Foreigners Dominate Denmark’s Criminals

Results of a recently-released survey conducted last May 4 among the population of Denmark’s jails by the Institute for Prisoner Welfare (Kriminalforsorgen) and the Danish State Statistical Bureau (Danmarks Statistik) have raised some eyebrows. That study found that a full one-quarter of Denmark’s imprisoned criminals (specifically: 955 out of 3,741) are either of foreign nationality or the direct descendants of foreigners.

(Let’s take a brief break here to observe in amazement the very existence of that Institute for Criminal Welfare – note that all the links I have given so far are to pages in English. Needless to say, that existence reflects a rather different approach to dealing with crime than adopted in many other countries. What’s next: A Danish criminal’s union? Anyway, check out that English site if you’re curious, especially the “A Program and Principles” page, where the Institute declares in English what its mission is all about. To get to there, from the English homepage click on “Facts” and then, in the menu that appears on the right-hand side, click on “Kriminalforsorgens Principprogram.” On the other hand, those of a conservative bent should especially avoid the Danish homepage, as you might get confused and even outraged. The Love & regler there doesn’t have anything to do with what you think; love means “laws” in Danish.)

Needless to say, these results have caused a bit of political commotion in Denmark, even as Danes begin to disperse for their traditionally-long summer holidays (including, conveniently, Justice Minister Lene Espersen). The regular respectable dailies report on this using barely-changed variations of the same report from the Danish Ritzau press agency – Berlingske Tidende’s account is probably the most-informative: Demands To Find Causes Why Every Fourth Prisoner Is A Foreigner. But the commentary newspaper Information saves the day with a rather-fuller treatment by Rasmus Lindboe (Foreigners In Every Fourth Cell).

If that one-in-four figure seems to you to be a bit out of proportion to the general distribution of foreigners within the Danish population, your instincts are on-target: That rate is a full five times what it would otherwise be if the criminal population were proportionate to the general population. The upshot of these new facts is, as all the papers report, that Espersen’s Justice Ministry is now being called upon to dig further as to just why this should be by both the two governing coalition parties (the Conservatives and the Liberals) – i.e. the government in which she is a minister – as well as by the leading opposition party, the Social Democrats, and some other parties as well.

But the precise nature of the reaction to this news – what it does say and what it doesn’t say – offers an interesting insight into Danish attitudes here. Notably lacking were any calls to toughen the country’s immigration laws so as to keep more of those foreign criminals out. This may be what some really meant to say when expressing their dismay over the report’s results, but were too shrewd to express. (Admittedly, the reaction of the People’s Party, which has been in the vanguard of anti-foreigner sentiment, is not yet in as far as I know.) Or it may be because Denmark already has what the Economist recently termed Europe’s toughest immigration laws (subscription required).


But no, nothing as explicit as calls for even stricter rules for getting in the country and being allowed to stay. Instead, reaction ranged from that of those two governing coalition parties – which merely wanted the causes of this phenomenon to be further explored, while meanwhile waiting to see whether the government programs already in effect to address foreigner integration and criminality will show some results – to that of Karen Jespersen, social affairs spokeswomen of the opposition Social Democrats. Jespersen called on the government to come up with a better action-plan to prevent Denmark’s prisons from becoming, in the writer Linboe’s words, “foreigner-ghettos.” The explicit worry stated here was going down the American path; American prisons are said to already be minority-ghettos.

Linboe goes on to treat an even more-detailed proposal from Line Barfod, legal spokeswomen for the Unity-List Party (Enhedslisten – website only in Danish). Her commentary: “Of course we should make sure that we get immigrants out of prison in an orderly way, but the problem is that the government has cut funds in this area, so that in many cases people cannot find a way to learn skills. The government has cut social spending and has chosen to follow the USA’s footpath.” Barfod recommends that special attention be paid to young immigrant-criminals, to get them out of a life of crime early. The Enhedslisten’s suggestions here include not only providing financial help from the state, but also involving the youth’s family in getting him (probably mostly “him,” eh?) to change his ways – and even requiring the prisoner to meet with the victims of his crimes.

In any case, as usual in Scandinavia, the emphasis is on reform and rehabilitation for criminals, not retribution. And do note that it seems that Denmark, with a population of around 5.4 million, only has around 3,741 people in jail.

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