Scandinavian Exceptionalism

The Netherlands keeps having to close its prisons due to a lack of prisoners.

At a time when punitive punishment is at an all time high, to hear of prisons closing (and staying closed!) sounds like a surreal concept. Not in the Netherlands.
The article recently written by Frida Garza and published on QUARTZ begins by outlining the reasoning behind the decision to close five of its prisons, it is simply too costly to maintain, particularly with their declining crime rate. An interesting statement seeing as though many western nations (i.e. the United States, Australia and New Zealand) are experiencing exponential growth in crime rates.
Dutch News reports that crime rates in the Netherlands have dropped by 0.9% and at the same time, judges have been sentencing offenders to shorter incarceration terms.

Everything I learned from my studies about crime and prisons revolved around longer and harsher prison sentences aimed at deterring criminals from committing crimes, particularly in the United States. Meanwhile, the Netherlands is experiencing a decreasing rate in crime whilst judges are handing out shortened sentences.
This tells me that what is generally thought about prison sentences being a considerate deterring factor is not all it is made out to be.

The Netherlands is not the only country experiencing this ‘good-to-have problem’. Sweden is also having to close down prisons due to a gradual decrease in crime rates and prison populations.

Whilst these northwestern European nations are indefinitely shutting it’s prisons down, others are building more and more to accommodate the ever-increasing number of offenders sentenced to prison.
How and why is this issue so contrasting to what other countries are experiencing?

Scandinavian Exceptionalism

One of the most intriguing areas of Criminology.
How is one concept, crime, carried out consistently across different nations, cultures and languages yet treated so inconsistently?

Here, I have taken the words describing Scandinavian Exceptionalism directly from Prof. John Pratt* in his journal article titled Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess

low rates of imprisonment and humane prison conditions…the roots of this exceptionalism in Finland, Norway and Sweden, arguing that it emerges from the cultures of equality that existed in these countries which were then embedded in their social fabrics through the universalism of the Scandinavian welfare state.
…I could not have put it any better myself.
My fascination in this area grew rapidly after attending a lecture given by Dr. Anna Eriksson on SE in my third year of Criminology where I learned how instead of treating crime as a deviancy, it is perceived as a mental illness and ‘treated’ accordingly. Furthermore, there is no power hierarchy that is apparent in nations with rising prison populations. Prison Officers are willing to do their job because they like to work with people rather than wanting to have power over people or minimal job prospects with no other option.
I will be leaving at that for now as my first real blog post however expect more to come surrounding this topic as it is one that I am very interested in.
I would love to hear any comments, queries and/or concerns surrounding SE and whether it would (ever) be possible to implement in justice systems facing an inundation with crime rates and prisoners.
*Professor John Pratt is the Director of the Institute of Criminology in New Zealand
Featured image found here

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