Monday, July 25, 2011

Comparing Crime and Punishment in the U.S. and Norway

I was shocked when I heard the Norwegian responsible for killing more than 90 people will face a maximum sentence of 20 years and 1 day.  That hardly seems adequate to me.  I don’t approve of capital punishment but I would sentence such a criminal to life in prison.
I wondered why Norway would limit all prison terms to 20 years and 1 day.  I believe that criminals who are rehabilitated deserve to be released from jail.  Perhaps Norway is more successful in rehabilitating its criminals and thus has less need for long sentences.  So I compared the recidivism rates of Norway and the U.S.  Recidivism in Norway is about one-third of the recidivism rate in the U.S., which is 66%.

I also compared the violent crime rates of the U.S. and Norway.  The most recent annual data that I could find for both countries was for the year 2000:

  • Violent crime rate in Norway 0.126%
  • Violent crime rate in U.S.     0.506% … about 4 times as much as in Norway.

The U.S. has a higher crime rate and a higher recidivism rate so the U.S. must have a larger percentage of its population in prison.

  • The U.S. prison population is 2,295,000.  743 per 100,000, the highest of all nations.
  • The Norwegian prison population is 3,479.  71 per 100,000.

Perhaps I was too quick to condemn the Norwegians for limiting prison terms to 20 years and 1 day.

Then I heard that Norway can actually keep a person in prison longer than 20 years and 1 day.  Norway evaluates a prisoners readiness for freedom before being released at the completion of the sentence.  If the review board decides that the prisoner is not ready the prisoner will remain in jail for at least 3 more years at which time another readiness evaluation is made.  There is no limit to how many times a sentence can be extended by 3 years.

U.S. law provides for harsher sentences for certain crimes but does permit a prisoner to be kept in prison beyond the complete of the sentence.  Most Americans would consider that unconstitutional.  I suspect that if that was lawful in the U.S. our prison population would be much greater than it is already.  Since the Norwegian prison population is not very high, Norway either does not abuse its ability to hold a prisoner indefinitely or it does so very infrequently.

Why are the crime and recidivism rates in the U.S. so high?  Obviously, greater punishment is not an answer to our high crime rate.  What is?


harpseel said...

Norway's low recidivism rate can be attributed to the fact that inmates in teir prisons are taught skills like cooking or lifesaving, so that they can be reassimilated into soceity. If they have a skill that can get them a job after release, they won't need to commit additional crimes to sustain themselves. And if the inmate enjoys commiting crimes or does so merely for the sake of doing so, they will not be released due to their mental state. It is actually quite an effective system. Also, US crime rates are high because there are few benefits and programs to assit the poor, ESPECIALLY when compared to Norway, one of the wealthiest per capita countries today (better than the US in that regard too).

cmc said...

This is irrelevant it is like comparing apples to oranges.