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Anders Breivik’s Imprisonment Raises New Questions About Crime And Punishment

Breivik Shows His Displeasure With The Court

Commentary | As more of the details of Anders Breivik’s life in prison begin to emerge, a contentious debate is occurring about the entire concept of crime and punishment. Breivik brutally murdered 77 innocent human beings, yet he only received 100 days for each of his victims. His 21 year long sentence, and the life he lives behind bars, has forced society to take a new look at a very old problem.

While many people were already puzzled and disgusted by the ridiculously light sentence Breivik received for his crimes, nothing prepared them for the shock they felt when the details of his imprisonment were revealed. Breivik lives in a three room suite, equipped with a laptop computer, television and exercise equipment. Even if he serves his entire sentence, he may leave prison a relatively young man, when everything is all said and done.

The abandonment of any reasonable justice in this case will provide little comfort to the survivors of Breivik’s crimes or the family members of the 77 human beings whose lives were torn away from them without warning. While Breivik sits at his laptop or uses his exercise machine, his victims are all gone; condemned to rot in the earth for all eternity. At best, they will be frozen in the memory of a lover or parent. More than likely, many will suffer an anonymous fate, and fade away like an old photograph.

I do understand the opposition to capital punishment; especially considering the way the death penalty has been used against the poor and minorities. But we are not talking about executing Breivik; instead we are asking why someone, who was found to be legally sane, was given such a trivial sentence, after committing such a terrible crime. A sentence that may allow him to walk away with much of his life still intact.

In order to grasp the insanity of Breivik’s imprisonment, we must examine the philosophy of criminal justice in Noway. A nation that constantly proclaims its own advancement and enlightenment, despite the fact that the country is rated the most antisemitic state in the Western world. A country where Jews are vilified, and Israel is constantly condemned as a murderous nation, yet a real murderer gets a slap on this wrist in a holiday camp after he slaughters 77 helpless men and women.

Breivik's Prison Cell With Exercise Machines

Norway’s left leaning media is famous for writing scathing editorials every time a Jew builds a house on his or her own land in Israel. They justified the reasoning behind the leniency shown to Breivik with their own twisted logic. His sentence, they explain, “is consistent with Norway’s general approach to criminal justice. Like the rest of Europe . . . Norway no longer has the death penalty and considers prison more a means for rehabilitation than retribution… Many Europeans consider America’s criminal justice system to be cruelly punitive.”

At this point, I have a confession to make. While everything I told you is true, I deliberately left a few details out of my article. I have done what the provocateurs on both sides of the argument usually do and appealed to your emotions by hand picking my facts. I purposefully steered your opinion in the direction I chose.

I told you about Norway’s historic problems with the Jews, which is in no way relevant to the length of Breivik’s sentence, but served to portray Norwegians unfavorably. I didn’t tell you the totality of his term of imprisonment and I didn’t tell you about the remarkable effectiveness of Norway’s Criminal Justice System. I apologize for misleading you, but you have experienced, first hand, how public opinion is controlled and manipulated on a regular basis.

Now that we are all on the same page, lets look at the entire picture. Before we begin, here is another image, just in case you thought Breivik really went to a holiday camp. Now you will have no doubt the man is in a real prison with guards, guns, grey skies, lots of cement, warning signs, gates, and barbed wire everywhere.

The Entrance To The Prison Holding Anders Breivik

Anders Breivik received a sentence of 21 years of preventive detention for terrorist acts. If the court still considers him a risk at the end of his initial term of imprisonment, his time can be extended indefinitely in five-year intervals. Every single expert on the Norwegian Criminal Justice System says Breivik will remain in prison for the rest of his life. He will never be released until it is time for his trip to the undertaker.

There is another important component to this story and that is the care and protection provided to the families of the men and women killed by Breivik and to the survivors of his rampage.

In America, the prosecution represents the State or Federal government. The victims do not have a seat at the prosecutor’s table. They are unseen faces, unless they are called as witnesses during the trial. It is only during sentencing, when they are permitted to make a short Victim Impact Statement, that the victim, or their family, is directly acknowledged by the court.

In Norway, the system is based on the unique concept of Restorative Justice. Instead of a system built entirely on punishment, where caged prisoners spend endless years locked in cells until they are ready to destroy the world, Norway believes in another approach. The goal is healing; for the victims, for the society, and for the criminal.

The pioneer of Restorative Justice, Howard Zehr, described the benefits of this new model of crime and punishment:

“Restorative justice thus begins with a concern for victims and how to meet their needs, for repairing the harm as much as possible, both concretely and symbolically. In the Breivik trial, this meant giving every victim (survivors as well as the families of those killed) a direct voice. Victims were individually represented by 174 court-appointed lawyers. The court heard 77 autopsy reports, 77 descriptions of how Breivik had killed them, and 77 minute-long biographies “voicing his or her unfulfilled ambitions and dreams.”

The philosophy behind Restorative Justice is summed up to perfection in a New York Times Op-Ed by Toril Moi and David L. Paletz. It expressed the remarkable concept that society as a whole receives greater benefit when justice relieves suffering and brings true healing, instead of mere retribution:

“The court took upon itself the task of bearing public witness for Norwegian society, and for history, to the truth of the Oslo bombing and the massacre at Utoya. By affirming the humanity of each victim, the court tried to satisfy a traumatized society’s thirst for truth and justice without denying the defendant’s right to a fair hearing.”

“The Breivik trial provides an example of the opposite point of view: that full acknowledgment of the truth of human suffering can have healing effects, for the victims and their families, and for a whole nation. That, even more than the verdict itself, should be the lasting legacy of this horrific event in Norway’s history.”

The criminal also undergoes the healing process; although many are initially defiant and some remain defiant to the bitter end:

“The restorative model encourages offenders to understand the consequences of their actions or to empathize with victims. He or she is encouraged to take responsibility for making things right with victims and the community as far as possible. Restitution can include money and services, to victims and the community.”

Breivik is a prime example of a criminal who enters prison displaying his crimes as a badge of honor. He remains a racist ultra nationalist, who sees absolutely no reason to apologize for his actions. He believes he did his patriotic duty to protect his nation from the depredations of dangerous foreign enemies. He stood before the court at his sanity hearing and proclaimed, “I wish to apologize to all militant nationalists that I wasn’t able to execute more.”

Many of you are probably thinking “Why the hell does anyone care about this guy? We should just lock him in a deep dark hole for the rest of his life or take him out back, stand him against a wall, and blow his brains out.” Sorry to disappoint, but Europe banned capital punishment. Even Anders Breivik, at his most obnoxious, is given fair and humane treatment under the law.

There is a method to this madness. Instead of spending decades or even the rest of his life in a bare cell, brooding on his hate, Breivik will live in relative comfort, in hope that if the desire to change or make amends ever enters his mind, it will not be tempered by years of a miserable, barren existence as a caged beast. There may still be enough humanity left in him to actually make some small difference, even if all that Breivak ever does is to write a letter of apology to the family of one of his victims.

On a more practical level, Restorative Justice has a proven track record for reducing recidivism, preventing violence in prisons, helping inmates adjust to incarceration, and reducing the financial impact on society. It means the prisoner has an opportunity to remain a member of the human race and live with dignity.

All things considered, this is an extremely difficult and controversial subject. While human beings often exhibit great compassion, even for the worst of the worst, we also have a well defined need for justice and fairness. When this need is ignored, we are less happy with our lives.

I can not tell you what to believe or which way is better. I do not have the right. I can tell you to keep an open mind and be willing to listen to both sides of the argument. We may approve the words of C.S. Lewis, who was a critic of excessive Humanitarianism in the Criminal Justice System:

“It is essential to oppose the Humanitarian theory of punishment, root and branch, wherever we encounter it. It carries on its front a semblance of mercy which is wholly false. That is how it can deceive men of good will. Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which will flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice; transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed.”

Or we may accept the words of the legendary poet, song writer, and folksinger, Phil Ochs, who believed in the dignity of all human beings and advocated for compassion and understanding:

“Show me a prison, show me a jail”
“Show me a pris’ner whose face has grown pale”

“And I’ll show you a young man”
“With many reasons why”
“There but for fortune, go you or I”

“There but for fortune, go you or I”

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26 Responses to “Anders Breivik’s Imprisonment Raises New Questions About Crime And Punishment”

  1. Brian V. Sitterley

    As a point of detail, Norway is not a member of the European Union and is in no way subject to its laws. Breivik is very whiney about the conditions of his confinement, which will probably not change. I was in Oslo on the one year anniversary July 22) of his terrorist attack. Most of the downtown government and private buildings he damaged were still not repaired. The country is saddened and somewhat traumatized, and gave him a scrupulously fair trial. I like this article.

  2. Wolff Bachner

    thank you and i totally agree. i linked to our coverage of the one year memorial in my article. i understand both sides to this argument. its a tough one. breivik is a bastard and he is easy to hate but hhe may be redeemable. he could sit in prison and 20 years later write the most incredible novel of the last 100 years. you never know. but its so tough to forgive him.

  3. Wolff Bachner

    i have read all about his complaints about the bendable, no stab pen hurting his hand and so on. the same pen he used for weeks on end while writing page after page in the court room. too bad. dont murder 77 people and you would still be able to buy a bic at the store.

  4. Rob Philippo

    A thoughtful article to say the least. Thank you for it. As an American living in the Netherlands for the last 10 years I have seen both the good, but also the evils of socialism. I am not of big fan of the American correctional institution precisely because it is based mostly on retribution and thus has a high recidivism rate. Here however, we have a case where a question of a criminal's healing (who's whole point would stupefy most) simply comes down to this: Can a mass murderer learn his lessons better in a facility who's accommodations are greater than the living conditions of the majority of the world's population? Accommodations that he is now claiming is inhumane? Or can a harsher punishment be imposed as his complaints of inhumane treatment clearly show he is not learning his lesson? It costs the Norwegian tax payers around $1.2 million to $1.7 million for his upkeep each year. The court room especially built for his case cost $6.8 million. Just in case he was declared criminally insane a psychiatric ward was built to the cost of $340,000 to $510,000. Could not the money be better spent on helping the 3 billion people of the world that live on less than US$2/day? Peace and prosperity without values leads to narcissism. I have to wonder if the Norwegian criminal justice system isn't doing this so much to heal the horror of this crime and all those that is has affected, than to just feel good about themselves. Thus the narcissism I've spoke of that I've seen so prevalent in socialistic countries including socialistic policies in the United States.
    Thanks again for a thought provoking article.

  5. Wolff Bachner

    THANK YOU. that's all i wanted to do. make people understand there are two sides to this most difficult problem. the us is different with private prisons run by big corporations and the millions of pot heads pill heads and bad check writers locked up with killers and rapists. our system is a nightmare.

  6. João Luz

    Rob Philippo, Norway isn't a socialist country, nor the Netherlands, nor any European country. The US is so far to the right nowadays that the mere humane governmental european assistance seems to revive the ghost of Mao eheheh Norwegians pay a lot of taxes, but they also have free high quality education, health care, social security and pensions. It’s one of the richest countries in the world, with a great quality of life. But back to the dostoievskiesque theme: If you want to compare American and European correctional systems you have to look at the statistics, look at the results in terms of criminality and gun related deaths, recidivism rates, etc, etc. The contrast is overwhelming.

  7. João Luz

    nop… nem os estados governados por partidos socialistas. esses partidos são centristas, não andam a nacionalizar recursos, a fechar bolsas de valores, a impedir os avanços dos mercados globais, não andam a prender vozes de discórdia. os partidos sociais democratas são de centro-direita. mas para os americanos, ler social/socialista significa quase coreia do norte. um governo assistencialista pode ser de direita.

  8. Rob Philippo

    Excellent point Mr. Bachner! Putting the low crime perpetrators in the same correctional institute with the hard core criminals is simply crazy, costs tax payers billions, and often leaves these minor offenders worse off than when they came in. One really good thing I've learned here in the Netherlands that has changed me as compared to my former typical American mentality is that not everything is black or white! As such finding answers to difficult situations takes thoughtfulness, time, and can even be painful as a deep inner search must be made to discover our own values, ignorance, and (Yikes!) prejudices. The flip side of this is is that this process can lead to to too much introversion and the proper action isn't taken in a timely matter and the issue at hand can be discussed to death. This is why I'm not a fan of coalition governing as who you vote for and what you get is like ordering a glass of orange juice and what you get back is a glass that's 25% orange juice and 75% water. Because of this most people here in the Netherlands are very passive when it comes to politics as they feel like they have no voice and unimpeded ridiculous laws are passed behind closed doors. Unfortunately, too many are willing to give up their freedoms for the illusion of safety.

    Keep up the good work Mr. Bachner!


  9. João Luz

    João Pereira mesmo a nossa constituição, que é bastante esquerdista (concebida logo após o derrube do fascismo), não impede que FMI e BCE aqui entre com margem de manobra para nos retirar soberania e mandar nas nossas finanças. Não impede que agências de rating actuem de forma concertada. Não tem qq entrave à iniciativa privada (ainda bem), aos direitos de propriedade, à liberdade de expressão, etc, etc.

  10. Cecilia Jimenez

    My dearest Rob, I agree with you, 6 months ago, I was hired to work at the Ventura County Jail Facility, deputies have a cafeteria that runs 24/7 for only them, I cook for them, But I am assisted by inmates of low crimes, as meth users, bad check writers, thieves and so on, but they do learn other "traits" shall we say, from each other!

  11. Brian V. Sitterley

    Joao Luz, thank you for your comments. I read Spanish well enough that I think I follow your Portugese. I have trouble seeing the Obama government as "rightist". I like that word "assistencialista"!

  12. Rob Philippo

    Hello Joao,
    Thanks for your comment. You are correct; the Netherlands is not a complete socialist country but offically a Constitutional Monarchy with a parlimentary representitive democracy. But if you define socialism as a government in which the means of planning, producing, and distributing goods is controlled by a central government that theoretically seeks a more just and equitable distribution of property and labor, you have that here in plenty. Thus the definition of socialism of course may be differnt for you and I agree the U.S. has some major problems as I have stated over the U.S. correctional institutions so I don't know why you brought that up. But as a chiropractor I see far to many small business owners who are overworked and burned out because they are taxed so highly that they feel punished for the hard work they do. And as for any land the small business owner is the blood supply for the land.The medical system here is so corrupt by Big Pharma and people are dying because of this (also in the states). The police are powerless to do anything about people who immigrate here and cause crime. After all we must be tolerant. Even of those who piss on the land that has given them a chance to prosper. I can site so many laws that show that the Netherlands has a socialistic side but you can look that up for yourself. As for America being too right leaning you can certainly make that argument and be correct in many cases but we just re-elected the most left leaning President in history! Of course it's all relative.

  13. João Luz

    Hello Rob,
    European and American economy and visions of state objectives are a bit different, different visions of how state and private sector should intertwine in order to propel prosperity and still protect the most fragile. Same kind of social contract based on solidarity, union and prosperity. Kind of a Rousseau kick. Looking at the US we see what unregulated capitalism does to communities, how it crashed the global economy in 2008, how the prison industrial complex profits from high incarceration and insanely punitive laws, ending up in maximizing profits at the cost of one of the highest incarceration rates, if not the highest, in the world. That’s how the private sector deals with public issues. Profit is the main objective, the public be damned. And if the US continues to let Wall Street run wild, keeps money in politics… pfff, heading for the abyss and dragging part of the world economy again. There are plenty of examples of how the pursuit of profit without regulations or bounds of reason can be dangerous for the consumer, the little guy, the middle class family, the small business that can’t compete with a multinational giant. (For example laws and regulations that protect consumers or lands owners. We don’t have pink slime for meat in Europe, or fracking insanity destroying communities). I know that we are just rookies in this federation game and we are in the midst of a very difficult economic crisis, and maybe that’s the main reason for you to feel smashed by taxation. But if your health is in trouble you’ll have a public system there for you. You won’t face bankruptcy over an health issue. If you have kids and want them to frequent a good college they won’t have to pay for their degree their all life. I mean, Nederland are pretty well ranked in the GPD per capita scale. It’s one of richest nations in the world, and attracts a lot of foreign investment. But Europe is in the shitter right now, no doubt. But even so, I find strange that portrait of small business in a stronghold. Obama comment in a moment :)

  14. João Luz

    Rob Philippo Why Obama is not the most leftist president in american history? First of all, American politics have lean for the right so much in the past 15 years. But let’s focus on Obama. Although he ran his campaign stating that taxes for the very rich should go up, now the administration is looking at the Ryan Budget and reconsidering. Not a surprise. He’s a bit to the left on social issues. But he only came supporting gay marriage when he saw the cultural tide changing, and the polls reflecting that was a winning issue. But let’s see: appointed Tim Geithner for secretary of treasure, broke record in deportation (even higher than Bush), raided marijuana dispensaries also at higher rate than Bush (broking another campaign promise), record levels of drone strikes, during his presidency the laws that permit warrantless wiretapping of American citizens were extended, he bailed out wall street with money free of interests (while main street crashed hard with no backup plan), I suspect he will cut social security (not progressive in any way), he will cave to republicans in on the bush tax cuts expiration, lower taxes than in Reagan presidency, doubt he’ll ever push for a single payer system in heath care, will continue the massively expensive and counterproductive war on drugs, will not impose gun laws to stop the wild wild west insanity (fear of the NRA) , dropped the hammer on Manning and Assange with much more viciousness than Nixon in the pentagon papers scandal, continues to subsidised big oil (although it’s one of the most wealthiest industries in the world, with a larger than life lobbying power), Patriot Act still in play, not addressing climate change, being a weak-ass when it comes to negotiating with the GOP. I could go on and on and on… the reason why he’s portrayed as a radical leftist is interesting and troubling at the same time. Maybe a good topic for another comment. Nice talk. Hey, have a great weekend 😉

  15. Mark Donners

    There are a very tiny prcent of pure evil personalities born into this world, its in their blood and DNA, personalities like Hitler, Stalin, and Brevik. These Ted Bundy types are forever dangerous, have no remorse, cannot be rehabilitated and MUST be removed from socity. THE STATE SHOULD BREAK THIS TERRORIST HOMICIDAL COWARD FOR THE REST OF LIFE UNTIL HE IS NO MORE THAN GIBBERING WRECK, AND HE SHOULD BE TORTURED AND KILLED FOR HIS CRIMES. Instead the state attacks the rights of the innocent, and gives the evil monsters "rights". It shows you that the same evil characters granting their Brevik brothers "rights" are also lurking in jobs in the Norwegian government.

  16. Renate Sauer

    there is no such thing as "correctional institutions" there

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