Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness - Fascinating Article on Norwegian Justice

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August 27th, 2012


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03:44 am - Fascinating Article on Norwegian Justice
Here's a fascinating article on justice and prisons in Norway, focusing on the treatment of mass-murderer Anders Breivik The article correctly points out how humane the prison system is there, how very different it is from the hideous US prison system, and also how it is vastly more effective at preventing repeat offenders, despite prison terms being shorter. The only disturbing thing about the article is that it was written by someone utterly monstrous. The author writes:
Norwegian-style restorative justice subverts those human desires for justice and fairness, which does seem to have found success in reducing crime's cost to society. Proponents, such as University of Oslo professor Thomas Mathiesen, say it's better for society overall because it isn't about "revenge, but sober, dignified treatment." But is the retributive-style (like the US justice and prison system) need for justice and fairness really only about "revenge," or is it something more important than that? The retributive approach absolutely has its pitfalls -- the American system's heavy emphasis on punishment has a history of leading it to horrific excess and abuse -- but at least it's meant to be just.
I have a very simple answer to the question: "But is the retributive-style need for justice and fairness really only about "revenge,'" or is it something more important than that? It's clearly and primarily about punishment aka revenge. That's what the death penalty is all about, and that's what the entire US prison system is all about. From my PoV, anyone who can look at a prison system that is clearly both far more humane and far more effective and feel that the fact that it isn't hideously draconian in some way "subverts those human desires for justice and fairness" is a sick and nasty person – I have great difficulty imagining how someone can think like that and vastly wished that more people didn't. In large part, I think this is evidence of how sick US culture is – with our emphasis on violence, competition, financial success at all costs, and punishment, far too many people see the sort of nasty and brutal attitudes these ideas encourage as in some way "natural" or preferable to a more human system. Comments like that make me feel like an alien in the nation of my birth.
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From:tcpip
Date:August 27th, 2012 05:40 am (UTC)
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The only disturbing thing about the article is that it was written by someone utterly monstrous.

That's the sort of feeling I had from that quote as well. What sort of justice are they talking about? Old Testament style?
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From:andrewducker
Date:August 27th, 2012 02:49 pm (UTC)
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That seems to be what people mean by "justice" - that the scales are balanced, because a bad act is met by bad consequences.
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From:siderea
Date:August 27th, 2012 05:24 pm (UTC)
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Right, or more precisely, "To the extent you hurt me, you should hurt." The perspective of seeking revenge is the perspective that all crimes are torts (and possibly all torts are crimes). Revenge seeking is a sort of entitlement to be made whole (in the legal sense) not just materially, but emotionally, i.e. "pay me the money you took, and the tears you made me shed."

Not that expecting someone else's suffering to make you whole emotionally is the way to bet: I'm convinced that the reason sentencing and other penalties on felons keep escalating is because that's what people do when something they fantasized would meet certain emotional needs turns out in reality not to -- they try to get more of it, or imagine that a more extreme version will do the trick. "If winning the state spelling bee didn't make me feel Good Enough, I'll just have to win a Pulitzer!" So: "Lock him up!" becomes "Lock him up longer!" becomes "And strip his right to vote!" becomes "And make it so he can never get a job!" Revenge can work to make someone emotionally whole, but it's quite the art, touchy and difficult and requiring certain developmental level and psychological abilities on the part of the revenge seeker, which means our justice system, criminal and civil, will approximately never serve that purpose for anyone, no matter how severely it treats convicts.

[Full disclosure of influences: US criminal justice system. I was psychotherapist for prisoners until recently.]
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From:andrewducker
Date:August 28th, 2012 09:45 am (UTC)
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That's a fascinating point - and I've definitely seen that pattern, with people not getting the results they want, so cranking up their demands, with no evidence to show that they'll eventually work.
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From:tcpip
Date:August 27th, 2012 10:45 pm (UTC)
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Well yes, "retributive justice", as Rawls would put it. There is some evidence, from the last time I looked at this, that there is preventative aspects to this (but interestingly, only as good as the social ostracism that results), but as heron61 has pointed out, certainly little rehabilitative effect.
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From:heron61
Date:August 28th, 2012 12:10 am (UTC)
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Definitely. What I don't understand is that this "you hurt me, and so I'll hurt you" attitude seems perfectly appropriate for children, and but seems ludicrous (as well as vile), for a criminal justice system.
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From:mrteufel
Date:August 28th, 2012 11:32 am (UTC)
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American exceptionalism. The author assumes the American concept of justice is the central point from which all others should be measured; when it actually is an extreme - Americans have more people locked up than any other country.

Yes, even more than China, a country with four times the population and a known terrible human rights record.

The below is per 100,000; but if you do the math, the US still has twice the prison population of China.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate

And here the BBC bears me out:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/uk/06/prisons/html/nn2page1.stm

Edited at 2012-08-28 11:33 am (UTC)
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:August 28th, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)
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Heron said:


"From my PoV, anyone who can look at a prison system that is clearly both far more humane and far more effective and feel that the fact that it isn't hideously draconian in some way "subverts those human desires for justice and fairness" is a sick and nasty person – I have great difficulty imagining how someone can think like that and vastly wished that more people didn't."

In America, we are taught that anger is bad/not nice/immature/unenlightened (take your pick). One of the few ways we can "legitimately" express anger is through a judgemental attitude towards others. In this way, we are using prisoners as scapegoats, instead of expressing anger at those who could punish us for being angry. I can empathize with the article writer.

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