less likely to commit a crime, so I would focus on tackling the whole host of them, rather than moving that one lever. Mental health, poverty, education, urban planning, etc. all influence crime rates. For example, one factor contributing to the U.S.'s high drunk-driving rates is that the state of late-night public transit, combined with urban design, means that people routinely drive to bars, which sets up an obviously problematic situation.

Plus, the empirical data on sentence lengths as a deterrent is fairly weak. People do seem to respond to likelihood of being caught: a 6-month sentence you are virtually sure to get is more of a deterrent than a 6-month sentence that you have maybe a 5% chance of being caught and sentenced to. But especially at the high end, there is little to no evidence that having prison sentences of 30 years is more of a disincentive than prison sentences of 10 years.

> Do you really account for it?

What? I'm talking about hypothetical situations. This means by definition cases in which the increase in incentives to offend is more than counteracted by other factors.

Is locking people in a cage not enough for you?

It's a really crappy predicament. Any politician here in the US that would want to model our prisons in a more humane manner would be labelled soft/weak on crime and would never get elected. I can't see this changing anytime in the next 20 years.

The US criminal justice system is very much about punishment and retribution and almost not at all about rehabilitation or protection of society.

That's the sort of system one would expect in a medieval country, we can and should do better.

I think the article hints at a salient way to frame this discussion: think of the future victims of those whom we neglect to rehabilitate. Investing in more humane prisons is a way to avert future criminality.

This is hardly a new concept, and it's been expressed in public before. I can't imagine the missing element for approaching these issues like a civilized society is that we neglected to frame it in terms of future costs. I can only speak for America, but a big part of the problem here is that, culturally and politically, we don't trust expert knowledge, so things that are counter-intuitive are political poison.

For example: In the case where housing programs for the homeless actually directly _save_ the gov't money, the only argument against them is "I'm taxed enough already!!! Stop giving my money to people who are homeless because they deserve it!!!!". Telling them that, empirically, it's far more likely that the state is saving money from doing this is useless, because "facts are just another opinion" is a disgustingly prevalent belief around here.

through reduced spending on homeless-related law enforcement and emergency medical care, and this doesn't even include the indirect economic value of lower crime and higher property values

Sorry for the messed-up formatting, I don't see any edit link anywhere..

The retribution vs, rehabilitation has fluctuated. There was some research in the '70s that showed that rehabilitation was not really impacting recidivism. Some said that research was flawed, for example because of the other things that were happening in that same period, much like after the Civil War had a similar effect. But a tough on crime mentality was embraced and now we have what we have. This is a decent overview with some good sources at the end:


Why 'perceived' transgressions? Am I right in concluding that aside from rehabilitation and the practical requirement for the sequestration of persons who are a danger to an innocent population, you believe there is no other purpose in incarceration?

If that is so, we need to introduce re-education courses for victims who primitively persist in calling for revenge (though they call it justice) following the misery resulting from destruction of treasured possessions through to rape and murder of family members.

> anything up to the 21-year maximum sentence (Norway has no death penalty or life sentence)

One thing has to be noted every time: Norway has no life sentence (well it does, for the military) (and it has a 30 years sentence for crimes against humanity as required by the Rome Statute) but it has forvaring, "preventive detention".

It is indeterminate length sentence tacked onto initial 21 years, which translates into the ability to extend the imprisonment by increments of 5 years if the prisoner is still considered a danger to society. The prisoner can petition for parole every year during forvaring, but there is no limit to the possibility of extension, so forvaring effectively allows for life in prison.

It's worth noting that the UK had these too[1] but also managed to f-- them up by not providing the required rehabilitation. This resulted in IPP prisoners languishing, unable to "show" they were reformed because the courses which supposedly proved this were not made available. As a result the government ended up paying out compensation to some of the prisoners.

UK prison policy is a catastrophe for everyone, prisoners, their families, their victims, society. News at 11.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19630617

Don't worry, the UK Government's planning to fix that problem by abolishing the European Court of Human Rights, so that prisoners are no longer able to challenge this treatment.

This is good because in effect it can be life in prison, but the case is revised every X years - as opposed to being sentenced to life in prison beforehand, then making a lawyer rich trying to make a judge revisit your case.

People sentenced to life in prison don't typically have the means to make a lawyer rich.

That's not where their pay usually comes from.

There's always the potential to abuse the system but the alternative is worse.

The X years means a chance to be free (hope) if you remove that what is their motivation to be peaceful?

Not getting in jail again.

Especially since by that time they may be quite a bit older and another sentence might mean 'for life'.

Depends how much they like prison.

Some people may feel overwhelmed when released. They suddenly have to go to work and get along with people after living in a box having food provided for them.

It may just seem too stressful and they would just commit another crime to go back to jail.

The whole point of Bastoy is that they don't feel overwhelmed and actually learn a thing or two about living in a society.

This absurd situation (where someone wants to go back to jail) only happens when criminals are turned into animals and kept in boxes for extended periods of time without any support.

Canada has something similar, it is called "Dangerous Offender Status".

There are of course, avenues of appeal, but it allows the state to imprison or place conditions upon extremely dangerous individuals for an indefinite period of time.

If forced to make a choice, I would trade minimum mandatory sentencing for an adversarial process that permits dangerous offender status in the US. Every year that the person is reviewed, the people on the committee overseeing the review are randomly assigned at the last possible moment so that there can be no outside tampering with the judgement.

I've never been to prison but years ago I went to jail in the US for violent acts and weapon charges and wouldn't wish that on anyone. My co-defendant in the trial was charged with greater crimes and did 8 years in prison out of 13. I went to visit the guy about once a month and I can say one thing for certain - he will never be the same. And not in a good way.

I know a lot of guys like him. The US prison system is not worried about rehabilitation. It's about punishment and removal from society, regardless of how you come out. It's a terrible place meant to scare the crap out of you and that's basically it. And now it's one big industry.

has that experience served as a deterrent for you in any way?

Yes definitely. I was a different person back then but that experience in particular helped change me. I fear going to jail now more than before I ever went in. The sheer boredom of it all is enough to drive you mad. Concrete walls, hard metal beds, lights never go off, constant yelling, just enough food to make sure you don't starve, and of course the other inmates that are all criminals and a lot are willing to commit violence to get their way. You've haven't seen the true depths of human depravity until you see two grown men try to kill each other because one wanted to watch a different soap opera or sought revenge for some supposed sleight. And I had it easy compared to prison or the penitentiary.

In my misspent youth I got into an altercation that escalated to the point of me being charged with attempted manslaughter[1].

The police picked me up late on a Friday and I spent the weekend in a Nassau county jail. It changed my life...

When I hear people dismiss the power of deterrence it makes me realize they don't have the particular category of cognition that was thrust upon me by my own impulsiveness. Seems like you have a similar context as I -- now may we both never lose it.


[1]: yes; attempted manslaughter -- in New York Penal Law, "Attempt" is a separate article that can be applied to any crime: "§110.00 -- Attempt to commit a crime. A person is guilty of an attempt to commit a crime when, with intent to commit a crime, he engages in conduct which tends to effect the commission of such crime."

Having just come from NYC and seen some of the street hardened types there, I can just imagine.

Extending your anecdotal case, doesn't this mean that prison isn't a deterrent at all until one has committed a crime and experienced it?

firstly; jail and prison are two different things. secondly, it's a spectrum; different people are deterred at different points and some not at all.

I’m sorry, could you elaborate on the difference between prison, jail and penitentiary? To my non-native understanding, they’re exact synonyms.

Off the top of my head: Jail is local and generally short term. Prison is regional and longer sentences. Penitentiary...I think federal (national rather than state level) and higher security.

Jail is also typically used for suspects awaiting trial.

In the US, jails are run by cities and counties and are usually for offenders with sentences of less than 5 years. Longer, more serious sentences are served in prisons, which are sometimes called penitentiaries (or more euphemistically, correctional facilities). These are operated by the state of federal government.

I keep the difference straight be remembering the phrases "county jail" and "federal prison", which makes it clear that going to prison is much more serious, and a much worse place to be.

Thanks, that cleared it up. Over here in Germany, there are only prisons, operated by the state, and labelled Justizvollzugsanstalt (JVA, ‘judicial execution facility’?), and facilities for underage/young offenders called Jugendarrestanstalten (JAA, ‘youth detention facility’, maybe).

The idea of prisons (or even proper police forces) operated by individual counties in the US still strikes me as odd, but then, those counties are likely more comparable to German states.

Anecdote; as a teenager, my brother started to stray. He was caught by the law. The consequences were light, but (speaking as a bystander) I think the fear of the experience itself- being arrested, booked, and charged- served as a form of punishment, and as best I have been able to tell pretty much straightened him back out.

Of course, he is a fundamentally gentle soul; this anecdote doesn't apply to the hardened criminals.

single digit percentages of a given population being deterred is not something to be taken lightly; a penal aspect is both an extant and an historical imperative.

There's a movement in some law circles towards "Restorative Justice" which I think is even more forward thinking than Norway's prison system. It focuses on the victims interests instead of the governments (imagine this applied to Aaron Swartz).

> Restorative justice (also sometimes called reparative justice) is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender.


0_o Focusing on the needs of the offenders? Really? Why?!

"Your Honor, I did burn down that orphanage, but I really need a new car. And prison is too punitive!"

I would say the focus is more on the offenders' enlightened self interest. Not everyone is aware of the best course of action given a situation. That goes for both offenders and the people who have decided to perpetuate our punitive prison system.

Norway doesn't really have a permanent criminal class, and the main aim of the criminal justice system is to keep it that way. Whereas the US (and many others) have an enormous criminal social class, firmly-rooted criminal organizations seemingly in a prepetual state of war with law enforcement, and so on. That stuff isn't going away even if you did liberal prison reform. The circumstances are very different, maybe it's appropriate that the aims and methods of law enforcement are too?

They're not going away without doing liberal prison reform either.


I honestly don't see how much good can come of the current setup. Maybe that say more about me than it does about the setup - but what good can come from brutalising these people?

When you try to use pain to make someone comply, the underlying message is that when they start complying the pain will stop. But ex-cons are effectively black-listed from most respectable jobs, they generally have very little by way of life skills, their social network is generally tied to criminals, there's no real welfare system to speak of to support them.

The pain doesn't sound like it really stops, changes intensity maybe. Meanwhile there's lots of relatively easy money to be made from drugs, slavery and the like.... I suspect you need a very strong character to work your way up decently from that sort of starting position - I just don't see how effectively torturing people would give them that.

One of the arguments the article makes is the prison system elsewhere creates the permanent criminal class.

I'm sure we have a country like Norway somewhere in the United States. Perhaps New Hampshire? Just like we have a country in these United States to match any small European country whose statistics are brought forward to push some kind of social agenda.

Hej from Sweden! Find me a US state (or area with equivalent population) with

- national health care (dental might be exempted, but still capped after a certain amount)

- stable, cheap, state-subsidized public transport with great coverage

- school system equivalent to Sweden (though Sweden does arguably not have the best one in Europe I still encounter many shocking things when speaking to Americans)

- included in that: ability to go to university without being in debt for the rest of your life / without scholarships / without rich family

- clean cities, low crime rates, low to non-existent amount of guns in circulation

- widespread atheism, embracing science

- widespread high bandwidth, affordable internet access

I could list more things but I think this is enough for now. I'm not saying that all of these are without flaws or that we are the best at them, but the US lacking so many of these in a widespread manner makes me not consider it a first world country.

Edit: I forgot a big one!

- Employment security: No unfair terminations, regulated pay, overtime/nightshift/weekend pay regulated ...

Edit 2: This is in response to a "dead" comment I got. In case you've got show-dead disabled here's the comment

"..And where your tax rate is up to 60% of your income. http://www.theguardian.com/money/2008/nov/16/sweden-tax-burd... - polaris9000

Yes, our tax rates are much higher but that's not the whole story. If you compare average personal income between Sweden and the US (I couldn't find a source on median income) you have approximately 10k USD more in net-income in the US. I'm not an expert in finances so I won't try to adjust this for things like the gap between poor&rich (which would pull the US down a bit).

How much of these 10k are gone after spending them on all the things we get delivered through our taxes? (Health care, subsidised public transport, education and so on)

And one thing that doesn't directly affect everybody's life quality: How much better is our infrastructure (paid for / subsidised by taxes)? I'm speaking about everything ranging from streets to power grids to internet connections.

How much more stability do we have in our lives and how much better is the average life satisfaction?

I'm sure there is no canonical answer to any of these but I'm also sure that Sweden scores better on average (and remember that this was originally about Norway, which is doing much better than Sweden)

As a Swede who's been in the US for 5 years, what you say is true, but it's more nuanced than that. If you're poor, Sweden is so much better than the US, not even in the same league. As a software developer though, you'll earn roughly twice as much, enough to cover all the benefits of living in Sweden and probably quite a bit more. Engineers and technical people are not paid what they're worth in Sweden, I have no idea why.

But then again, you'll be wealthy in a hugely unequal society. The benefit of the Swedish system is that everybody gets those benefits and safety net, improving the society as a whole.

Here are a few other benefits of living in the US:

- THE place to be if you're in tech, there will never be an Apple or Google coming out of Sweden unfortunately

- More interesting career opportunities, you can do anything you want (if you're prepared to move around)

- Much more, better and affordable food

- Going out, eating, drinking, doing stuff in general doesn't break the bank

- You're not patronized in the same way (systembolaget, overbearing regulations etc, "we know what's best for you")

- Better weather (depending on where you are)

- A society much more friendly to immigrants (maybe counter intuitive). This is a big one. As a native Swede, you don't realize how much discrimination there is in Swedish society, even for highly educated professionals. People have to change their last name to something Swedish-sounding just to get an interview. In the US, nobody gives a shit where you're from, as long as you know what you're doing.

All in all though, I've decided to move back, for many of the reasons you listed, as well as a relatively sane political system, move vacation, parental leave and ease of travel. The biggest factor though is being closer to family and friends.

> Engineers and technical people are not paid what they're worth in Sweden, ...

How much does that have to do with the extreme risk of hiring? (Owing to the difficulty of firing.)

That's what probationary periods are for, if you can't evaluate a person in 6 or so months of actual work you are probably doing something drastically wrong.

What if you have to lay off workers due to a business cycle?

> but the US lacking so many of these in a widespread manner makes me not consider it a first world country.

Cute. The inferiority complex is palpable. You create very specific custom goalposts for being a first-world country and then you just happen to meet them. Cheers mate, congrats on making your small nation a good place to live. Don't be so insecure.

I don't think we're talking cherry-picked goalposts here. On many axes the US is a striking outlier compared with other countries at similar levels of economic development, seemingly having more in common with BRIC than western Europe - healthcare, publicly-funded education, inequality, incarceration rate, public transport, labour laws, environmental protection. Did you have some other measures of development in mind where the US scores are more close to the rest of the "first world"?

Tell me what makes the US a better place to live, and don't say something like "freedom" or "democracy" (hah!).

It's not a list of policy tick-boxes that make the USA what it is. It's our enormous diversity. The USA is many countries that all live together as one. There are so many cultures here that all get along better here than they do anywhere else in the world. It's why our economic and cultural engines are the biggest in the world. Compared to the USA... Sweden is... provincial. And that's fine. You're doing well.

You've made several assertions which have no basis in fact.

"There are so many cultures here that all get along better here than they do anywhere else in the world"

Yes, there are many cultures in the US. If I use language as a proxy for culture, then according to one reference there are 311 languages spoken in the US.

There are 820 in Papua New Guinea, 742 in Indonesia, 516 in Nigeria, and 427 India. So it seems like there are even more cultures in those countries, and a higher diversity. By your argument, those countries should be economic and culture engines, yes?

Sure, that's not an exact measure since in the US there are many different cultures which use English, but then again Hindi plays a similar role in India. You've made the assertion, so it's up to you to back it up.

Or, if I simply ask Wikipedia for countries ranked by diversity it gives me http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_ranked_by_eth... , which ranks Cameroon as the most culturally diverse country.

The US is 84th on that list. Canada is 37th on that list, Belgium is 43rd, Switzerland 53rd, New Zealand is 69th ... and Sweden is 128th.

It does not seems that the diversity of the US is sufficiently enormous or exceptional as to give rise to your conclusion. Eg, India has more people and more diversity, but doesn't have the same economic and cultural influence as the US, so certainly something is missing in your analysis.

Then you say "get along better here than they do anywhere else in the world." What does that even mean? How do you know that the diversity of cultures gets along better in the US than in Canada, or in Belgium? Is it a (provincial) belief of yours, or if not, what is the basis for your analysis?

If you take a look at a list of countries ranked by foreign-born population:


USA is ranked #1... by a huge margin. The fact we rank so low on your cited Wikipedia page is a evidence to my assertion that we "get along". Unlike so many other countries, we integrate and assimilate our immigrants.

You didn't say "foreign born", you said "enormous diversity."

Those are very different concepts.

"Unlike so many other countries, we integrate and assimilate our immigrants"

What does 'diverse' mean to you? Since I don't think it means what you think it means. Assimilation is a process which reduces diversity.

Also, in that list the US is indeed #1 ... in the total number of immigrants. If you re-sort by "Immigrants as percentage of national population" then it's:

    UAE - 83.7% (but I don't include guest workers)
    Saudi Arabia - 31.4%
    Australia - 27.7%
    Canada - 20.7 %
    United States - 14.3%
By all metrics, it seems that Canada has both a more diverse culture than the US and a higher percentage of immigrants than the US. That's the country you should be praising, not the US.

The main factor in all of these numbers is that the US has a high population. Once you switch to per-capita, it drops in the ranks.

Congratulations, there's a lot of people living in the US.

Yes, that really is a useless metric since the US has four times the population of the next most populous western country (Germany). And btw:

    Sweden - 15.9%

> Yes, that really is a useless metric since the US has four times the population of the next most populous western country (Germany).

After the US, the next most popular country of those generally considered "Western" is Brazil; the US has a little over 1.5× the population of Brazil. Number 3 is Mexico. Germany's number four.

The USA is significantly larger than Sweden in both geography and sheer numbers of people. This has an obvious effect on the absolute size of economic engine. If you take population into account then Sweden actually has a larger economy[1]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28nom...

European Union is basically many countries living together as one too. I can move between countries without any problem. I can work in any other EU country just as easily as I can in my home country. How about you consider Sweden as one province of EU. Are you really saying that different cultures aren't getting along here? What you win at economy you lose in quality of life.

If we are entirely honest, you don't have anywhere near the level of social mobility across the EU as across the U.S.A.

So what can't I do when I go to other EU country that you can when changing state in US? I still get health care, I still can work there, I can move there if i so desire. What can't I do what I could possibly still want?

You are a foreigner when you move to a different place across EU, with all social implications. A worker moving from LA to NYC is not nearly as disadvantaged as one moving from say Sicily to Sweden.

Of course you are able to move freely and there's no legal barrier preventing your employment, but in practice you are rarely on equal footing with locals. There are both linguistic and cultural externalities at work here, which are simply absent over the pond.

Believe it or not, i've been living for quite some time in Russia and you hear Russians saying exactly what you say, all the time. I think that all the last century "big-players" have this "we are different, we are better" syndrome.

Just let me say, Sweden is a really GOOD place where to live- No need to troll around.

> There are so many cultures here that all get along better here than they do anywhere else in the world.


Look at Germany! Much higher population density than the US at 1/4 (roughly, from memory) of the population.

But as he said, the US is many things.

It's not that hard to find an area the size of Germany in the US where the population density is the same or higher than in Germany - just as you'll find parts or states that has the population density of Sweden.

If that is a sign of an inferiority complex, what is American Exceptionalism[0] a sign of?

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism

Quoting that article:

> the term does not necessarily imply superiority

Those for whom the term does imply superiority lie largely on the right, politically speaking, while those on HN lie largely on the left, in my experience. It seems to me that there is a difference between calling someone out on an inferiority complex, and calling someone out on sharing a country with people who have an inferiority complex.

The term itself suggests superiority, by using the word "exceptional". That isn't a word reserved for comparing different things that are different but not objectively better or worse.

> It seems to me that there is a difference between calling someone out on an inferiority complex, and calling someone out on sharing a country with people who have an inferiority complex.

And that person didn't say that he's from the US, for that matter. But you can read a personal attack into it if you want.

Are you asking me to repeat myself?

It was a rhetorical question.

Those are all great points and credit to Sweden where credit is due.

However, please take into account that your country's population is nearing 10 million whereas the US's population is over 300 million.

What I am trying to say is: The programs that are working out so well for you may be much more difficult to implement in a country with a population the size of the US.

Incidentally, I have no idea why my comments are being shadow-banned, but thanks for replying anyway.

USA is comparable in size to EU, and USA states are comparable in size to EU countries, including Sweden.

People living in some USA state have the right to decide to govern themselves more like Sweden - if they wish and vote so. It's important to attempt comparisons with a variety of places, since they might show which policy directions you might want to choose and which to avoid.

..And where your tax rate is up to 60% of your income. http://www.theguardian.com/money/2008/nov/16/sweden-tax-burd...

And your point is ...?

Please bear in mind that 1) that number is the highest marginal tax bracket, only paid by those with the most income, and 2) it's actually 57% not the rounded up value of 60%.

For comparison, the marginal tax rate for the highest tax bracket in the US was above 60% during 1932-1986, with a peak was 91% in 1946-1964.

Of course you're mostly just sniping numbers, since that article you quoted also says Swedes say they are "very happy to pay high taxes because I know I am getting value for the money later on."

In the US we pay for things directly which are, in Sweden, paid indirectly through taxes.

Do you really care if you pay 5% less in taxes only to have to pay 10% of your income per year in health care?

> Do you really care if you pay 5% less in taxes only to have to pay 10% of your income per year in health care?

There is one difference: you can't shop around. It's probably not a problem in Sweden, but in a lot of other "government provides everything" countries, there's a huge variation in quality of government-provided services (like schooling and doctors). You might get stuck with a crappy doctor (because of geographical assignment), while there's a great one on the next street. If I can keep my 5%, I pick my own doctor (within my budget).

My point was that comparing the overall tax rate is worthless.

I gave a counter-example to show why.

I did not say nor mean to imply that it was a universal counter-example, although it seems you took it that way.

Your argument now is that "low taxes and affordable access to good services is better than high taxes and haphazard access to good services."

This is a different argument, and in fact is the same argument that I'm making, which is that you have to look at all of the costs and benefits, and not just simple income tax rates.

I was only arguing about a specific point in your post, not all of it. I read the rest of your post as "some people pay/paid high taxes, and are/were doing just fine". That implies (or at least that's how I read it) that higher taxes don't have a downside, which is what I was arguing against.

Worth till last cent considering the level of services you get, IMHO.

In your bubble, you believe all of those things are good things accepted by the HN hive mind. Hilarious.

The article is written by The Guardian. I control-f'd things like "usa" and "america" and found nothing in the article itself.

But sure, the article was written to discredit America. Everything revolves around you.

USA the country is roughly equal to Europe the continent in square kilometers. I think the ability to compare USA the country and Europe the continent ends there, though.

This is a really insightful article into Norway's prison system. I wish it had also gathered opinions from the victims of crime. I presume there is broad support among the Norwegian population for the length of sentencing.

In the UK, the press often goads the public with stories of "soft" sentencing. The article mentions a young man serving 11 years for murder. That pain will last a lifetime for the family of the murdered person. If I wondered if I could accept a sentence of 11 years as suitable punishment for the murderer? Would I be so bitter and angry that I'd wish for more? (Yes, I know this is why we have courts to make judgements).

not an easy topic though.

some crimes are easier to stomach than others. some sentences are not meant to help the person going to prison, but protecting the population from that very person.

the lax practices in western europe have led to numerous cases where prisoners where able to rape/kill people while they were on "prison vacations", in german called "freigang". very often an expert psychatrist had deemed the prisoner to be stable and reformed.

a guy in austria has just killed 3 policemen plus 1 ambulance driver. if he doesn't kill himself (standoff is still ongoing) - what exactly is there to reform? 4 people are dead, the lives of their families are forever impacted by this. why should the assailant have any right to return to society? he decided to deny this right to 4 direct victims.

should marc dutroux ever go free? breivik? why do they need to be reformed? should the gangrapers in India go free?

the victims and their families should come first. you rape, kill, maim? consciously? ok, face the consequences. this reformation BS is ignoring the plight of the victims and their families.

I recently kayaked around Bastoy (prison), it's a great place; nice beaches; great view on all sides; rapists and axe murderers shuttling to or from places on their bikes. Does sound like I'm making a joke doesn't it? It's not, it's how it is and I like it and am proud of it.

For cases like Breivik we have forced psychiatric admission, which can be a life-sentence. In fact this was the key point of the Breivik case: Whether he was in a psychotic state of mind, and even more importantly, whether his extreme (religious) views could be deemed delusional.

Revenge is barbaric, and granted some degree of barbarism simply exists within all of us, some more than others. The court system shouldn't be based around barbarism, and the american use of "justice" really is just a synonym for revenge. Pure and simple. I don't want this. I don't want to live in a country where our flaws doom us, where mistakes are never forgiven.

Norwegians live in a country where all the money in the world cannot have a man (legally) killed or sentenced to life. Norwegians live in a country where men and women who take wrong turns in their life are given the opportunity to redeem themselves (and they do, almost always.)

I live here, I love it here, and I love it for reasons US citizens see in movies, but not in society.

"Norwegians live in a country where men and women who take wrong turns in their life are given the opportunity to redeem themselves (and they do, almost always.)"

Redemption? Or lack of recidivism? The former is hard to quantify, the latter claim is lacking attribution.

[EDIT] for a typo...

> why do they need to be reformed?

Because they are human beings, and we don't want to show the same callous disregard for human life that they did.

When you drag out murder, you should also keep in mind that murder has one of the lowest reoffending rates of most crimes. I don't know what the current reoffending rates for murder is in Norway or Austria, but in the UK it stands at around 3%, and 1% commit a second murder (the rest carry out some other crime).

Murder is most often a crime of affect where it clear from the outset that the offender is highly unlikely to be in the same situation again.

So these "numerous" cases you refer to are still a tiny proportion. Yes, it sucks. But conversely, it'd suck for the 97% that won't commit another crime to be punished more because the remaining 3% will commit another crime, or because 1% will kill again.

If we accept that it's ok to keep people locked up because they might commit another crime, where is the threshold where we pre-emptively lock people up because they may commit a crime sometime in the future? It's easy to find population subsets where the likelihood that someone some day will end up in prison is vastly higher than 3%. Why not lock them up the day they are old enough to be criminally culpable? How would that be any different than keeping people locked up because they might reoffend.

> the victims and their families should come first. you rape, kill, maim? consciously? ok, face the consequences. this reformation BS is ignoring the plight of the victims and their families.

How does locking someone up forever help the victims? It does not repair the damage.

it is not about repairing damages. it is about the feeling that his/her actions had tangible, long lasting consequences.

i feel the big differentiator is if you yourself have ever been victim of a crime. once you have experienced the feeling of utter helplesness your perspective changes. same is true if you get children - practically all young parents i know turned around their stance on punishment once they thought about someone maiming/hurting their kids.

it's all easy as long as you are the casual, non-involved observer. the moral high horse is a great viewpoint.

and to be clear, i am talking about violent crime, not shoplifting. right now you can get higher sentences for hacking a computer than raping your neighbor. which is perverse.

> it is not about repairing damages. it is about the feeling that his/her actions had tangible, long lasting consequences.

How would that help me? Is there any evidence at all that this actually helps victims?

> i feel the big differentiator is if you yourself have ever been victim of a crime. once you have experienced the feeling of utter helplesness your perspective changes.

This is too easy a dismissal. Even if it does change your perspective, that does not determine whether or not harsher punishment of the criminal will help you - people often wish things that has different effect than they believe it will have. There is also to my knowledge little indication that e.g. most Norwegian victims of crime cry out for drastically harsher punishments, despite sentences that in the US would often be slammed as slaps on the wrist, so it is by no means given that victims of crime will feel an urge for harsh punishment; that seems to be more culturally specific.

> practically all young parents i know turned around their stance on punishment once they thought about someone maiming/hurting their kids.

I have a four year old son, and though the thought of anyone harming him is one of the worst things I could imagine, it has not changed my stance on punishment at all. I am sure I would feel an urge to kill someone who harmed him; at the same time I am very much aware how little my urges reflect my long term emotions, and how often they will temporarily be out of step with what I consider moral once I have had a chance to calm down.

There is a reason why we do not let the victims judge or sentence.

a guy in austria has just killed 3 policemen plus 1 ambulance driver

This is the wrong way to look at it. Using single events for emotive arguments is wildly misleading.

Austria has a homicide rate of 0.6/100k. The US has a homicide rate of 4.8/100k - eight times as much. You will always be able to point at an event somewhere and discuss how evil it is, but overall the Austrian system is working incredibly well to keep the homicide rate so low. It's one of the lowest in the world.

this reformation BS is ignoring the plight of the victims and their families.

'lock 'em up and throw away the key' is performing poorly in the US at the moment, so except for particularly severe crimes, you have to let people out at some point. And if they're not rehabilitated, then you've stacked the cards against them not reoffending.


Please go somewhere else with your racism.


If something that you consider to be 'racist' is indeed a fact (or at least a debatable subject), then consider joining the real world.

Just crunching some numbers here, and these are rough estimates, presented without comment:

- Norway: 4,000 prisoners / 5M population (0.08% incarceration)

- United Kingdom: 84,000 prisoners / 63M pop. (0.13%)

- United States: 2,270,000 prisoners / 317M pop. (0.72%)

The US prison population rises to about 7M when you include everyone "under correctional supervision" (e.g., in probation, on parole, in jail, etc.), increasing to a >2% figure. But I don't have apples-to-apples figures for the UK and Norway in this regard.

The usual way to refer to incarcerated population is per 100k population.

Norway is around 70/100k, 'first world' countries in general are around 70-150/100k, New Zealand is an outlier at 200/100k and the US is an extreme outlier at ~720/100k. The US really is way out of step with its contemporaries on this issue.


Got it, thanks for the clarification. But either way, the US looks pretty bad on this metric.

Prisoners are people. Thus, the question becomes, how do we treat our people?

Someone who rapes your wife and stabs her is no longer a person but a primitive animal. A man who has reverted to a baboon and devolved.

Grouping everyone together sounds nice and mushy and makes you look like a good hearted person but is unrealistic.

Grouping everyone together

You just implied that all inmates are rapists and stabbers. Herein lies the problem of the anti-rehabilitation crowd: they argue against rehabilitating prisoners using the worst examples they can find, ignoring that most prisoners don't fit their description.

Someone who robs a bank is a primal animal who deserves to be raped in the shower?

When they're released from prison, would you rather they still be that baboon or be less likely to reoffend?

Well, America still doesn't deal with non-inmate populations humanely, so we have quite a ways to go.

This article digs up the age old question: is imprisonment intended to punish or to protect society? Or a little of both?

I'd always thought of it as kind of being both. You don't need to subject inmates to the equivalent of torture and humiliation in order for them to become institutionalized, to fall behind on the world around them, to disrupt their careers and family ties.

Those things alone are pretty terrible. And that's before you get into the whole "solitary confinement/tacitly accepted rape/etc" things that plague prisons.

I personally think those things are pretty terrible, but someone without a family, a steady career, and who is already behind the curve (out of work, remember?) might not particularly mind losing those liberties.

In my opinion, it should bring people to repentance and reintegrate them into normal life - helping them, as opposed to the society. They need the help, after all.

Interesting fact: The word penitence, from which we get penitentiary, stems from the latin "paeniteō" - which means "to bring regret"...

The thing I love most about this, is that it shows they still hold faith in human kind. They sincerely believe they can help people change, and people are changing.

This is a seriously heart warming story.

The statistic mentioned in the article for recidivism was around 16% "the lowest in Europe"

That's interesting considering the US had the same rate in 2007 and we have treat our criminals completely different. This would lead me to believe treating criminals like people isn't the key to successful punishment and eventual rehabilitation.

"During 2007, a total of 1,180,469 persons on parole were at-risk of reincarceration. This includes persons under parole supervision on January 1 or those entering parole during the year. Of these parolees, about 16% were returned to incarceration in 2007."

source: http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=17

The articles mentions that the reoffending rate is 16%. I'm pretty sure they're referring to the lifetime reoffending rate vs the one-year rate. On the same page you linked, the US reoffending rate is about 67.5%.

EDIT to add: To further support that interpretation of the figures, the European reoffending rate is about 70%, and it's a lot more likely that the discrepancy between Europe and the US is ~2% vs ~50%.

Isn't that the % of people breaking parole, not the total recidivism rate?


> recidivism rates between 1994 and 2007 have consistently remained around 40 percent.


That article is one of the most thoughtful I've read -- at its heart it is not a simple or obvious problem.

"For example, why do Wyoming and Oregon have the lowest overall recidivism rates for offenders released in 2004, and why do Minnesota and California have the highest? Why does North Carolina return relatively few ex-offenders to prison for technical violations of their parole, but reincarcerate a comparatively large proportion for new crimes? What drove the recidivism rate down by 22.1 percent in Kansas between 1999 and 2004, and what drove it up 34.9 percent in South Dakota during the same time period?"

"Florida and New York began the twenty-first century with nearly the same size prison population (about 70,000 inmates). During the ensuing decade, Florida added 30,000 inmates and now has more than 100,000 persons behind bars. Meanwhile, New York’s prison population fell below 60,000. Yet the crime rate dropped in both states by about the same rate. In fact, New York’s crime drop was slightly larger (29.2 percent) compared with Florida’s (28.2 percent)."

"Among nearly 300,000 prisoners released in 15 states in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years. A study of prisoners released in 1983 estimated 62.5%" - next bullet point on the same page, for convenience.

The 16% is for Bastøy, not for everyone. Statistics Norway has a better article on the recidivism rate (from 2005), but not in English unfortunately[1]. Among released prisoners 20% went back to prison at least once because of a new crime (33% after 4 years).

The closest comparisons I could find between your link and mine were:

* Reconvictions of released prisoners after 3 years: 46.9% vs ~38% (fig 3, yellow line)

* Resentenced to prison after 3 years: 25.4% vs 30% (fig 3, red line) (US numbers from 1994, Norwegian from 2005)

Translation for the figures from SSB:

* Fig 1: People who were charged with a crime

* Fig 2: People who were sentenced

* Fig 3: People released from jail

* Blue line: Charged with new crime

* Yellow: New sentence

* Red: New incarceration

[1] http://ssb.no/sosiale-forhold-og-kriminalitet/artikler-og-pu...

> Of these parolees

16% of parolees, not 16% of ex-inmates, right?

And the American inner city streets where people are treated like savages.

This would never work in South Africa for example. The conditions of such a prison are orders of magnitude better than what half the population have at home. Just having food, a bed and a flushing toilet would be a step up. Everyone would be lining up to go to prison :)

I don't think the equivalent in South Africa would necessarily have the same standard of living, but the emphasis on work opportunities, integration, etc would likely be emulated.

Can't speak for Norway, but I imagine is as being about as lax as Swedish prisons: here the "prisoners", if you may call them such, even though they are murderers, assualters and other kinds of violent criminals, have better accommodations and food than the elderly. And school children.

(Better as in: more money is spent per prisoner than per child or senior in government care [1]).

Also, prisoners are given free health care and dental work, something that "free" Swedes have to pay for. Coincidentally, illegal aliens are also given free dental work (they pay 5$ per appointment).

Something is seriously wrong with Sweden when criminals are taken care of better than [law-abiding] citizens.

1) http://www.pitea-tidningen.se/nyheter/varfor-far-fangarna-ba...

You can't seriously expect that link to be meaningful. These were questions asked by 11-13 years olds to local politicians. There's no actual analysis there, and the only mention of money spent on prisoners is:

"Varför får fångarna på fängelser bättre mat än oss i skolan? frågade John Edin." -- "Why do the prisoners in prison get better food than we do in school? asked John Edin"

The response by the local politician Christer Lindström was:

"Jag har ingen aning om vad internernas mat kostar. Men i skolan kostar en portion 30-35 kronor. Det är ointressant vad andras mat kostar, det viktiga är vad vi erbjuder." -- "I don't have a clue on what the internees' food costs. But in school a portion costs 30-35 kronor. The cost of others' foods isn't interesting, the important thing is what we offer."

So from that dialog we don't know: 1) is John Edin correct? 2) what does "better" mean? and 3) is the price difference unreasonable?

Regarding the last, children on average over the 12 or so years of school need fewer calories than adults, so I would expect that less money is spent per person in feeding a child than an adult.

As for "criminals are taken care of better than [law-abiding] citizens" .. okay, that's where I know you're being deliberately obtuse.

How good is the public road system for the criminals? How good is the mass transit system? How much parental leave time do criminals get, and how much are they paid for it? Do prisoners get paid sick leave? And so on through a long list of public services that prisoners don't get or can't use.

Or more concisely, why not also complain that prisoners get free housing, free food, and free heat, while law-abiding citizens have to pay for those themselves?

I would always expect that a society has a higher responsibility towards a person from whom it took away their personal freedom than towards a ‘free’ citizen.

While this argument does not extend to school children and illegal immigrants, I find it absolutely necessary to consider when complaining about free healthcare for prisoners.

What works for a tiny ethnically homogenous country situated in the far north might just work for ANYONE!

Or, not.

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