Buried in this account of a Rwandan-born, Kansas-based octogenarian who may be a genocidaire is an interesting tidbit regarding Finnish jurisprudence:
Mr. Kobagaya did not come to the United States government’s attention until December 2007, when he agreed to testify as a defense witness on behalf of a former neighbor, Francois Bazaramba, in a trial in Finland. Mr. Bazaramba was facing charges that he had organized the genocide in Birambo. Finnish prosecutors tipped off American officials about Mr. Kobagaya’s testimony, which showed he was in Rwanda during the genocide, not Burundi. (Last summer, Mr. Bazaramba was convicted on genocide charges and sentenced to life in a Finnish prison.)
There is something slightly dissonant about the phrase “Finnish prison,” perhaps because Finland’s penal system is so famously easygoing. This 2003 piece makes the case that life in a Finnish correctional facility ain’t half bad:
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.
I by no means think that America’s penal system should be similarly cozy. But I am curious to know more about how Finland’s style of incarceration, which began in the early-to-mid-1990s, has affected the nation’s crime rate. One thing I do know right off the bat, and which may raise some issues: Finland has an unusually high homicide rate, especially in its northern provinces.