Norway Shooting Shines Light on Country’s Cushy Penal System

Norway Shooting Shines Light on Country's Cushy Penal SystemReuters 

As anti-Islam extremist Anders Behring Breivik prepares to stand trial for killing 76 people in Oslo and the Utøya island on Friday, journalists are increasingly turning their attention to Norway’s unique approach to law enforcement. The Telegraph‘s Raf Sanchez notes today that Breivik may be sent to Halden Fengsel maximum-security prison (pictured above), where “some of Norway’s most hardened criminals, including murderers and rapists” can jog along woodland trails, scale climbing walls, and take cooking courses, while unarmed guards–half of whom are female to create a less aggressive atmosphere–play sports or eat meals with the inmates.

The Norwegian prison system focuses on human rights and rehabilitating and reintegrating inmates into society through education and work, Sanchez explains, and there’s some evidence that the approach works. “Only around 20 per cent of offenders [are] back behind bars within two years of release, compared to around half of British convicts,” he writes. Foreign Policy takes us inside Halden-which has been called the “world’s most humane prison“–with a slideshow of prisoners watching flatscreen TVs in their sparkling cells, brushing their teeth in private bathrooms, and playing music in the institution’s recording studio.

While the Oslo shooting has proven a catalyst for reexamining the country’s humane penal system, this isn’t the first time the subject has come up. In May, The Daily Mail turned its gaze on a prison on Bastoy Island (One caption read, “An inmate convicted of murder sunbathes outside the wooden cottage where he lives”). When Halden opened in 2010, several outlets ran stories on the posh prison, and Linescrew Productions put together an infomercial:

 In 2008, Al Jazeera did a story on an eco-friendly prison in Norway. One prisoner in an animal-filled barn explained, “I tried all the prisons in Norway and also in England, and when you come here it’s like freedom.” 

 Prisons aren’t the only aspect of Norway’s criminal justice system that is coming under greater scrutiny.The New York Times reports today that the Norway shooting has some wondering whether Norwegian police officers, who must currently seek authorization from their chief to obtain a firearm, should now be armed, as violent crime in the country–while still low compared with countries like the U.S.–steadily increases. Many reports are also focusing on the fact that Norway doesn’t mete out death or life sentences and has a maximum prison sentence of 21 years. “If you’re going to go on a maniacal murder rampage and then not have the decency to include yourself in the body count–Norway is the place to do it,” Foreign Policy‘s Robert Zeliger writes when discussing Breivik’s likely fate. He continues:

Yes, there is a caveat that says a prisoner deemed to still be a threat can have his sentence expanded in five year blocks–but in a very real sense, that means he will come up for parole every five years for the rest of his life–or until he is no longer seen as a threat. Few killers in Norway serve more than 14 years.

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