English Law and justice

Crime and punishment

This essay is part of my Finnish criminal justice series. See the introductory essay for more information and an overview of the Finnish criminal court system.

In this essay I will be presenting an overview of the Finnish penal code – the principles, and the measurement of punishments. I will write separate essays on the actual crimes recognized by the penal code.

As always: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.


Finland is bound by various treaties and conventions on human rights and basic rights. There is no death penalty. Convictions must be based on law. Law antedating an act cannot be used to condemn that act as criminal (though it is permissible and even required to follow new law when it is more lenient than the law that was in force at the time of the act).

Finnish law is applicable to acts committed in Finland or by Finnish citizens. There are also more specialized rules that may make Finnish law applicable.

The Finnish penal code dates back to 1889, though most of it has been rewritten over the years. In the last couple of decades, a special “full reform of penal code” project has been under way, systematically rewriting the penal code a part at a time.


There are seven categories of general punishments: life imprisonment, fixed-term imprisonment, community service, suspended fixed-term imprisonment, juvenile punishment, fine and petty fine. There is no death penalty, and no corporal punishment is allowed.

Life imprisonment is the most severe punishment for a crime. Currently, the only way to get released from life imprisonment is a presidential pardon, though in practice, the pardon is generally offered after 15 years in prison, with individual variation. A new act will change this so that the Helsinki Apellate Court will hear parole requests once a year, the first possible release being after twelve years of imprisonment.

Fixed-term imprisonment, community service and suspended imprisionment are generally ordered by a court of law by first ordering imprisonment for a fixed term (at most 12 years for a single offense, at most 15 years for multiple offenses) and then optionally either converting it into community service or suspending the sentence. First strike is usually grounds for automatic suspension (except for severe crimes); generally the first two or three imprisonment sentences are suspended. If suspension is considered improper, and the perpetrator is considered fit for community service, the prison sentence is converted into community service. Suspension is not allowed when the fixed term is longer than two years. Conversion to community service is not allowed when the fixed term is longer than eight months.

Both suspended imprisonment and parole are usually ordered with a probational period, often two years for small prison sentences, and in any case no longer than three years. If the convict is sentenced to imprisonment due to a crime committed during a probational period, the conditional freedom due to parole or suspended sentence can be ordered to be forfeit, in which case the convict will be forced to serve the remainder of the older sentence.

In general, fixed-term imprisonment convicts are released under parole after two thirds of the sentence has been served. First-timers are generally released under parole after serving one half of the sentence.

All imprisonment sentences, regardless of any suspension or conversion, is recorded in the criminal record.

Fines are measured in day-fines. A day-fine is a unit roughly measuring a person’s daily spending money. It is calculated by taking the person’s monthly income after taxes and certain other deductables, subtracting 255 euros, and dividing the result by 60. Each dependent (underage children, generally) causes the subtraction of three euros from the result. Exceptional wealth causes the increase of the result. The result, after these subtractions and additions, is the euro amount of the person’s day-fine, with the proviso that the minimum day-fine is six euros. The minimum number of day-fines is one, and the maximum is 120.

If one is unable to pay the fine, it can be converted into imprisonment, two day-fines converting to one day in prison. Parole is not available to prison inmates serving converted fines, nor is the converted sentence recorded in the criminal record.

When there are more than one crime in one act (actually, this is determined by a complex rule that I don’t undestand very well – usually otherwise unrelated crimes committed close together are considered here, too), a combined sentence is usually ordered by the court. The combined sentence is usually less than the sum of what one would get if the crimes were judged separately.

Petty fines are generally handed out by the police and they have a fixed monetary value.

Perpetrators under 21 years and under 18 years are specially considred by the penal code, and generally get more lenient sentences combined with mandatory measures intended to guide them away from the criminal way of life.

2 replies on “Crime and punishment”

I believe having to pay compensation shouldn’t count as a form of punishment, but I’d like to read about the practical side of that, too, should you happen to have experience about such decisions made in a Finnish court.

Inability to pay fines seemed to have become a problem a couple of years back and there was some talk about tuning the system in that respect. I take it that didn’t lead anywhere.

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