In Brief—A comparative look at how Norway and America treat felons convicted of murder. The case of mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik reveals the gap between the two countries.
Violence That Shocked a Nation—
Eight people were instantly killed in Oslo by the violent blast of a bomb. Sixty-nine people on Utøya island, mostly vacationing teen-agers died, shot in cold blood. Their murderer was Anders Behring Breivik.
Freelance Norwegian journalist and author Åsne Seierstad wrote a powerful book about mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik titled “One of Us” covering the alienated Breivik’s life, his cold-blooded murders and his trial. You can read what I wrote in April 2015. “One of the Most Powerful Books Written” provides details that won’t be covered in this piece. Better yet, read the book.
In March of this year, in response to a petition filed by Breivik, a district judge ruled that Breivik’s solitary confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment in contravention of the United Nations’ definition of “torture.” Needless to say, Norway will appeal that decision. The question to be determined on appeal is whether Breivik’s solitary confinement is appropriate.
What are the conditions of Breivik’s solitary confinement? In keeping with Norway’s effective humane approach to rehabilitating criminals, Breivik’s “cell” is a three-room suite, one for sleeping, one for studying and one for exercising. Additionally, he can exercise in the exercise yard, watch TV, read newspapers, use the computer (without Internet access), play video games, talk on the phone with his purported girlfriend, fix his own food and do his own laundry. He can meet with his lawyers, get medical attention and contact prison staff. Despite all this comfort, he claims he is being “tortured.” Though he is prevented from contacting and potentially influencing other prisoners, prison officials find him unrepentant—which Brevik readily admits—and dangerous. Thus, his solitary confinement.
The United Nations (UN) defines torture as “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
Norway’s rate of recidivism—the rate at which former prisoners commit further crimes and must be returned to prison—is an astoundingly low 20% compared with America’s deplorable rate of between 68% and 76%. An American prison official refers to Norway’s prisons as ”prison utopia.” Norway’s penal policy is focused on rehabilitation. Prisoners are exposed to humane conditions that reward lawful behavior. By contrast, American prisons teach prisoners how to commit crimes. America’s prisons are known as ”crime factories.”
What is the purpose of incarceration? The reasons behind incarceration are 1) Deterence: prevention or discouragement of further crime; 2) Incapacitation: confinement to prevent further crimes in order to protect the public; 3) Retribution: vengeance or ”getting even”; 4) Rehabilitation: reforming or changing behavior for the better.
America has the largest prison population in the world. At roughly 716 prisoners per 100,000 people. That’s about 4.4 percent of the world’s population. The majority of those prisoners are people of color. In case you are one of those who believe slavery ended after the Civil War, it’s still alive in today’s prison system.
Mass murderer Anders Breivik is imprisoned in Norway. Norway practices rehabilitation that has proven successful. Though it is unlikely that Breivik will be freed after he has served twenty-one years, the maximum allowed unless extended, his is the perfect example of Norway’s humane penal system, a system with a far lower rate of recidivism.
By contrast, America’s harsh punitive approach creates criminals and has an appallingly high rate of recidivism. Breivik’s crime was horrible, but Breivik, the human, is treated with compassion. Is there is any question as to which is the superior system? Humanity pays.
Agree or disagree?