Volume 2, Issue 2 (Originally Published 30 July 2012)
This week marks the one-year anniversary of Anders Breivik’s mass murder of 77 people in Norway. Breivik, a right-wing extremist, is due to be sentenced at the end of August, when five Oslo court judges must decide whether he should be considered criminally sane and sentenced to prison, as requested by his defence, or instead follow the prosecution's line and send him to a closed psychiatric ward. Breivik insists on his own sanity and has said that life in a psychiatric ward would be a ‘fate worse than death’.
If he is sentenced to prison, however, Breivik can expect living conditions so pleasant that they have called into question the emphasis the Norwegian justice system places on rehabilitation rather than punishment.There are no life sentences in Norway and the maximum jail sentence Breivik could face is 21 years.
But do the compassion and high-mindedness go too far? In Halden, many prisoners are not just vicious criminals, but hardened ones, repeat offenders who seem to give the lie to the ideal of rehabilitation. Yet they too can buy wasabi at the prison shop if they have a craving for sushi, receive overnight visits from loved ones, record music in the prison’s mixing studio and benefit from free English lessons (this option is popular with non-Norwegian prisoners; the Norwegian inmates all speak perfect English).
To date, Breivik has been held at Ila, a high-security prison that has already converted one wing so it can be used as a miniature hospital. In any event, wherever he goes, he will be held apart from the other inmates. Lest he suffer from loneliness, Ila officials are already exploring the possibility of hiring people with whom he can play chess and sport.
It seems that people will need payment to have sufficient incentive to associate with him. Already, some Norwegian prisoners have expressed reluctance to have anything to do with Breivik. At Halden, one of Norway’s highest-security jails and the flagship of the Norwegian justice system, where the inmates include all kinds of sex offenders as well as murderers, ‘everybody wants to take him out’, according to one prisoner.
In the event that Breivik serves his time at Halden, and assuming he receives the same treatment as other prisoners, his cell will have its own flat screen TV and its own bathroom, complete with the kind of fluffy towel usually found in luxury hotels. Prisoners have their own fridges, cupboards and desks and the enormous, unbarred windows give views of beautiful pine forests. The pleasant conditions are of a piece with the Norwegian emphasis on rehabilitation and the absence of life sentences. The rationale is that civilised prison conditions will enable inmates to return to society as better people. Prisoners are encouraged to spend time with their guards, all of whom are university-educated, with majors in ethics, law and human rights.