Here is a very fine article by Doran Larson from The Atlantic (encouraging to see something like this in that magazine) about the open prisons in Scandinavia. The author explores the outer and inner lives of prisoners, and what incarceration means, in a thoughtful way.
It is clear that the most open prison in the world is still a prison. A murderer lives with his deed all his life and is not a normal person. This, to the Scandinavian mind, is the major punishment that the perpetrator endures.
Scandinavians believe that everyone in a society has the duty to abide by the norms. Although I was there for only one week, I picked this mood right up. At the heart of it is the belief that we are all responsible for our own actions as civilized people. The model Scandinavian upholds society through right behavior. Wrong behavior causes mental suffering; guilt. If you can read the rules, you are smart enough to follow them and deserve to feel bad if you fail to do so. I am very attracted to this mentality.
Another principle is that there is only one society and everyone belongs to it. This means that felons are tracked and kept on the right path. They are not left to rot in cages or subjected to the other tyrannies that we have created for our pariahs. There are closed prisons, but they are not the fiendish places our medium and maximum security prisons are:
Each prisoner has a “contact officer” who monitors and helps advance progress toward return to the world outside—a practice introduced to help officers avoid the damage experienced by performing purely punitive functions: stress, hypertension, alcoholism, suicide, and other job-related hazards that today plague American corrections officers, who have an average life expectancy of 59.
There is no reason we couldn't treat felons in our own country the way they do. But the fact is we don't want to, or we would have fixed the situation long ago, using our famous American know-how. We seem to like our crime and punishment setup, as long as we are not likely to end up in prison ourselves. We seem to enjoy being afraid of "them:"
Twenty years of social science research has drawn a consistently clear portrait of the rise of America’s unprecedented regime of mass incarceration: Over the past four decades, Republicans and Democrats have waged a “tougher on crime than you” arms race built upon white unease with the disruption of the old racial order brought about by the civil rights and Black Power movements. Once segregation was declared unconstitutional and black activists began to demand equal rights, white fear called out for “law and order.” Seeking votes and profits, politicians and media have encouraged the white public’s worst fears of becoming the victims of black perpetrators.
If we knew that perpetrators or mentally ill, homeless and indigent people were under constant surveillance and being encouraged in every way to get back on track and become regular members of society, wouldn't it change our opinion of them? Wouldn't we feel safer and in general happier about the society we live in? As it is, I can't trust certain people and have to shun them, and that is a pity.Yes, I have t0 be afraid of my fellow citizens. Should it be this way?
I think living in Sweden would be a "tight fit" for me, but I also think they are right in how they do things.