Norwegian and American Prisons

Not Exactly About the Other Shooter.

I'm afraid I have uutviklede testikler for providing more analysis on Anders Behring Breivik. However, I do have another good source for information about the attacks on 22 July. Views and News from Norway was created when the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten stopped its English companion website in 2008. The editor of that service, American expat Nina Berglund, decided to keep writing in English about Norway, just on her own site. The site's tag for terrorism will sort out the relevant articles on the attacks, although you'll have to go to back several pages to get to mid July.

Berglund wrote a great piece reacting to some of the misperceptions that were coming from the foreign reporting on the attacks, Foreigners just don't 'get' Norway:
NEWS ANALYSIS: Sympathy for Norwegians who have lived through a violent nightmare in recent days has streamed in from around the world, but so has criticism of Norway in foreign media. As Norwegians tried to return to some form of normalcy nearly a week after two terrorist attacks, many were puzzled by the foreign journalists’ criticism and felt they’d once again been misunderstood.

Reporters suddenly flown into Oslo, with little if any background on the country and its people, simply had a hard time understanding how the police function here, for example, or how people think, and that’s led to lots of head-shaking among the locals over reports they sent home. If anything, the experience and misunderstandings of the past week confirm a widespread belief about this small country in the far north:

It’s different up here. And the difference can lead to the criticism that’s often based on how non-Norwegians think it should be up here.
There's lots of good points, but I'll focus on just one:
The police are unarmed, there is no death penalty, the penal system is based on rehabilitation of criminals instead of punishment and the maximum prison term is generally 21 years, with eligibility for parole in about half that time.
Whether police are armed and when criminals are eligible for parole are culture-specific and a detail I don't have a strong opinion on, respectively. But the part between those two items is exactly how I'd wish the American prison regime to be. Let's further strip out another outer layer[1] of the quote and focus on the heart of the Norwegian philosophy of crime:
the penal system is based on rehabilitation of criminals instead of punishment
That seems like it should obviously be the goal of all criminal justice systems, but in America, it is a radical idea. Our world-leading (in a bad way) prison system is based on punishment instead of rehabilitation.

The case for punishment is based on two factors: deterrence and revenge. Deterrence does make a significant difference on some potential criminals, but not on strongly motivated - desperate - criminals, which make up the vast majority of our prison population. For instance, there is very high level of recidivism in the U.S. If punishment was a strong deterrent to everyone, that couldn't be true. That leaves revenge. Revenge is a basic human desire, but systems of justice should not be built on revenge. Nothing ever changes if revenge is the motivating force behind a criminal justice system. I support efforts to include Restorative Justice as a critical part of our system. Added to rehabilitation, it would help heal victims, change criminals and improve society. It is not only compassionate but rational self-interest. I could go on, but rather than stay atop my soapbox, I'll find and post some links to articles that discuss the tragic and counter-productive punishment that defines American prisons.

U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations, Adam Liptak, New York Times, April 23, 2008.

Jim Webb's courage v. the "pragmatism" excuse for politicians, Glenn Greenwald,, March 28, 2009.

On Human Rights Day, Public Figures Call for Worldwide Ban on Solitary Confinement and Prisoner Isolation, Andy Worthington,, December 10, 2010.

Prison Rape and the Government, David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow, New York Review of Books, March 24, 2011.

"In Defense of Flogging": Six Questions for Peter Moskos, Scott Horton, Harper's, July 21, 2011.

The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor, Mike Elk and Bob Sloan, The Nation, August 1, 2011.

These articles focus on political prisoners specifically - yes we have them.

Torture in the US Prison System: The Endless Punishment of Leonard Peltier, Preston Randolph and Dan Battaglia, Truthout, August 13, 2011.

The Holy Land Five Case, Noor Elashi, Counterpunch, August 31, 2011.

'Guantanamo North': Inside Secretive U.S. Prisons, Carrie Johnson and Margot Williams, NPR, March 3, 2011.

Leaving 'Guanatanmo North', Carrie Johnson and Margot Williams, NPR, March 4, 2011.

Gitmo in the Heartland, Alia Malek, The Nation, March 28, 2011

U.S. Justice v. the world, Glenn Greenwald,, February 18, 2011.

I'll end with an essay by the father of John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban."

Bin Laden’s Gone. Can My Son Come Home?, Frank R. Lindh, New York Times, May 21, 2011.

[1] The first part, no death penalty, is a familiar topic and not very amenable to changing minds, so I just want to discuss the maximum sentence part. For all crimes, 21 years in prison is long enough punishment, and is much longer than any rehabilitation program could last. I can't imagine that anything different would happen to a criminal in his 22nd (or more) year of being in prison. There is no purpose to it, other than taking away hope for prisoners locked up for life. If that sounds soft and wimpy, please justify to me taking anyone's hope away. Before you get carried away with a particularly gruesome criminal, there is an exception to this principal - preventive detention. The Norwegian system of allowing the judiciary to decide if additional five year terms are necessary to prevent the criminal from committing further crimes seems just right to me. The key point is that the philosophy of rehabilitation is dropped because it does not fit the criminal. Breivik likely cannot be rehabilitated. Certainly there are American prisoners in this category, and not j serial killers. The system should have the opportunity to detain people in these circumstances, even for life. But that will apply only to a very small number of criminals, and it has judicial review built in to prevent abuse. The vast majority of criminals shouldn't be subjected to this exception. 21 years is long enough.

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has an excellent discussion of the GOP presidential debate audience cheering the mention of the 234 executions in Texas since 2001 under Gov. Rick Perry. Video.