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Finland / Golden Oldies / Prisons

2012 – How the Finns emptied their prisons

2012 – How the Finns emptied their prisons

Tapio Lappi-Seppälä, Director, National Research Institute of Legal Policy, Finland.

MAY 2012 

The open prison on the island of Suomenlimma near Helsinki is an astonishing place. The 100 prisoners living there learn stonemasonry and other skills to help keep the 19th century stone fortress intact. They’re paid a wage and the tiny municipality of 400 people voted to have them there. Some of the astonishing facts that confronted members of the Scottish Prisons Commission on a visit in 2008 – after which the Finnish Penal system formed the basis of the Community Payback system recommended by Commission Chair Henry McLeish and adopted by the Scottish Government.

Finland had one of the highest prison populations in western Europe until the 1970s. Since then, the imprisonment rate has fallen to the low Nordic average but crime rates have stayed the same. In 2014 (latest figures) Finland had 57 prisoners per 100,000 of population; Scotland has 147 – almost three times more. Finnish reform began when academics in the 60s argued criminal policy should be part of social policy, with employment and educational opportunities, and they also pointed out there was no evidence of a link between long prison sentences and less crime.  Politicians legislated to turn prison sentences into community alternatives.

At this event in 2012, Dr Tapio Lappi-Seppälä explained how Finland moved from a punitive, prison-based model of justice, to one where community options and rehabilitation were made the priority.

Finnish Penal Policy – Digital Notes

Humza Yousaf MSP, the host introduced Dr Tapio Lappi-Seppälä, Director, National Research Institute of Legal Policy, Finland. The meeting was chaired by Lesley Riddoch, a member of the Scottish Prisons Commission.


Dr Tapio Lappi-Seppälä has provided a full copy of his slides. They are full and comprehensive and available here as “the Scotland 2012 Finnish prison reduction presentation “.

Soundcloud Podcasts

The recording, below, is the full presentation includes introductions from Humza Yousaf, Lesley Riddoch, and a response from Lewis Macdonald MSP. This audio recording is just over 1 hour long and doesn’t include the question and answer session. ( Tapio starts speaking about 7 minutes in )

Download the “Finns can only get better” Podcast

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