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?


Odysseus7 said...

Dr. Franklin,

Apples and oranges. You compare Norway's "re-conviction" rates with those of the US, (in discussion of an NGRI "snow job" that everyone in the country buys in on, in the form of an agreed upon order.) This "buy in" could be due to many factors such as culture, religion and a homogeneous population base, (among others). If you were to compare apples to apples, (and oranges to oranges) then you'd consider researching and reporting on some of the following issues...

1. In some states in the US, the NGRI recidivism rates are lower than 6%, so what are the comparative rates of recidivism for people acquitted as NGRI in the US and Norway?

2. What was Breivik's pre-morbid functioning, (i.e. what information do we have to suggest that his pre-morbid functioning was consistent with that of a forensic or non-forensic population of males, (in Norway or the US) diagnosed with Paranoid Type Schizophrenia?) Obviously the concern here is that he might not have been "diagnosable or certifiable" prior to his crime. If that is the case then it seems (in the most benign interpretation) to be very convenient for him to be diagnosed with Schizophrenia after the fact.

3. We don't know what the recidivism rates are for the NGRI population in Norway, (now that Breivik is about to be included in that population), rather than the population of those incarcerated as criminals.

4. What is the legal standard for insanity in Norway?

4.A. What is the level of proof required by the prosecution and the defense in an NGRI determination in Norway, (i.e. a preponderance of the evidence, vs. clear and convincing evidence, vs. beyond a reasonable doubt?)

4.B. Which side, (if either) is required to meet that burden of proof?

On the other hand...

5. He knew what he was doing. He knew what he was doing was wrong. (He had an escape plan that worked and he knew that he needed one in in order to continue his murder spree on the island.) Don't you think that this is a distilled version of the M'Naughton (sp) standard that is applied in much of the Western world?

...Before declaring love for the rationality of a system where a self confessed mass murderer is able to elaborately and deliberately plan and literally execute nearly 100 people and then be eligible for a maximum of 30 years in a penal institution that is almost indistinguishable from a psychiatric hospital.

Jan said...

Odysseus7 - you seem to be confusing apples and oranges in your own comment. Your closing paragraph refers to Dr. Franklin's comment about the potential sentence for Brevik if he had been found guilty. In this case her comment about a 20% re-offence rate is entirely comparable to the US rate and is likely attributable to what you refer to as "a penal institution that is almost indistinguishable from a psychiatric hospital", whic is entirely Dr. Franklin's point (which you seem to disagree with).

The rationality is the much more humane treatment of offenders, which actually contributes to rehabilitation, rather than strictly punishment as is the focus of much of the US system. Whether you agree of disagree with the insanity finding, reasonable sentence length and a rehabilitation focus is rational

Karen Franklin, Ph.D. said...

Odysseus7: You ask about the insanity standard in Norway: Norway does not follow the M'Naghten rule from British law, which emphasizes whether the defendant could discern right from wrong at the time of the crime. The Norwegian standard is much broader, as Northeastern University criminology professor James Alan Fox explains at his Crime and Punishment blog: "A psychotic state of mind at the time of the crime can mitigate criminal responsibility." Another difference is that experts rather than jurors make the determination of whether the accused should be sent to prison or to a psychiatric facility, eliminating the need for costly adversarial trials.

Jan is correct: What I appreciated was not that Breivik may at some point walk the streets again, which is highly doubtful, but that the Norwegian system privileges collaboration over irrational chest thumping and rehabilitation over punishment, which in the long run benefits not only offenders but the whole of society.

Rest assured, though: In this case, being found insane is certainly no guarantee of a shorter stay behind bars.

Odysseus7 said...

Looks like we were all premature in our speculation on the "insanity finding" on Mr. Breivick. He is going to have a trial, (which is all I'd originally been concerned about), thus the following...(Emphasis mine and forgive the ALL CAPS but that is the only way that I could provide emphasis using this program.)

"IF he is deemed to have been sane WHEN HE CARRIED OUT THE KILLINGS, the five presiding judges can sentence him to up to 21 years in prison, with a provision to keep him behind bars for longer if he is still considered dangerous. If he is deemed insane, Mr. Breivik can be kept in forced psychiatric care for as long as his illness persists.

Two court-ordered psychiatric reports have reached contradictory conclusions. (NO NEWS HERE THOUGH)...The first report, last November, determined that Mr. Breivik was a psychotic paranoid schizophrenic (THOUGH WE DON'T USE THAT TYPE OF DISCRIPTIVE LANGUAGE) before, during and after the attacks. The second, on April 10, said he was sane, albeit with a narcissistic personality disorder.

In a letter to the Norwegian news media on April 4, Mr. Breivik said the two psychiatrists responsible for the initial report were ideologically predisposed to pass an insanity judgment." (WHAT I'D SAID BEFORE).

The original Insanity Finding was what we in the U.S. refer to as a competency hearing. He goes to trial this week. I CAN rest assured now.

Karen Franklin, Ph.D. said...

Thank you SO MUCH (you're right about the emphasis problem with these comments!) for posting an update. I have been meaning to blog about this latest development, but haven't found the time. I appreciate your sharing the latest.