November 30, 2011

Breivik insanity finding showcases Norway’s progressive system

Sensible and efficient are words that come to mind in reviewing the Norwegian government's handling of mass killer Anders Behring Breivik's legal case.

The court appointed two psychiatrists who worked collaboratively to evaluate Breivik,who admits killing 77 people and injuring 151 others in a mass shooting spree in July.

The psychiatrists spent 36 hours interviewing Breivik on 13 separate occasions before finding him insane at the time of the crimes. Breivik was psychotic and inhabited a ''delusional universe,'' they wrote in their 243-page report.

Although many have expressed surprise, there's not the kind of political grandstanding one might expect with such a politically charged case in the United States or some other Western countries. Even prosecutors are not voicing any objection to the insanity finding.

''Anders Behring Breivik during a long period of time has developed the mental disorder of paranoid schizophrenia, which has changed him and made him into the person he is today,'' prosecutor Svein Holden announced at a press conference.

Inga Bejer Engh, speaking for government prosecutors, also said she was ''comfortable'' with the finding.

An expert panel from the Norwegian Board of Forensic Medicine is expected to approve the finding. If so, Breivik will likely be detained indefinitely in a psychiatric hospital and will not stand trial.

Rehabilitation a central goal

Norway’s criminal justice system stands in stark contrast to the more punitive systems in many other countries. Rehabilitation, rather than just punishment for punishment's sake, is its central goal.

Even if Breivik had been found sane and convicted at trial, his maximum prison sentence would have been 21 years, or at most 30 years if he had been found guilty of crimes against humanity.

For example, a male nurse found guilty of murdering 22 of his elderly patients was released in 2004 after serving just 12 years in prison.

"A lot of resources are put into this. The idea is for people to be able to leave prison and lead a life free from crime,” criminology professor Hedda Giertsen of the University of Oslo told the BBC. "There is help to find accommodation, help with personal finances, education -- nearly half of Norway's prison population is offered some sort of course or education."

Statistics indicate this policy works: Reconviction rates in Norway are about 20 percent, far lower than in other European countries or the United States.

And just think about all of the money Norway will save by avoiding the public spectacle of a lengthy and high-profile trial featuring dueling psychiatric experts. 

Rationality: Don't you love it?