By Henry McRandall
The North American TV networks, cable news channels and right-wing radio talk shows were all aflutter this week at the prospect that accused Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik may end up serving just 21 years in prison after slaughtering at least 77 people.
Breivik, of course, came to global prominence a few days ago after detonating a bomb outside a building in downtown Oslo, killing eight people, and then going on a shooting spree at a Labour Party youth camp 40 kilometres (25 miles) outside Oslo, and killing at least 69 more.
To Americans, in particular, who are more used to sentences in the hundreds of years or several lifetimes for much lesser crimes, the possibility that Breivik might serve a maximum of 21 years for his crimes seemed somewhat bizarre and unfathomable.
Are the Norwegians crazy?
The evidence would suggest that – on the contrary – the Norwegian penal system is not only much more humane than Amerikkka’s but also much more successful at rehabilitating criminals and keeping society safe.
Consider some of the evidence:
In Norway, only 69 out of every 100,000 people in the country are sent to prison, compared to 793 per 100,000 in Amerikkka. And American convicts tend to be sentenced to much stiffer penalties for similar crimes, especially if the offender is a visible minority and/or poor.
There are currently millions of Americans behind bars, including fully one in every nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34. There are very few Norwegians behind bars.
Amerikkka still has a death penalty, unlike almost every other economically advanced country in the world, including Norway.
Amerikkka has one of the highest crime rates in the world, Norway one of the lowest.
In Amerikkka, convicts are crowded two or three to a tiny cell; have only a single, seatless toilet to share; must risk being raped every time they use the communal showers and shanked every time they mingle with the rest of the prison population.
In Norway, every prisoner has his or own private cell, complete with a full personal bathroom and a flat-screen TV; and he or she faces very little risk of being raped or slaughtered.
Amerikkka believes in harsh punishment and very little empathy, compassion or rehabilitation. Norway believes in limited punishment and lots of empathy, compassion and rehabilitation.
Maybe that’s why Amerikkka has one of the highest murder rates in the world and Norway one of the lowest.
Maybe that’s why 60 percent of American prisoners return to prison within two years of being released and why only 20 percent of Norwegian prisoners do.
Of course, North America’s harsh treatment of criminals does not apply to all criminals. Blue-collar criminals – typically poor or working class and mostly visible minority – are treated extremely harshly in Canada and, especially, the U.S.
But in both countries, white-collar criminals – typically rich or upper middle class – are treated as pillars of the community – and with kid gloves.
Do we want the Amerikkkan model or the Norwegian model? Do we want failure or success in rehabilitating criminals and keeping the community safe?
I think Norway’s onto something good!
Which prisons really rehabilitate convicts?
By Henry McRandall