CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ugelvik on The Nordic Prison Model

Thomas Ugelvik (University of Oslo) has posted Prisons as Welfare Institutions? Punishment and the Nordic Model (Handbook on prisons (2016). J. Bennett, Y. Jewkes and B. Crewe (eds). London: Routledge) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

In the field of comparative penology, the Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – are frequently used as an exception to the general rule. As the story goes, these societies are somehow able to resist a current global move towards growing rates of imprisonment and tougher crime control policies. Nordic prisons are seen as beacons of humanity and decency in a world of ever-increasing penal populism. In a much-discussed two-part article, John Pratt described the Nordic societies as exhibiting a specifically Nordic penal culture, resulting in what he called Scandinavian or Nordic exceptionalism in the penal area; the exceptional qualities, according to Pratt, being consistently low rates of imprisonment and comparatively humane prison conditions.

The exceptionalism debate has, so far, too often revolved around the question of whether the Nordic prison systems really are or are not that exceptional.

The discussion has often lacked the appropriate level of specificity. In this chapter, I hope to bring this discussion a step forward. It is my thesis that the Nordic systems may be exceptional in another sense: The fact that Nordic prisons and correctional systems are understood as integrated parts of the strong, inclusive and ambitious Nordic welfare states may set them apart from similar institutions and systems elsewhere. Although perhaps not a unique quality that can only be found in the Nordic prison systems and nowhere else, this is certainly not the case in many other jurisdictions, where punishment is regarded as a last resort alternative to, not a part of, the welfare system. My ambition is not to "solve" the question of exceptionalism once and for all, but to begin an exploration of this alternative framing of the exceptionalism thesis.

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