Alternatives to Imprisonment: Intentions and Reality

Alternatives to Imprisonment: Intentions and Reality

Alternatives to Imprisonment: Intentions and Reality

Alternatives to Imprisonment: Intentions and Reality

Excerpt

Although during the last two decades several Nordic official committees have recommended a reduction in the use of imprisonment and an increased use of community sanctions, incarceration rates have been going up in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Only Finland, which historically has had much higher incarceration rates than the other Scandinavian countries, is an exception to this pattern. A comparison of the number of persons found guilty of offenses against the Penal Code shows that in 1991 Finland had a conviction rate that was almost double that of Denmark and Sweden while the Norwegian conviction rate was less than half that of the latter two countries. The number of offenses registered by the police in Finland is, however, far less than the number registered in Sweden and Denmark, and, according to a victimology study, Finland is down to the level of Norway (van Dijk et al. 1990; Bondeson 1991).

With the exception of Norway, fines are the most commonly used sanction; this is particularly true of Finland. Sweden makes the most use of other community sanctions (defined in the Yearbook of Nordic Statistics as "conditional sentence, waiving of prosecution, etc."), followed by Denmark and, at a much lower level, Norway and Finland. These rates have been fairly stable in all four countries.

Comparisons between the Scandinavian countries are complicated by reason of differences in legislation and ways of compiling statistics. The Nordic Committee on Penal Law has described in detail the various community sanctions available in Scandinavia and, after scrutinizing the statistics, has also concluded that there is a greater tendency to use probation and waiving of prosecution in Sweden than in the other Nordic countries (NUA 1980:13; see also Bondeson 1980a; Sveri 1986).

A distinct intention of the new Swedish Penal Code, which came into force in 1965, was that the use of probation would be increased and enhanced by giving supervision a true treatment content. However, during the ensuing ten-year period the use of probation increased only modestly while the use of the conditional sentence (a penal warning without supervision) more than doubled in frequency.

As long ago as 1970, Sparks, in a survey conducted for the Council of Europe, urged research that would compare the effectiveness of conditional sentences without supervision -- as used in many European countries -- and probation. The present study does exactly that, but it has to be said that not much similar research has been carried out.

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