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Inequality and punitivism in late modern societies: Scandinavian exceptionalism revisited

Barry, Monica and Leonardsen, Dag (2012) Inequality and punitivism in late modern societies: Scandinavian exceptionalism revisited. European Journal of Probation, 4 (2). pp. 46-61. ISSN 2066-2203

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In The Culture of Control, Garland (2001) suggests that whilst not inevitable, it is likely that late modern societies will experience increased punitivism. Certain critics have questioned to what extent Scandinavian countries should be included in that assumption, given their unique welfare systems and public/media reactions to crime, and this article comments on one in particular – Green (2008), in a comparison of child murder by children in England and Norway. We argue that punitivism is indeed increasing in Norway along the lines already identified in Anglo-American countries, albeit at the slower rate acknowledged by Green. However, the relevant benchmark for testing Garland’s thesis is not only to compare between countries but also to look for changes within countries. We argue that there is a link between late modernity and increasing punitivism in Norway, that the main cause of the comparative ‘uniqueness’ of Norway is its low rates of inequality and that ‘cultural’ explanations, though relevant, are secondary.