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Justice and the Norwegian Prison System

At last count, the death toll from the Oslo terror attack was at 93. That number includes dozens of children shot indiscriminately at a summer camp. If there is justice, the terrorist responsible will spend the rest of his (hopefully numbered) days locked away from the rest of society, with nothing to distract him from the memory of his monstrous crimes.

But as the Oslo police chief told the San Francisco Chronicle, the maximum prison sentence suspect Anders Behring Breivik could face in Norway is just 21 years – and he could be released years earlier for “good behavior,” an Oslo University law professor told the Daily Caller.

That would mean if the 32-year-old Breivik is convicted on all charges, he could be back on the streets by the time he’s in his late 40s, or earlier.

A life sentence in a Norwegian prison wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible way to live out the rest of your days. The country’s prison system is notoriously one of the cushiest in the world, with activities and amenities normally associated with summer camp or a liberal arts college. In Norway, the focus is on rehabilitation, not punishment – which means art classes, socializing and plenty of outdoor activities.

A few years ago, Time magazine profiled the Halden prison, the second largest facility in the country, and home to murderers, rapists and other violent criminals. Here’s what it found:

The facility boasts amenities like a sound studio, jogging trails and a freestanding two-bedroom house where inmates can host their families during overnight visits. Unlike many American prisons, the air isn’t tinged with the smell of sweat and urine. Instead, the scent of orange sorbet emanates from the “kitchen laboratory” where inmates take cooking courses. “In the Norwegian prison system, there’s a focus on human rights and respect,” says Are Hoidal, the prison’s governor. “We don’t see any of this as unusual.”

The cells rival well-appointed college dorm rooms, with their flat-screen TVs and minifridges. Designers chose long vertical windows for the rooms because they let in more sunlight. There are no bars. Every 10 to 12 cells share a living room and kitchen. With their stainless-steel countertops, wraparound sofas and birch-colored coffee tables, they resemble Ikea showrooms.

Again, this isn’t a white-collar, minimum-security facility. This is a place for hardened criminals, and it’s typical of the Norwegian prison system as a whole. It’s one thing to favor rehabilitation for the majority of inmates, but it raises ethical questions when spending 20 years in a place like Halden could be the worst fate facing a mass murderer and political terrorist.


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