From: Kari-Hans Kommonen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Wed 14 May 2003 - 11:40:25 GMT
I'd second 'Scandinavian' or rather 'Nordic' countries (Nordic would
then also include Finland which geographically does not belong to
At 13:17 -0700 13.5.2003, Gudmundur Ingi Markusson wrote:
>Lawrence DeBivort <email@example.com> wrote:
>What, if any, country or countries manifest the values of --
>- Interpersonal respect
>- Collective desire for social growth and evolution
>- Care for children
>- Curiosity, academic excellence, sense of adventure
>- Positive excitement and sense of creating the future
If some of you are really interested, I could point out some
characteristics from the point of view of Finland, as an example.
Obviously all countries have their problems, and I do not want to
propose that everything is fine in Finland, but there are concrete
differences in the approaches to dealing with issues between
countries, and they DO make a difference.
It is clear that social ideas have a concrete significance in the
life of any Finnish people, through the fact that all people have
concrete rights regardless of their wealth and social status. The
wealth of one's family and the contacts of your social network are
not requirements for getting ahead with your life, or equally, do
not give you a license to do as you please disregarding the rights of
One indicator of success of the egalitarian approach here is in my
opinion that the public services (health, child care, education,
pension, transport, libraries, ...) are not just barely tolerated by
those who do not have a choice, but are instead used also by the
wealthier citizens, who do not see a reason to waste their own money
on things that the society provides efficiently and with good quality.
To give you a taste of how some of these things are seen by some
coming from another system, I have attached a recent article from NY
Times about the Finnish prison system.
Looking at the number of prisoners per 100000 inhabitants in 2002,
Finland has 52 while UK has 126, Russia 664 and the United States has
702. The article gives you a description of how criminals are treated
(follow the link for a version with images and statistics with graphics - requires registration but is free)
January 2, 2003
Finnish Prisons: No Gates or Armed Guards
By WARREN HOGE
KERAVA, Finland - Going by the numbers, Antti Syvajarvi is a loser.
He is a prison inmate in Finland - the country that jails fewer of
its citizens than any other in the European Union.
Still, he counts himself fortunate.
"If I have to be a prisoner," he said, "I'm happy I'm one in Finland
because I trust the Finnish system."
So, evidently, do law-abiding Finns, even though their system is
Europe's most lenient and would probably be the object of
soft-on-criminals derision in many societies outside of the Nordic
In polls measuring what national institutions they admire the most,
Finns put their criminal-coddling police in the No. 1 position.
The force is the smallest in per capita terms in Europe, but it has a
corruption-free reputation and it solves 90 percent of its serious
"I know this system sounds like a curiosity," said Markku Salminen, a
former beat patrolman and homicide detective who is now the director
general of the prison service in charge of punishments. "But if you
visit our prisons and walk our streets, you will see that this very
mild version of law enforcement works. I don't blame other countries
for having harsher systems because they have different histories and
politics, but this model works for us."
Finland, a relatively classless culture with a Scandinavian belief in
the benevolence of the state and a trust in its civic institutions,
is something of a laboratory for gentle justice. The kinds of
economic and social disparities that can produce violence don't exist
in Finland's welfare state society, street crime is low, and law
enforcement officials can count on support from an uncynical public.
Look in on Finland's penal institutions, whether those the system
categorizes as "open" or "closed," and it is hard to tell when you've
entered the world of custody. "This is a closed prison," Esko
Aaltonen, warden of the Hameenlinna penitentiary, said in welcoming a
visitor. "But you may have noticed you just drove in, and there was
no gate blocking you."
Walls and fences have been removed in favor of unobtrusive camera
surveillance and electronic alert networks. Instead of clanging iron
gates, metal passageways and grim cells, there are linoleum-floored
hallways lined with living spaces for inmates that resemble dormitory
rooms more than lockups in a slammer.
Guards are unarmed and wear either civilian clothes or uniforms free
of emblems like chevrons and epaulettes. "There are 10 guns in this
prison, and they are all in my safe," Mr. Aaltonen said.
"The only time I take them out is for transfer of prisoners."
At the "open" prisons, inmates and guards address each other by first
name. Prison superintendents go by nonmilitary titles like manager or
governor, and prisoners are sometimes referred to as "clients" or, if
they are youths, "pupils."
"We are parents, that's what we are," said Kirsti Njeminen, governor
of the Kerava prison that specializes in rehabilitating young
offenders like Mr. Syvajarvi.
Generous home leaves are available, particularly as the end of a
sentence nears, and for midterm inmates, there are houses on the
grounds, with privacy assured, where they can spend up to four days
at a time with visiting spouses and children.
"We believe that the loss of freedom is the major punishment, so we
try to make it as nice inside as possible," said Merja Toivonen, a
supervisor at Hameenlinna.
Natalia Leppamaki, 39, a Russian immigrant convicted of drunken
driving, switched off a sewing machine she was using to make prison
clothing and picked up on Ms. Toivonen's point. "Here you have work,
you can eat and you can do sports, but home is home, and I don't
think you'll see me in here again," she said.
Thirty years ago, Finland had a rigid model, inherited from
neighboring Russia, and one of the highest rates of imprisonment in
Europe. But then academics provoked a thoroughgoing rethinking of
penal policy, with their argument that it ought to reflect the
region's liberal theories of social organization.
"Finnish criminal policy is exceptionally expert-oriented," said
Tapio Lappi-Seppala, director of the National Research Institute of
Legal Policy. "We believe in the moral-creating and value-shaping
effect of punishment instead of punishment as retribution."
He asserted that over the last two decades, more than 40,000 Finns
had been spared prison, $20 million in costs had been saved, and the
crime rate had gone down to relatively low Scandinavian levels.
Mr. Salminen, the prison service director, pulled out a piece of
paper and drew three horizontal lines. "This first level is
self-control, the second is social control and the third is officer
control. In Finland," he explained, "we try to intervene at this
first level so people won't get to the other two."
The men and women who work in the prisons also back the softer
approach. "There are officers who were here 20 and 30 years ago, and
they say it was much tougher to work then, with more people trying to
escape and more prison violence," said Kaisa Tammi-Moilanen, 32,
governor of the open ward at Hameenlinna.
She conceded that there were people who took advantage of the
leniency. Risto Nikunen, 41, a grizzled drifter who has never held a
job and has been in prison 11 times, was asked outside his drug
rehabilitation unit if he might be one of them. "Well," he shrugged,
"many people do come to prison to take a break and try to get better again."
Prison officials can give up to 20 days solitary confinement to
inmates as punishment for infractions like fighting or possessing
drugs, though the usual term is from three to five days. Mr. Aaltonen
said he tried to avoid even that by first talking out the problem
with the offending inmate.
Finnish courts mete out four general punishments - a fine, a
conditional sentence, which amounts to probation, community service
and an unconditional sentence. Even this last category is made less
harsh by a practice of letting prisoners out after only half their
term is served. Like the rest of the countries of the European Union,
Finland has no death penalty.
According to the Ministry of Justice in Helsinki, there are a little
more than 2,700 prisoners in Finland, a country of 5.2 million
people, or 52 for every 100,000 inhabitants. Ministry figures show
the comparable rate is 702 per 100,000 in the United States, 664 in
Russia and 131 in Portugal, the highest in the European Union.
Finland's chief worry now is the rise in drug-related crimes that do
result in prison sentences and the growing number of Russians and
Estonians, who Mr. Lappi-Seppala said were introducing
organized-crime activities into Finland.
Finns credit their press and their politicians with keeping the
law-and- order debate civil and not strident. "Our newspapers are not
full of sex and crime," Mr. Salminen said. "And there is no pressure
on me to get tough on criminals from populist-issue politicians like
there would be in a lot of other countries."
One reason why the Finnish public may tolerate their policy of
limited punishment is that victims receive compensation payments from
the government. Mrs. Tammi-Moilanen was asked if this was enough to
keep them from getting angry over the system of gentle justice.
"My feeling is that victims wouldn't feel that justice is better done
by giving very severe punishment," she said. "We don't believe in an
eye for an eye, we are a bit more civilized than that, I hope."
Mr. Syvajarvi, a muscular 21-year-old with close-cropped hair who
become a heroin addict at age 14, received a six-year sentence for
drug selling and assaults. As a young offender, he will serve only a
third of that time, and he is expected to be out in a year.
He is now the appointed "big brother" peer counselor to other youths
in the jail, must submit to random drug checks to make sure he
remains off the habit and has undergone training with anger
management specialists that he says has prepared him to rejoin
society with a new outlook.
"Before, I wanted to be like those drug dealers in the States," he
said, adding in English, "I was a gangster wannabe." He went into a
boxer's crouch and popped punches in the air. "I used to think the
most important thing was to stand up for yourself.
"Now I've learned that it takes more courage to run away."
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