All societies punish unwanted behaviour. Punishment is an evil that is inflicted on persons who have broken the law. In a state governed by law no-one may be punished without legal basis. In Norway, punishment is regulated by the Norwegian laws and the human rights.

Both laws, methods of punishment and conceptions of criminal liability are changing over time. Physical punishment was used Norway up to 1896. Death penalty for civilian crimes was abolished in 1902.

The oldest penal sanctions we know emphasize revenge, retribution and restoration of damage by means of fines, compensation and banishment. Modern punishment is to be based on a humanistic value basis.


One of the objectives of punishment is to deter the criminal from committing new crimes. The punishment is also intended to be deterrent for others.

From the 17th century, public punishment was an important part of the objective of the punishment. The consequences of the crime should be demonstrated clearly. From the 18th century, the use of imprisonment and forced labour increased, but the deterring effect was maintained. The prisons were intended to be so terrible that no-one would return.

These days, the normality principle is an important principle for punishment. This means that it is the loss of or limitation of liberty that constitutes the punishment. The punishment must not be more burdensome than what is necessary from the perspective of security. Studies show that loss of liberty in itself has a deterrent effect and that inhuman conditions in prisons do not reduce the crime rate.


With the workhouses in the 17th century, rehabilitation became important. The inmates were to be punished to become better human beings by means of work, piety and discipline This thought was developed further in the prisons in the 19th century. Prisoners in Botsfengselet were to follow strict discipline and work, and they were to be isolated from their fellow prisoners. In isolation, they were to reflect on their lives, and through that become better persons.

In the modern correctional service, it is a basic principle that the convicted person should return to society when his/her sentence is served. Through rehabilitation, the convicted person is to receive help to master his/her life after serving a sentence. Society’s need to protect itself against future crimes may also be reached by rehabilitation of the convicts.


Punishment is intended to create social order and satisfy the general sense of justice. By punishing criminal acts, the authorities demonstrate that violation of the law has consequences.

Banishment is one of the oldest forms of punishment. Disturbing elements were excluded from the community. In the old family society, revenge was a duty. Injustice committed against a family member was to be retributed. This is called blood vengeance.

After the formation of the state, law and order was enforced by the royal power. Public punishment up to the 19th century is a demonstration of this power. On the scaffold, the control, stability, and strength of the state was demonstrated.

Punishment has a symbolic role both for the individual as well as for society. Safety, confidence, and stability are reinforced by fair treatment of acts of crime. The goal of social order must be balanced against the rights of the individual.


Society has always had the need to protect itself against acts of crime. When an offender is taken out, society is protected from having the person committing new crimes for a period of time.

Previously, the prisoners were locked inside workhouses and hard labour prisons and secured with heavy irons and chains.

These days, preventive detention is the most comprehensive form of securing of a convict. Preventive detention may be extended an unlimited number of times by the court. Such extension assumes that serious acts of crime have been committed, and that there is a risk of repetition.

Society’s need for order must be balanced against the individual’s rights and the negative effects of being locked up.