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Disputation: Thomas Anton Sandøy

Master in Sociology Thomas Anton Sandøy will be defending the thesis "Alternative sanctions for young drug offenders. From punishment to help?" for the degree of PhD.

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Thomas Anton Sandøy. Photo: UiO

Please note that the disputation will be streamed and some of the seats behind the candidate and the opponents will be visible for those who are watching.

Participate at the disputation here 

Trial lecture - time and place

Adjudication committee

  • Professor Peter Scharff Smith, University of Oslo (leader)
  • Professor Lesley McAra, University of Edinburgh (1. opponent)
  • Professor Fergus McNeill, University of Glasgow  (2. opponent)

Chair of defence

  • Vice Dean Vibeke Blaker Strand 


  • Professor Sveinung Sandberg 
  • Professor Thomas Ugelvik


Punishment and help in drug cases for young people

Young people in Norway have traditionally been fined for use and simple possession of illicit drugs. In the 2000s, however, the prosecuting authorities have moved from this practice to an increasing focus on health and social work interventions (conditional waivers of prosecution). How are these measures experienced by the young people themselves and what are the consequences of such a change in penal practice?

This dissertation presents young people’s experiences of conditional waivers of prosecution, as well as the overall effects of the measure. Based on qualitative interviews with young people who undergo such alternative sanctions and analyses of register data on all Norwegian youth charged with minor drug offences, the dissertation sheds light on the effects of the penal transformation at both individual and group level. The results show that the transition has led to new punishment experiences, indirect motivation for behavioural change, social inequality in penal outcomes, and reduced recidivism risk.

Preventive punishment

The health and social work interventions are often referred to as alternatives to punishment, but the analyses in this dissertation suggest that the interventions should rather be understood as alternative punishments. Young people who receive alternative sanctions describe deprivations that set the measures apart from fines. The duration of the sanctions and the implementation of monitored drug testing appear to be particularly intrusive. At the same time, analyses of register data on young people charged with minor drug offences in the 2000s show that conditional waivers of prosecution reduce the risk of recidivism to registered crime compared with fines. Rather than seeing these two findings as contradictory, it is argued that the preventive effect of alternative sanctions may be the result of positive encounters with health and social workers as well as negative punishment experiences.

The role of parents

The main reason for replacing fines with alternative sanctions is to motivate lasting behavioural change in young offenders. The interviewees in the project talked about change, but hardly in relation to the content of the interventions. Their main reason for cutting out/down their use of illicit drugs, was for the sake of their parents. Through participation in the follow-up programmes, the young people sought to restore the trust of their significant others. Acknowledging personal problems with drug use was subordinate. In the same way as these accounts question the depth of the behavioural changes, they highlight the importance of informal social control. However, some parents are in a better position to get involved in their children’s legal processes than others. Analyses of register data show that children of parents with high income and education are overrepresented among those who receive an alternative sanction over a fine. This social inequality may indicate that parents’ involvement in their children’s legal processes is a matter of resources. In this way, the dissertation shows that the interventions do not necessarily target those who need it the most.

Published Apr. 20, 2022 1:40 PM - Last modified May 3, 2022 4:29 PM