The Scandinavian Exceptionalism Thesis And Penal Policy Making. Exploring Penal Exceptionalism And The Public’s Legal Consciousness In Sweden.

University essay from Lunds universitet/Sociologi

Abstract: When studying in Brussels, Belgium, we first encountered the term “Scandinavian Exceptionalism”. We came to understand that many western countries are experiencing an increased punitiveness; high imprisonment rates, overcrowded prisons, relatively bad prison conditions as opposed to the Scandinavian countries. Penal excess and exceptionalism are often seen within the framework of welfarism and thus the Scandinavian countries are receiving further attention since their high welfare investments. This Bachelor Thesis is based on a literature study with the purpose to explore the Scandinavian Exceptionalism Thesis, its reception by Scandinavian criminologists and its correspondence with the public opinion on crime and punishment. The Scandinavian Exceptionalism Thesis stresses that the Scandinavian (Nordic) countries are resisting an increase of punitiveness, emphasizing their low imprisonment rates and humane prison conditions. International criminologists often stresses that this exceptionalism ought to be used as a role model. Scandinavian criminologists are less positive towards this claimed exceptionalism and focus more on the pains of imprisonment and social marginalization; and emphasizing that there is a tendency of a more punitive approach in Sweden. Furthermore, there seem to exist different levels of legal consciousness; the general-, informed-, and concrete legal consciousness. Information can influence these levels and it often leads to less punitive attitudes. The public’s general legal consciousness is being relatively uninformed about the penal- and policy system. Studies show that the public think that the courts are sentencing much milder than what they do. The public also propose more severe sanctions compared to what they believe the courts do. The public’s general legal consciousness recognizes all of the conditions within the Scandinavian Exceptionalism Thesis but often find the conditions to be too good. The general legal consciousness is frequently used within penal policy debates and one can see an increased penal populism in Sweden. Politicians are trying to meet the demands they think that the public have, and politicians are encouraging the courts to more severe sentences and changes in penal policies.

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