Norwegian InjusticeAug 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 Aish.com 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.