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  • Writer's pictureTashroom Ahsan

Discipline in the Scandanavian Correctional System

The Scandinavian correctional system refers to the type of correctional systems that Finland, Sweden, and Norway boast. These countries have some of the lowest crime and recidivism rates in the world, while maintaining ‘humane’ facilities and post-prison supports that reintegrate convicts into society (Graunbøl, 2010). Correctional facilities, here, punish by merely depriving liberty, the liberty of the body in space and time. They mirror broader society by maintaining a community, providing prisoners with citizens rights, and permitting degrees of free movement within the facility. This correctional system employs a series of disciplinary mechanisms that gradually move from corporal to mental normalization depending on the perceived ‘security’ of the convict by moving them to lower security institutions to serve their sentences. The lower the security of the institution, the more closely the normalization of the convict to citizens resembles that of broader Scandinavian society, which liberates the body but emphasizes homogeneity of the mind. This process of normalization of the convicts to citizens is only strived for by Scandinavian society because convicts are viewed as equal beneficiaries of the Scandinavian welfare state. The welfare state developed upon the trust Scandinavian individuals have between each other and between themselves and the state, trust that rests on class homogeneity. Reintegration is the focus of Scandinavian prisons because they have no need to form a delinquent class like the failing prisons that Foucault describes in Discipline and Punish. By producing normal citizens, the welfare state perpetuates diffuse discipline through citizens because of historical cultural pressure to be normal, and reinforces itself. Additionally, the welfare state itself enables discipline and surveillance of all citizens, the same surveillance that a delinquent class enables in other states. The problem of the novel immigrant to Scandinavia, who is excluded from the welfare state and threatens citizens’ trust, proves that homogeneity is the reason why Scandinavian correction lessens recidivism.

In the Scandinavian system, the purpose of the sentence is to “prevent the commission of new criminal acts…[and] ensure satisfactory conditions for the inmates” (Norway, 2001). The explicit aim of penality in this corrective system is the prevention of recidivism and protecting the rights of inmates. Unto this end, correctional services, “shall make suitable arrangements for enabling a convicted person to avoid committing new criminal acts through his or her own efforts” (Norway, 2001). The “convicted person has a duty to take an active part during the execution of the sentence and special criminal sanctions” (Norway, 2001). The Scandinavian system makes ‘suitable arrangements’ for each individual convict, tailoring the details of a punishment to them, for them to ‘take an active part’ in their own reformation. In other words, the fundamental aim of the criminal sentence is to prescribe a cure to a convict to prevent their recidivism and induce the convict to act upon this cure themselves, internalizing the ‘health’ associated with non criminality. The end possesses a plurality of means; there are many approaches to curing the criminal.

The first division of means stem from the institutions of reform. The Scandinavian correctional system consists of five forms of the execution of a prison sentence: closed prisons, open prisons, halfway houses, outside prison, or on probation (Norway, 2001). Nearly every convicted individual begins their sentence in a closed prison; the majority finish in probation (Norway, 2001; Ugelvik, 2016).

Closed prisons resemble most other Western prisons. Inmates have limitations on telephone use, have controlled visits, cannot move freely between buildings, and are “kept under constant supervision and control” (Norway, 2002). Yet there remains “relative material comfort” (Pratt, 2008). Many in the prison work and receive education beyond the necessary remedial level (Pratt, 2008). Inmates may be permitted to leave briefly to shop, they may wear their own clothes, they retain a level of privacy and sanitation from other inmates, their families may occasionally stay with them unsupervised, and there are communal meals with guards (Pratt, 2008).

Open prisons are more lax than closed prisons. There remains a degree of surveillance, but is not constant; rather, it is “provided on the basis of existing conditions” and remains mostly in common areas (Norway, 2002). Visits and telephone calls are less controlled, movement is mostly liberal within the prison, inmates may visit and work in local communities, and “the social distance between the prison and the outside world is...short” (Pratt, 2008).

Half-way houses, outside prison, and probation all execute sentences outside of more general prisons. Halfway houses resemble an open prison in regulations, but are smaller. Outside prison and probation resemble one another. Here, convicts are permitted to re-enter their community under electronic monitoring of their movement, and must work and/or undergo treatment while serving their sentence (Norway, 2001).

A convict moves between these three levels of institutions depending on the judgement of those who monitor them, based on their degree of ‘security’ (Norway, 2002). The more secure a convict is, the further they move from closed prisons. Once an individual has completed their sentence, they are offered a ‘reintegration guarantee’ that ex-convicts will be offered employment, education, housing, medicine, treatment, and debt counselling upon release (Ugelvik, 2017).

The Scandinavian justice system exerts a unique form of discipline upon its convicts. The degree of spatial limitation is graduated between different penal institutions, and as one is perceived as more secure, one gains more autonomy over their body’s movements. In the closed prison, inmates cannot walk freely throughout the prison. In the open prison, inmates can walk freely, but cannot freely leave the prison. In outside prison or probation, the inmates may physically go where they please, but are tracked and have confined movement between correctional facilities. All must work during the day and undergo some treatment, but because each treatment is individualized using data about each convict, there is no general normalization of all actions; there are no time-tables (Norway, 2001). The bodies are not interchangeable. Differentiation exists between each individual in their form of treatment, and between classes of criminals, determined by ‘security’, by their institution. Different classes of criminals are institutionally separated; higher-risk in higher-security, closed prisons, and lower-risk in open prisons or probation. Spatial placement of the body is equalized inside each institution, where all have the same dorms and general ‘treatment.’ Equality is further emphasized by the communal relationship between the prisoners themselves and between prisoners and guards. Prisoners labor to maintain sufficiency of the prison, they work together on different jobs to generate a community (Norway, 2001). Prison guards are standardly educated, and are taught to treat inmates as citizens to be corrected, not an ‘other’ (Pratt, 2008). Discipline confines the body to varying degrees depending on the convict’s perceived security.

Surveillance prevails through each institution of penal reform. In each case, convicts are watched; only the apparent degree to which they are watched by guards is altered. As one moves from higher-security institutions to lower-security sentences, the mode of control over their body through surveillance alters. In higher-security prisons, one cannot go to certain areas; they are locked in and confined by force. In lower-security prisons, there are often no fences, nothing physically bounding the prisoners in but the gaze of their guards and peers. In probation, one does not even know if they are being watched until after they move; they act in faith that their officer will be watching them. The confinement of the body through surveillance and restrictions removes itself from the body to an abstraction of being seen, causing obedience to become less corporal and more mental.

Sentences, themselves, are referred to as ‘normal;’ the Finnish Sentences Enforcement Act of 2002 states, “punishment is a mere loss of liberty. The enforcement of the sentence must be organized so that the sentence is only a loss of liberty. Other restrictions can be used to the extent that the security of custody and the prison order require” (Pratt, 2008). Penal institutions merely deprive liberty, not rights, so they appropriate broader society while ensuring ‘security.’ Because the aim is to reform the criminal to become a normal citizen in society, penal institutions are closely tied to society and resemble them. The convict, then, is normalized by many parties. There is an exertion of normalizing power by the correctional measures of the ‘cure’ prescribed to them by their correctional officers, be they educators, rehabilitation workers, probation officers, prison guards, etc. There is the normalizing power of the limited connection between the convict and broader society. The convict, if connected to their local community, works and does service in that community. Their only relationships to greater society are to those who wish to ensure their docility as a general, unexceptional citizen, one who contributes to the broader populace; relationships to public employers, family, and community service supervisors. There is the normalizing power of their fellow convicts, each of whom presumably seek liberty, as its deprivation is their one punishment. Convicts live in community with one another, so the production of a better worker in a peer results in communal benefit. By mirroring the power relations of broader society within the context of greater surveillance and controlled relationships, normalization of convicts shifts them towards ‘security.’

Most convicts are on probation or in open prisons (Ugelvik, 2017). They are close to being free, being one with society again, and their one punishment is ‘mere deprivation of liberty.’ Their punisher, by offering treatment and withholding excessive corporal force, demonstrates care for the convict; as such, the convict trusts their punisher (Todd-Kvam, 2020). The power of this care is not one by which the convict can resent their punisher, for it lacks brute force. By the point where one is close to liberty, the convict has already been deemed ‘secure’ and mostly normalized. Rather than resentment, convicts feel “boundlessness, ambiguity, and relative deprivation”; they feel a desire to become a normal, secure, working citizen outside of prison (Ugelvik, 2016). The convict sees their lost liberty and understands the ease of regaining it due to their proximity to liberty. Thus, they discipline themselves to regain liberty. Discipline is internalized by soft, paternal power.

Convicts are treated as citizens to whom cures are applied. These cures use disciplinary techniques to reform the convict into a citizen. Discipline gradually releases citizens back into society by slowly granting them greater liberty by transferring them between institutions. These institutions employ discipline that begins corporally in the closed prison, and becomes almost entirely mental through probation with a paternal, caring officer and remote surveillance. The incentive to behave well, or be perceived as ‘secure,’ begins as one for a physical desire to liberate the body to one for liberation as a social actor.

The Scandinavian corrective system rests upon the Scandinavian welfare state, where all citizens benefit from a ‘safety net’ that guarantees basic living conditions that enable citizens to act socially (Ugelvik, 2017). Penal code arose from the welfare state, as a part of it (Ugelvik, 2017). The ‘seamless sentence’ asserts that convicts belong to ‘the municipality before, during, and after imprisonment’ (cite Fridhov 2013). The penalty ensures the convict returns to society; it is the welfare benefit for the citizen who is a convict. Convicts have the right to determine the manner by which the institution behaves and affects their daily lives, demonstrating that, like in other welfare institutions, beneficiaries determine their service (Norway, 2002). Furthermore, convicts retain the rights of free citizens, including access to public healthcare services, work, education, etc. and, after their sentence, are guaranteed support by the state. Convicts lack the necessity to return to a life of crime as the welfare state supported them during and after their sentence. In essence, “prisoners [are] seen largely as another group of welfare clients rather than dangerous outsiders” supported by their penalty (Pratt, 2008).

The success and origins of the Scandinavian welfare state, though, exceed mere policy. The culture of equality in Scandinavia precedes its establishment in the welfare state. Before the nineteenth century in Scandinavia, rich farmers lacked the material basis to mobilize agricultural workers; there was no lacking an influential upper class (Pratt, 2008). Small communities with autonomy and equal social conditions arose in lieu of a land-owning elite (Pratt, 2008). There was little room for social distinctions, for there were few minorities and little regional difference; the lowest and highest strata of society were not far removed (Pratt, 2008). There was no momentum for class struggle as there were little class distinctions. In Swedish culture, “the mediocre is successful...to be different is to be burdened with a sense of guilt and to be the worst of failures” (Pratt, 2008). The culture of normality in Scandinavia institutionalized itself through the welfare state. The welfare state formed in most of Scandinavia following the 1929 stock market crash, providing a material basis for egalitarianism (Pratt, 2008). All received welfare towards the aim of providing common security; though the state was politically instituted, it was rarely politically challenged. Instead, trust and solidarity, bred through centuries of homogeneity and community, prevailed, and the welfare state in Sweden was conceived of as “the Swedish people’s home” (Pratt, 2008). The welfare state of Scandinavia was built upon this trust in solidarity between the people themselves and between the people and the state, enabling apparatuses of the welfare state to have the backing of the populace. The state was welcomed into people’s workplaces, homes, hospitals, and schools; it normalized, regulated, and surveilled citizens in every institution, with their consent from trust.

The Scandinavian corrective system is an apparatus of the welfare state, which is an institutionalization of the homogeneous egalitarianism of Scandinavian culture. The trust ingrained in the egalitarian culture enables convicts to trust their disciplining correctional officers, communities to trust their convicts to do community service, and citizens to fund the welfare programs of prisons. By funding the welfare programs of the prison, disciplining convicts’ minds through obedience and providing them with the means outside of prison to live a productive life, the Scandinavian corrective system generates low levels of recidivism.

Scandinavian correction is a successful attempt to lessen recidivism and reduce crime, unlike most prisons. Foucault argues that the failure of prisons to reduce crime, though, stem from the fact that most prisons aim to produce the delinquent outside of prison by creating recidivism, allowing the surveillance of citizens outside of the prison (Foucault, 1985). This allows for the illegalities of the ‘dominant class’ to go on, while the ‘delinquent class’ remains subordinated, and further enables the disciplining of the ‘delinquent class’ to prevent class struggle (Foucault, 1985). Scandinavian correction aims at reducing recidivism, rather than producing a delinquent class, because this class distinction is muddled, and because surveillance and discipline of those outside of prison is already enabled by the welfare state via trust. That is, there is no preexisting delinquent class, which Foucault associates with the working class, for the prison to further subordinate because of the homogeneity and trust in the population that already exists, and because the welfare state reduces most material necessity for crime. There is no need to create a delinquent class to further discipline because of cultural normalization. In addition, the welfare state itself affects the housing, healthcare, education, press, etc. of citizens, allowing the state access to much of the basis of every citizens’ lives. Preexisting normalization of citizens aimed towards social benefit renders surveillance superfluous, since social pressure already gears individuals towards normalcy. Creating citizens out of convicts most effectively reinforces surveillance and discipline of society, as it increases trust in the disciplining welfare state and produces more normalizing citizens. Because Scandinavia is already disciplined, normalized, and lacking in class heterogeneity, delinquency is not needed to enable further discipline; rather, the perpetuation of normalization through welfare prisons protects order more effectively.

The problem of the immigrant proves this. In recent years, Scandinavian countries have seen a large influx in the number of immigrants. These immigrants occupy large spaces in their prisons; 34% of prisoners in Norway are foreign (Ugelvik, 2016). These foreigners are the ‘other’ class that the Scandinavian population has lacked. Norway approaches these prisoners with the assumption that they will be deported to their native country, and thereby treats them differently (Ugelvik, 2017). Under the assumption that these people are ‘other’ to the society that disciplines them, they are discriminated against in obtaining work opportunities and education, even though these convicts may have lived in Norway for decades (Ugelvik & Damsa, 2017). Prisoners in Norway’s recently developed immigrant-only prison, Kongsvinger, resent this discrimination (Ugelvik, 2017). These non-citizens lack the right to many social services, but are still seen as the responsibility of the welfare state while within prison (Ugelvik & Damsa, 2017). But their treatment does not aim at producing a ‘secure’ citizen, since that is no longer a consideration. Rather, it seeks to push them out, for the foreign prisoner who wishes to leave is the easiest to deport (Ugelvik & Damsa, 2017). Thus, after prison, these convicts do not receive the reintegration guarantee and are stripped of many rights they had while in prison, like that to an education (Ugelvik & Damsa, 2017). The immigrant, the disruptor of homogeneity, shifted the aim of reform towards one of expulsion, regardless of whether or not the immigrant may stay in Norway after their sentence. The immigrant is twelve times more likely to commit a crime and has a higher rate of recidivism than a Norwegian citizen (Skardhamar, 2014). The introduction of heterogeneity, of those who are not a part of the trust upon which the welfare state rests, those excluded from the welfare state, led to the necessary production of a novel, immigrant delinquent class, unsupported by the state outside of prison. To manipulate the immigrant population, since they were beyond the scope of social reinforcement and the welfare state, a delinquent class was produced.

Scandinavian society, one of broad normality and homogeneity, produced the welfare state. The Scandinavian correctional system is an apparatus of the welfare state. It employs special forms of discipline that mirror the discipline of greater Scandinavian society to produce normal citizens out of convicts, and enables them to reintegrate into society as such. Normal citizens are successfully produced out of convicts, which the Scandinavian system aims for, as these normal citizens perpetuate their faith in one another and the state. Through this faith, the welfare state reinforced itself, allowing the state to surveil and discipline society more broadly. The delinquent underclass, which correctional systems with high recidivism rates produce, is unnecessary, as the normal Scandinavian citizen allows greater state surveillance over society than delinquents. Non-citizens, who are separate from the welfare state, still require a delinquent class to enable their control. The Scandinavian correctional system functions only in a homogeneous state where discipline already prevails.

Works Cited

Foucault, M. (1985). Illegalities and Delinquencies. M. Foucault & A. Sheridan (Authors), Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison (pp. 280-281). London, United Kingdom: Penguin Books.

Graunbøl, HM et al. (2010): Retur: En nordisk undersøkelse af recidiv blant klienter i Kriminalforsorgen. Oslo: KRUS.

Norway Ministry of Justice and Public Security. (May 18, 2001). Execution of Sentences Act - ESA. from https://www.kriminalomsorgen.no/getfile.php/4002763.82 3.ztmmjuzwqnuumw/Lov+om+gjennomf%C3%B8ring+av+straff+mv+%28eng elsk%29.pdf

Norway Ministry of Justice and Public Security. (n.d.). Regulations relating to the Execution of Sentences. Retrieved March 1, 2002, from https://www.kriminalomsorgen.no/getfile.php/ 4187062.823.qzaqtkststjnqa/Regulations+relating+to+the+Execution+of+S entences+-+translated+June+2018.pdf

Pratt, J. (2007). Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess: Part I: The Nature and Roots of Scandinavian Exceptionalism. British Journal of Criminology, 48(2), 119-137. doi:10.1093/bjc/azm072

Pratt, J. (2007). Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess: Part II: Does Scandinavian Exceptionalism Have a Future? British Journal of Criminology, 48(3), 275-292. doi:10.1093/bjc/azm073

Skardhamar, T., Aaltonen, M., & Lehti, M. (2014). Immigrant crime in Norway and Finland. Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, 15(2), 107-127. doi:10.1080/14043858.2014.926062

Todd-Kvam, J. (2020). Probation practice, desistance and the penal field in Norway. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 174889582095319. doi:10.1177/1748895820953192

Ugelvik, T. (2016). Prisons as welfare institutions? Handbook on Prisons, 388-402. doi:10.4324/9781315797779-23

Ugelvik, T. (2017). The Limits of the Welfare State? Foreign National Prisoners in the Norwegian Crimmigration Prison. Scandinavian Penal History, Culture and Prison Practice, 405-423. doi:10.1057/978-1-137-58529-5_17 Ugelvik, T., & Damsa, D. (2017). The Pains of Crimmigration Imprisonment: Perspectives From a Norwegian All-foreign Prison. The British Journal of Criminology, 58(5), 1025-1043. doi:10.1093/bjc/azx067





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