NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Nice Norwegian Criminals Wait for Prison

June 5, 2003

Criminals convicted of nonviolent offenses in Norway are let loose for months or even years while they wait for a berth to open up in one of the nation's few prisons, says the Wall Street Journal.

This "prison queue" reflects Norway's long humanitarian tradition and mild attitude toward imprisonment.

  • At 60 inmates per 100,000 citizens, Norway has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the western world; the U.S. rate, by contrast, is about 700 prisoners per 100,000.
  • While some serious offenders are sent straight to prison, the average criminal spends 77 days in line.
  • University of Oslo criminologist Nils Christie calls the queue "a sign of a civil and humane society"; however, in the past four years, the line of convicts waiting to do their time nearly tripled to 2,762 -- roughly the same size as the entire Norwegian prison population of 2,900 inmates.

One reason for the lengthening queue is the rising crime rate: "'There's more violence, more drugs, more thefts,' laments Carl-Hugo Lund, a district judge...."

To combat crime, Norway plans to lengthen prison sentences for some serious crimes, and is planning to build its first new prison since 1997. A closed military camp was recently converted into a 40-bed facility. Corrections officials hope to add at least 450 new prison beds by 2006.

The WSJ doesn't report whether the new space will be as nice as one Norwegian prison in Bastoey -- an island where inmates live in wooden cottages and can fish, raise vegetables and cook out.

Source: Philip Shishkin, "In Norway, Criminals Wait A Long Time to Serve Time," Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2003.

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