Book review: Ugelvik, T. and Dullum, J. (eds) (2012) Penal Exceptionalism? Nordic Prison Policy and Practice Routledge

  • Ioan Durnescu (PhD, University of Bucharest, Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, 9 Schitu Măgureanu Street, Bucharest, Romania, phone: 0040 213140326, email:

Increasingly after the 90s scholars acknowledge a major shift in the crime control industry. This post-welfare or late modernity approach is characterized by populism, punitivism, high prison rates, extended community control and so on (see for instance Garland, 2001). Although these observations are based mainly on the US or UK experience they are understood as global trends in the penal policy and practice. Starting from these premises, John Pratt published an award winning two-part article in the British Journal of Criminology (2008 a, b) where he describes the Nordic countries as having a different ‘culture of control’ and therefore he calls the phenomenon as ‘Scandinavian exceptionalism’. Briefly, in the first part, he argues that the low prison rates and the relatively human prison conditions in the Scandinavian countries lend support to the idea that Scandinavian countries escape somehow from the global trends towards more punitive mood. He goes on to explain that this resistance is due to the ‘highly egalitarian cultural values and social structures in these countries’ (Pratt, 2008: 120). In the second part of his paper, Pratt examines the more recent trends in penal policy in the Nordic states and notes that the same factors that contributed to the penal excesses elsewhere are now affecting the Nordic states: less confidence in experts, decline in trust in government, increase media reporting and so on. At the same time the welfare system of the Scandinavian countries is restructuring and failing to be as inclusive as it used to be in the past. These variations seem to come together with a different set of values that promote intolerance, social exclusion and populist punitivity.

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