«It is a paradoxical situation we are in: Modern states have stopped regulating the economy. Instead they regulate the poor. The absence of the other task - regulating the economy - makes it convenient to find another arena for political exposures. And insecurities regarding potential protests from those at the bottom make it also convenient to have law and order as the central one, - strengthened law and more punitive order. The US is fast developing its system into one where the majority of the minority-population is controlled by penal law. But not only minorities. I send off third edition of my little book on rime control as Industry these days. I was forced to revise the book, due to the extreme changes in the US-figures. In 1991, time for writing first edition, they had 482 prisoners per 100 000 inhabitants. In 1993, time for preparing second edition, they had 537. January 1 this year they have 709. Today they might be at 715. More than 8 percent of young males in the US is at present under control of the penal law, - in prison or at parole or probation. Russia has 685 prisoners per 100 000 of the population, but Putin won the election under the slogan: «The dictatorship of the law».
In this situation, it is extraordinary important to resist this development. Abolitionism is a social movement, based on a coherent set of ideas, and a leading force behind this resistance. This book is to my knowledge, the first one to attempt to give a coherent description of this set of ideas. I am impressed by the enormous reading that is behind the book, its energy in presenting the main arguments, and I do also think the material is well organised.
The trend in most industrialised countries is in the direction of more and more use of imprisonment. It is therefore this book is so important just now. But nonetheless, we have also to penetrate the opposite question: Can a modern state exist without penal law and without prisons? Personally, I doubt that. We might reduce our prison-populations enormously, may be down to the half or two-thirds of the present level in Western Europe. But at the very bottom, we might meet problems where a modern state would need to use force, and then in the form of penal law and imprisonment There are certain conflicts that can not he solved through mediation, conflicts that would have developed into a situation where the weak part might have been forced to succumb to the strong one, independent of any abstract «rights». I see in these exceptional cases no better instrument for the protection of all parties than the penal courts I am for the great number of cases an abolitionist, hut a minimalist when it comes to a few, impossible conflicts. As I read the author of this book, he goes all the way as an abolitionist That is his morally well founded right And it helps us to clarity the benefits - and the possible weaknesses - in that interesting position
It is a hook well worth reading
Oslo May 3, 2000