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Norwegian Injustice

Aug 25, 2012 at 05:53:31 PM

There's good news and bad news from the Norwegian justice system.

The good news is that terrorist mass murderer Anders Breivik has been pronounced guilty of the brutal bomb and gun rampage that left 77 people dead last year – mostly kids at summer camp.

The bad news is that Breivik has been sentenced to a grand total of 21 years in prison. His incarceration will be in a three-room cell with a TV, exercise room and Ikea-style furniture.

This is shocking.

Although the sentence can later be extended (21 years is the maximum sentence allowed by Norwegian law, except for war crimes and genocide), given the beastly, premeditated, cold-blooded nature of the crime, justice has clearly not been served.

So what were the folks in Norway thinking over there? Before we Tweet our outrage and move on to the next piece of news, perhaps we should look a bit deeper and try to understand what might be behind this Norwegian system.

I believe the reason for our adverse reaction is because the American penal system is based on "punishment": Commit a crime, and you will suffer. But in Norway and other "progressive" countries, the purpose of incarceration is geared more toward rehabilitation – treating the psychological dysfunction which spurred the crime.

As Max Fisher reports in The Atlantic

The pleasant-sounding experience of being in Norwegian prison isn't some sign of Scandinavian weakness or naïveté; it's precisely the point. A comfortable cell, clean and relaxing environment, and nice daily activities such as cooking classes are all meant to prepare the criminal for potentially difficult or painful internal reformation. Incarceration, in this thinking, is the treatment for whatever social or psychological disease led them to transgress. The criminals are not primarily wrongdoers to be punished, but broken people to be fixed...

Here's the tough thing about restorative justice: it works, as long as you don't consider retribution to be its own inherent good. Despite the lighter sentences, restorative justice systems seem to reduce crime, reduce the cost of imprisoning criminals, and reduce recidivism... Proponents, such as University of Oslo professor Thomas Mathiesen, say it's better for society overall because it isn't about "revenge, but sober, dignified treatment."

In this instance, Breivik is an unrepentant murderer, and although the system maintains hope that he will come to his senses and reform, if he doesn’t, the sentence will be extended and he will likely remain behind bars for a lifetime.

Although one case cannot be compared to another, it is interesting to note that this rehabilitation approach – as opposed to the punishment system that Americans are used to – is discussed in the Torah.

The Torah prescribes that when one commits an act of theft and cannot repay, he must become a servant to the one he victimized. Though at first glance this might sound oppressive, it is anything but. The Torah (Leviticus 25:43) declares: "Do not oppress him" – a directive to treat the thief with utmost dignity and respect. Specifically, the thief cannot be given any demeaning jobs, and the master must provide high-quality food and accommodations – to the extent that if only one portion of food or one pillow is available, it goes to the servant.

Hence the basis of the Jewish "rehabilitation" model: By placing the criminal into a family atmosphere, he is exposed to a healthy environment of caring and sharing. For a thief, who displayed a stunning lack of respect for others and their property, this is a powerful mode of rehabilitation.

Of course, details of the Jewish method differ widely from what is practiced in Norway today (the Torah example refers to theft, not mass murder), and there is no question we should be justifiably outraged at Breivik's light sentence and comfortable conditions.

So before you press the comment and express outrage that is condoning the Norwegian decision… No – we are not condoning it. We condemn the heinous crime, and we are outraged at the Norwegian system that is giving a mass murderer comfortable treatment. We are simply saying that we can learn something from all this. Let's appreciate that in the criminal justice system, there can be room for a lofty belief in the power of a human being to reform and rehabilitate.

August 25, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 46

(30) Anonymous, August 30, 2012 7:04 PM


The problem with the Norway judicial system is that it does not in any way teach that there are dire consequences for ones actions. It is not that I believe in an eye for an eye. It is that this society has become so violent in murdering and terrorizing people. Why does this happen so frequently in the world? Because no one suffers dire consequences for murder or terrorism. Kids grow up getting away with things that they do not learn what happens when you do these things. They also play these horrendous violent games and yes when you play and you kill you do not understand what you are doing. The next day, you start all over again with the same players. Children become immuned and grow up and kill without remorse. That needs to be taught.

(29) Steve Skeete, August 29, 2012 3:32 AM

Rehabilitation, we all win?

Originally, there was the idea that to give someone a sentence of life imprisonment was more humane than giving them the death penalty. Later it was realized just how "cruel and unusual" life imprisonment was as well, Now, there is hardly a sentence of "life behind bars anywhere" in the "civlized" world since many cannot stomach the thought of executing murderers, nor fathom the idea of someone becoming old, feeble and senile and still living in a prison cell. So since both execution and life behind bars without parole were considered equally cruel "twenty-one years to life" became the new "rehabilitation" model. And what difference does it make if someone kills one person or seventy-seven? That person still needs to be rehabilitated and/or given the opportunity, in time, to rejoin polite society. Since very few people really want to die, and murderers do not mind living in "comfortable" cells, and since many no longer want to identify with "state sponsored" executions, "twenty-one years to life" is viewed as a win-win scenario.

(28) Rivka Deutsch, August 28, 2012 12:25 PM

You're way off base on this one!

First of all- you are comparing apples and oranges here. As you say - the Torah is referring to theft, not murder. So why bring it up when it is actually not relevant to this situation? Second - you assume you understand the Torah's reason for creating an "eved ivri" (jewish slave), but consider this. Only a thief who is too poor to pay the penalty becomes a slave. So what are you saying? That the Torah only wants to rehabilitate poor people? Rich people can continue to be delinquent so long as they can pay the penalty if caught? Obviously there is more to it than meets the eye..... I respect the fact that you have an opinion on this issue, but you can't bring in the Torah to back you up on this one, certainly not with the eved ivri argument.

(27) Emes, August 28, 2012 11:26 AM

justice for whom?

21 years in a one star hotel isn't puniishment! 77 families must feel they have relinqushed the last remaining gift to their loved ones in the name of 'justice.' Then again, 21 years isn't much against a life-time of hate from the entire country of Norway against Jews and Israel! Article 21 is right in its comments, my sentiments exactly and, Europe's hatred of Jews and Israel is again baying for our extinction, its in their blood, Norway is no exception in their condemnation of Israel and its products etc. as Germany says 'no' to circumcision for starters but, in this case with Norway's recent tragedies, doesn't it cross one's mind that justice does prevail from a higher court? which, I'm afraid argues the case of the above article!

Martin, August 28, 2012 5:22 PM

What on earth..

I am sorry, first he has not been sent to prison for 21 years He has been served a holding order for 21 years as this is the maximum under Norwegian law. There after he can and will be subject to five year extentions as advised by the court already, ergo he will not be a fre man again. If a life sentence meaning life behind bars is not good enough for you I am sorry for you. As to the rest of your rant I am sorry but I make no connection between the rant and this man's conviction what so ever... pehaps a clarification for your side? Or are you saying that this man's conviction is somehow coupled to your perception of anti-Semitic feelings in Europe in general and Norway in particular? If so may I recomend a good therapist.

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