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Should We Be Nicer to Criminals?

Justice is different in different countries. In Mexico, they don't feed you in prison--if your family doesn't bring you food, you'll starve. US prison conditions vary, but our sentences are long compared to prison sentences in Europe or Scandinavia. We may not be feeling too lenient after the recent movie theater massacre by the alleged shooter James Holmes, but maybe it's something we should pay attention to.

Halden is one of Norway's highest-security jails, holding rapists, murderers and pedophiles. In the Guardian, Amelia Gentleman describes it this way: "Halden prison smells of freshly brewed coffee. A couple of hours after lunch, the guards on Unit A (a quiet, separated wing where sex offenders are held for their own protection) bring inmates a tall stack of steaming, heart-shaped waffles and pots of jam, which they set down on a checked tablecloth and eat together, whiling away the afternoon."

Halden has been compared to a nice hotel, with the difference that you can't leave. Can such a "nice" prison adequately punish criminals?

In the Norwegian justice system, the focus is on rehabilitation rather than punishment. We wonder if they feel that way when it comes to Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people there.

Gentleman quotes Halen warden Are Høidal as saying, "Everyone who is imprisoned inside Norwegian prisons will be released. We look at what kind of neighbor you want to have when they come out. If you stay in a box for a few years, then you are not a good person when you come out. We don't think that treating them hard will make them a better man. We don't think about revenge in the Norwegian prison system. We have much more focus on rehabilitation. It is a long time since we had fights between inmates. It is this building that makes softer people."

Since in the US, most criminals come out of prison knowing more about how to commit crimes than when they went in, maybe we should pay attention to what's going on there.

Here's something to pay attention to: Subscribers now have a coupon that gets them a beautiful hardcover of Whitley's novel Hybrids for less than $5!



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