Gentle Justice Reduces Recidivism and Incarceration: Can South Africa Benefit from the Finnish Experience?




basic human needs, comparative criminology, conflict transformation, cross-cultural learning, Finland, stigmatising shaming culture, South Africa


This is a study of how Finland, a Western democracy which has considerably reduced its rate of recidivism, could help South Africa achieve more effective crime control, despite vested interests (such as the prison-industrial-complex, which profits from the perpetuation of crime). This contribution also considers Braithwaite’s seminal distinction between stigmatising and integrative shaming cultures and how Finland, even though it has a stigmatising shaming culture, has achieved a recidivism rate of around 31% (with deincarceration at 53/100 000). This is much better than South Africa’s unacceptably high 86–94% (259/100 000). By using a conflict transformation theoretical lens, it is argued that this great accomplishment in Finland manifests as a result of a meaningful acknowledgement of offenders’ and ex-offenders’ basic human needs, thereby removing this primary source of human conflict. In conclusion, Finland’s criminal justice system is a good blueprint that South Africa’s Department of Correctional Services should seriously consider emulating.


Metrics Loading ...


Agrizzi, A., and P. Mitchell. 2020. Inside the Belly of the Beast: The real Bosasa Story. Truth be Told Publishing.

Ahmed, E., N. Harris, J. Braithwaite, and V. Braithwaite. 2001. Shame Management through Reintegration. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Alexander, M. 2012. The new Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colourblindness, revised edition. New York: The New Press.

Ballard, C. 2017. “QA.” Interview. Sunday Times, 16 July, p. 19.

Basson, A. 2019. Blessed by Bosasa: Inside Gavin Watson’s State Capture Cult. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball.

Bradshaw, G. J. 2008. Conflict Management for South African Students: Theory and Application, 2nd edition. Cape Town: New Voices Publishers.

Braithwaite, J. 1989. Crime, Shame and Reintegration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Braithwaite, J. 1995. “Inequality and Republican Criminology.” In Crime and Inequality, edited y J. Hagan and R. Peterson, 277–305. Stanford: Stanford University Press. DOI:

Burton, J. 1997. Violence Explained: The Sources of Conflict, Violence and Crime and Their Provention, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Cameron, E. 2020. “The Crisis of Criminal Justice in South Africa.” SA Crime Quarterly 69: 1–15. DOI:

Carlen, P. 2005a. “Imprisonment and the Penal Body Politic.” In The Effects of Imprisonment, edited by A. Liebling and S. Maruna, 421–441. Devon, UK: Willan.

Carlen, P. 2005b. “In Praise of Critical Criminology.” Outlines: Critical Practice Studie 2: 83–90. ISSN: 1904-0210. DOI:

Carlen, P. 2013. “Against Rehabilitation; for Reparative Justice.” In Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, International Perspectives [Critical Criminological Perspectives], edited by M. Ball, J. Tauri, E. O’Brien and K. Carrington, 89–104. London: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI:

Chan, J. 2013. “Globalisation, Reflexivity and the Practice of Criminology.” In Criminological Perspectives, Essential Readings, 3rd edition, edited by E. McLaughlin and J. Munchie, 597–615. London: Sage.

Chipkin, I., and M. Swilling. 2018. Shadow State: The Politics of State Capture. Johannesburg: Wits University Press. DOI:

Chui, W. H., and K. K. Y. Cheng. 2013. “The Mark of an Ex-prisoner, Perceived Discrimination and Self-stigma of Young Men after Prison in Hong Kong.” Deviant Behavior 34 (8): 671–684. DOI:

Christie, N. 2017 [1993]. Crime Control as Industry, Towards Gulags Western Style, 3rd edition. London: Routledge. DOI:

Cronje, M. 2017. “A Comparative Analysis of Recidivism with specific Reference to Crimino-Victimogenic Variables, Offence Analysis and Programme Participation.” PhD thesis, Durban: University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Crouch, C. 2004. Post-democracy. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cyrulnik, B. 2009. Resilience. Translation by D. Macey. London: Penguin.

De Haan, W. 1991. “Abolitionism and Crime Control, a Contradiction in Terms.” In The Politics of Crime Control, edited by K. Stenson and D. Cowell, 203–217. London: Sage.

Derrida, J. 1982a. “Différance.” In Margins of Philosophy, 1–27. Translation by A. Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, J. 1982b. “Signature Event Context.” In Margins of Philosophy, 307–330. Translation by A. Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dutton, M., and S. Xu. 1998. “Facing Difference, Relations, Change and the Prison Sector in Contemporary China.” In Comparing Prison Systems: Toward a Comparative and International Penology, edited by R. P. Weiss and N. South, 289–336. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach.

Ekunwe, I. O. 2007. Gentle Justice, Analysis of Open Prison Systems in Finland: A Way to the Future? Tampere, Finland: University of Tampere Press.

Ekunwe, I. O. 2011. “Re-entering Society Begins Prior to Release.” In Global Perspectives on Re-entry, edited by I. O. Ekunwe and J. Richard, 414–442. Tampere, Finland: Tampere University Press.

Ekunwe, I. O., and R. S. Jones. 2011. “Doing Re-entry, Accounts of Post-prison Release in Finland and the United States.” In Global Perspectives on Re-entry, edited by I. O. Ekunwe and J. Richard, 443–467. Tampere, Finland: Tampere University Press.

Ekunwe, I. O., and R. S. Jones. 2012. “Finnish Criminal Policy, From Hard Time to Gentle Justice.” In Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, Vol. 21, 1 and 2, edited by S. C. Richards and M. Lensa, 173–189. Ottawa: Ontario University of Ottawa Press. DOI:

Festinger, L. 1957. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford: Stanford University Press. DOI:

Finnish Government. 2005. Sentences Enforcement Act 767 of 2005. Accessed February 26, 2021.

Galtung, J. 1996. Peace by Peaceful Means, Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilisation. London: Sage. DOI:

Geiger, B. 2006. “The Case for Treating Ex-offenders as a Suspect Class.” California Law Review 94 (4): 1191–1242. DOI:

Gersen, J. S. 2021. “Seeking the True Story of the Comfort Women.” The New Yorker, 26 February. Accessed February 27, 2021. https,//

Goffman, E. 1990 [1963]. Stigma, Notes on the Management of Spoilt Identity. London: Penguin.

Grobler, L. 2013. Crossing the Line: When Cops Become Criminals. Auckland Park: Jacana Media.

Habermas, J. 1983. Moralbewußtsein und kommunikatives Handeln [Moral awareness and communicative action]. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Habermas, J. 1984 [1987] [1981]. The Theory of Communicative Action. Two volumes. Translation by T. McCarthy. Boston: Beacon Press.

Harris, N. 2010. “Braithwaite, John, Reintegrative Shaming Theory.” In Encyclopedia of Criminological Theory, edited by F. T. Cullen and P. Wilcox, 111–115. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Heard, C. 2020. “Commentary, Assessing the Global Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Prison Populations.” Victims Offenders 15 (7–8): 848–861. DOI:

Hillyard, P., and S. Tombs. 2004. “Beyond Criminology?” In Beyond Criminology, Taking Harm Seriously, edited by P. Hillyard, C. Pantasis, S. Tombs and D. Gordon, 10–29. London: Pluto Press. DOI:

Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research 2021. World Prison Brief. London: University of London. February 26, 2021. https,//

Institute for Economics and Peace 2023. “Global Peace Index.” Accessed August 10, 2023.

Irwin, J., and B. Owen. 2005. “Harm and the Contemporary Prison.” In The Effects of Imprisonment, edited by A. Liebling and S. Maruna, 94–117. Portland: Willan.

Johnson, R. W. 2017. How Long Will South Africa Survive? The Crisis Continues, 2nd edition. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball.

King, R. D. 2005. “The Effects of Supermax Custody.” In The Effects of Imprisonment, edited by A. Liebling and S. Maruna, 118–145. Devon: Willan.

Kriegler, A. 2018. “South Africa won’t Become less Violent until it’s More Equal.” The Conversation Africa, 12 September. Accessed May 3, 2022. https,//

Lacan, J. 1977. “The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious or Reason since Freud.” In Écrits, a Selection, 146–78. Translation A. Sheridan. New York: Norton. DOI:

Lappi-Seppälä, T. 2000. “The Fall of the Finnish Prison Population.” Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention 1 (1): 27−40. DOI:

Lawrence, D. H. 1960. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. London: Penguin.

Lerner, M. J. 1980. The Belief in a Just World, A Fundamental Delusion. New York: Plenum Press. DOI:

Leys, C. 2008. “The Cynical State.” In Total Capitalism, Market Politics, Market State, 111–144. Monmouth: Merlin Press.

Liebling, A., L. Durie, A. Stile, and S. Tait. 2005. “Revisiting Prison Suicide, the Role of Fairness and Distress.” In The Effects of Imprisonment, edited by A. Liebling and S. Maruna, 209–231. Portland: Willan.

Lötter, C. 2018a. “The Reintegration of Ex-offenders in South Africa Based on the Contemporary Chinese Model: An Interdisciplinary Study.” PhD thesis, Bloemfontein: University of the Free State.

Lötter, C. 2018b. “Ex-offenders in South Africa Should Get a Resettlement Grant. Here’s why.” The Conversation Africa, 17 September. Accessed May 1, 2022. https,//

Lötter, C. 2019. “Vrygelate Gevangenes Word as Gevangenispersoneel Aangestel: Kan Suid-Afrika Leer by hierdie Nuwe Internasionale Tendens?” [Ex-offenders Appointed as Prison Wardens: Can South Africa Learn from this New International Tendency?]. Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe 59 (4): 493–511. DOI:

Lötter, C. 2020a. “ʼn Pleidooi vir die Kriminalisering van Stigma teen Vrygelate Gevangenes in Suid-Afrika.” [A Plea for the Criminalisation of Stigma against Ex-offenders in South Africa]. KOERS Journal for Christian Scholarship 85 (1): 1–16. DOI:

Lötter, C. 2020b. “Critical Theory and Praxis in Postapartheid South Africa: The Case for a Critical Criminology.” Acta Academica 52 (2): 106–130. DOI:

Makou, G., I. Skosana, and R. Hopkins. 2017. “Fact Sheet: The State of South Africa’s Prisons.” Daily Maverick, 18 July. Accessed May 3, 2022.

Marqua-Harries, L., G. Stewart, and V. Padayachee 2019. “Towards Transforming a System: Re-thinking Incarceration for Youth (and beyond).” SA Crime Quarterly 68: 33–40. DOI:

Martela, F., B. Greve, B. Rothstein, and J. Saari 2020. “Nordic Exceptionalism: Why the Nordic Countries are Constantly Among the Happiest in the World.” In World Happiness Report, 28–45. Wellbeing International. Accessed August 11, 2021.

Martinson, R. 2001 [1976]. “What Works? Questions and Answers about Prison Reform.” In Correctional contexts, 2nd edition, edited by E. J. Latessa and A. M. Holsinger, 22–54. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

McLaughlin, E. 2010. “Critical Criminology.” In The Sage Handbook of Criminological Theory, edited by E. McLaughlin and T. Newburn, 153–174. London: Sage. DOI:

McLaughlin, E., and J. Munchie., 2013. “Introduction, Theorising Crime and Criminal Justice.” In Criminological Perspectives, Essential Readings, edited by E. McLaughlin and J. Munchie, 3rd edition, xix–xxviii. London: Sage.

McLaughlin E., and T. Newburn. 2010. “Introduction.” In The Sage Handbook of Criminological Theory, edited by E. McLaughlin and T. Newburn, 1–18. London: Sage. DOI:

Merten, M. 2019. “State Capture Wipes out Third of SA’s R4.9-trillion GDP: Never mind lost Trust, Confidence, Opportunity.” Daily Maverick, March 1. viewed 2021-02-17.

Moran, D. 2015. Carceral Geography, Spaces and Practices of Incarceration. Surrey: Ashgate. DOI:

Moran, D., and A. Keinänen. 2012. “The ‘Inside’ and ‘Outside’ of Prisons. Carceral Geography and Home Visits for Prisoners in Finland.” Fennia 19 (2): 62–76. ISSN 1798-5617. DOI:

Muntingh, L. 2005. Offender Rehabilitation and Reintegration, Taking the White Paper on Corrections Forward. Research paper 10. Cape Town: Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative.

Murhula, P. B. B., and S. B. Singh. 2019. “A Critical Analysis on Offenders Rehabilitation Approach in South Africa: A Review of the Literature.” African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies 12 (1): 21–43. ISSN 1554-3897.

Murambadoro, R., C. Wielenga, and M. Batley. 2020. “Beyond Restorative Justice: Understanding Justice from an African Perspective.” Ubuntu: Journal of Conflict and Social Transformation 9 (1): 43–69. DOI:

Ngabonziza, O., and S. B. Singh. 2012. “Offender Reintegration Program and its Role in Reducing Recidivism, Exploring Perceptions of the Effectiveness of Tough Enough Program.” Acta Criminologica CRIMSA 2011 Conference Special Edition 2: 87–102.

Olivier, B. 2005. “The Contemporary Context of Relativity and Relativism.” Acta Academica Supplementum. 2: 73–104. Reprinted in Olivier, B. 2009. Philosophy And Psychoanalytic Theory: Collected Essays. Oxford: Peter Lang, 91–122.

Orthofer, A. 2016. “Wealth Inequality in South Africa: Insights from Survey and Tax Data.” REDI3x3 Working Paper 3, June. Accessed May 12, 2021.

Pierce, B., and L. Kiewit. 2020. “Nicro, the High Rate of Offender Recidivism.” 702 Podcasts, January 13. Accessed June 20, 2021.

Piketty, T. 2015. “Transcript of Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.” Johannesburg: University of Johannesburg. Accessed March 4, 2016. https,//

Quinney, R. 1991. “The Way of Peace: On Crime, Suffering, and Service.” In Criminology as Peacemaking, edited by H. E. Pepinsky and R. Quinney, 3–13. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Rall, S. A. 2021. “Investigating Directorate Secures Court Order against former ANC MP Vincent Smith, Seising Property worth R46m.” IOL, February 28. Accessed February 28, 2021.

Richards, S. C., and R. S. Jones 1997. “Perpetual Incarceration Machine, Structural Impediments to Post-prison Success.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 13 (1): 4–22. DOI:

Searching for Sugarman. 2013. [Film] Malik Bendjelloul (director). Canfield Films/The Documentary Company: Sweden.

South African Government. 1998. Prevention of Organised Crime Act, Act 121. Accessed June 22, 2021. https,//

Stayn, J. P., and P. Vecchiatto 2019. The Bosasa Billions. Pretoria: Lapa.

Von Hofer, H. 2003. “Prison Populations as Political Constructs, the Case of Finland, Holland and Sweden.” Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention 4: 21−38. DOI:

Wacquant, L. 2010. “Prisoner Re-entry as Myth and Ceremony.” Dialectical Anthropology 34: 605−620. DOI:

Ward, K., A. J. Longaker, J. Williams, A. Naylor, C. A. Rose, and C. G. Simpson. 2013. “Incarceration within American and Nordic Prisons, Comparison of National and International Policies.” ENGAGE, The International Journal of Research and Practice on Student Engagement 1 (1): 36–47.

Weiss, D. B., and D. L. MacKenzie. 2010. “A Global Perspective on Incarceration, How an International Focus Can Help the United States Reconsider its Incarceration Rates.” Victims and Offenders 5 (3): 268–282. DOI:




How to Cite

Lötter, Casper. 2023. “Gentle Justice Reduces Recidivism and Incarceration: Can South Africa Benefit from the Finnish Experience?”. Phronimon 24:25 pages.



Research Articles
Received 2023-02-24
Accepted 2023-08-29
Published 2023-09-21