In the United States, taxpayers often complain about the annual $60,000 fee for keeping inmates in prison. Yet, in Scandinavia, the figure for a prison sentence for a year for a single prisoner can exceed $1 million. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian madman who executed 87 people in Norway last year, most of whom were women and children, is currently being accommodated in a 3 room apartment with a bedroom, exercise room with a treadmill, and a The cost that taxpayers will have to bear for his sentence is between $1.2 and $1.7 million per year. In the United States, there would be uproar if so much taxpayer money were being spent on accommodating a mass murderer. Yet, the mentality on the penal system in Norway and Scandinavia as a whole is very different from that in the United States or virtually any other nation in the world.
The main difference between these two countries centers around the concept of justice. In the United States, the criminal justice system focuses on retribution. As such, the death penalty and life imprisonment are commonplace. In Norway and Scandinavia as a whole, the priority instead is upon rehabilitation. As such, the maximum sentence is 21 years and the death penalty is not in place. Prisoners are never ‘tortured’ as they are in American prisons. Prisoners are able to maintain contact with the outside world. They are able to have amenities such as exercise equipment and computers to pursue their hobbies. Most importantly, they have people to talk to on a daily basis such as nurses or psychologists and are thus much less likely to succumb to depression, a condition commonplace among American prisoners.
Additionally, as part of the focus on retribution, prisoners are gradually integrated into society. The penal system assists prisoners in helping them secure jobs in order to ensure that they can become valuable, contributing members of society upon their release. In this way, Norway is able to lower the rates of repeat crime. In Norway, just 20% of criminals in the penal system are or will be repeat offenders. In the United States, though, this statistic is about 80%. The results are staggering. Clearly, a system of incentives and reintegration into society is necessary for the rehabilitation of criminals. Granted, the goals of each penal system are very different and the United States does not value rehabilitation as much as it does keeping criminals off the street and granting ‘justice’ or revenge to victims’ families. However, with the highest incarceration rate per capita, the United States could afford to focus on prisoner rehabilitation in order to reduce overcrowding in prisons and excessive federal spending in this regard. Higher spending is not crucial to this process. A system of reintegrating prisoners into the workforce and ending life imprisonment and death penalty sentences will give prisoners a chance to become rehabilitated and reduce government spending in this regard in the future.