Humane conditions pledge on Breivik

Humane conditions pledge on Breivik

Those expecting Anders Behring Breivik to spend the rest of his days alone in a cramped cell will be disappointed when the far-right fanatic is sentenced on Friday for killing 77 people in a bomb and gun rampage last year.

If declared insane, the confessed killer will be the sole patient on a psychiatric ward that Norway has built for him, with 17 staff to treat him.

If found mentally fit, he will remain isolated, for now, in the high-security prison where he uses three 86 sq ft (8 sq m) cells – a bedroom, an exercise room and a study.

Officials at Oslo’s Ila Prison say the ambition would be to eventually transfer Breivik to a section with other inmates, who have access to a school that teaches from primary grades through university-level courses, a library, a gym, work in the jail’s various shops and other leisure activities.

It is all about a philosophy of humane prison treatment and rehabilitation that forms the bedrock of the Scandinavian penal system.

“I like to put it this way: he’s a human being, he has human rights. This is about creating a humane prison regime,” said Ellen Bjercke, a spokeswoman for Ila Prison.

Dealing with an unrepentant killer responsible for Norway’s worst massacre since the Second World War puts the system to, perhaps, its most challenging test yet.

During his trial, Breivik, 33, coolly described how he set off a car bomb that killed eight people and injured scores in Oslo’s government district on July 22 last year. Then he unleashed a shooting rampage that left 69 people dead, mostly teenagers, at the summer camp of the governing Labor Party’s youth wing. The youngest victim was 14.

In evidence that was deeply disturbing to the bereaved, the self-styled anti-Muslim militant said he was acting in defence of Norway by targeting the left-wing political party he accused of betraying the country with liberal immigration policies.

Since Breivik’s guilt is not in question, the key decision for the Oslo District Court on Friday is whether to declare him insane after two psychiatric teams reached opposite conclusions on his mental health.

Its ruling will be read in a courtroom custom-built for Breivik’s trial at a cost of 40 million kroner (£4.3 million). A glass partition separates Breivik from relatives of victims attending the hearing. Remote-controlled cameras capture the proceedings, and a video feed is distributed to courtrooms around Norway, where other relatives can watch it live.

Prison officials say the special measures for Breivik are justified because he presents a security risk that Norway’s prison and justice systems previously did not have the infrastructure to deal with.

Some Norwegians disagree.

“To do that for just one person, when there are other things in Norway that need to be taken care of, like elderly care and roads and such things – the money could have been spent on other things,” said Thomas Indreboe, who was removed as a lay judge in the case when it emerged that he had advocated on the internet for Breivik to be executed. In Europe only Belarus still applies the death penalty, according to Amnesty International.

Mr Indreboe stood by his assertion that capital punishment would make sense in Breivik’s case and save “taxpayers from unnecessary expenditures”.

Criminology researcher Thomas Ugelvik, of the University of Oslo, said that would mean creating a totally different society.

“We wouldn’t be Norway,” he said. “We have a general need to offer humane conditions in our welfare state, and the prison is part of the welfare state.”

Ila Prison has prepared itself for every possible outcome on Friday. A psychiatric ward was built just in case Breivik is declared criminally insane. It cost between 2 million and 3 million kroner (£215,000-£323,000), according to Norway’s Health Ministry.

The facility, featuring a 100 sq ft (9 sq m) cell with a bathroom, would offer Breivik some recreational and educational options with therapists from a psychiatric hospital, but not the breadth of options available to prison inmates.

The cost of keeping Breivik there is estimated at 7 million-10 million kroner a year (£753,000-£1.08 million).

That is not extraordinary in Norway. Anne Kristine Bergem, the chief physician of the regional psychiatric centre for dangerous and violent patients, said the average annual cost of care on her ward was nearly 6 million kroner (£645,000) per patient.

If found to be mentally fit, Breivik would face a sentence of “preventive detention”. Unlike a regular prison sentence – which can be no longer than 21 years in Norway – that confinement option can be extended for as long as an inmate is considered dangerous to society. It also offers more programs and therapy than an ordinary prison sentence.

While in isolation, Breivik has access to TV and newspapers and a computer, but no internet connection. He has three cells instead of one in “compensation” for not having access to activities offered to other inmates. In addition, prison staff and a priest come see him more often than other inmates, so that he has someone to talk to.

“Isolation is torture,” Ms Bjercke said.

Breivik, like other prisoners, is free to communicate with the outside world with letters, as he has done since restrictions were lifted at the start of this year. His defence lawyers have said he is already planning to write books building on the 1,500-page manual on far-right terror he released before the attacks.

Prison director Knut Bjarkeid would not comment on any special security measures taken to make sure Breivik does not escape. He said someone last escaped from the prison, which does not have armed guards, in 2004, but was caught within minutes.

During his trial, which transfixed Norway with its gruesome details, Breivik insisted his actions were politically motivated and expressed horror at the possibility of ending up in “the madhouse”. His lawyers have said he would appeal against an insanity ruling.

Whatever the outcome, Breivik has already proved to be so dangerous that legal experts say he is not likely to walk free until he is an old man, if at all.

That is more important than the conditions under which he is held, said Christin Bjelland, deputy head of a national support group for victims’ families and survivors.

“Our primary goal is that he should be removed (from society) for all time,” he said.

More in this Section

Harry and Meghan leave royal life with pledge to help in coronavirus crisisHarry and Meghan leave royal life with pledge to help in coronavirus crisis

Strega Nona author Tomie dePaola dead at age 85Strega Nona author Tomie dePaola dead at age 85

New York governor begs for help amid ‘staggering’ death tollNew York governor begs for help amid ‘staggering’ death toll

UN chief says initial coronavirus cases in Syria just ‘tip of the iceberg’UN chief says initial coronavirus cases in Syria just ‘tip of the iceberg’


Ellie O’Byrne rounds up some of the virtual gigs, films and other eventsArts Noticeboard: Online entertainment options

It’s 25 years since Toy Story first stunned us with its brilliance. Esther McCarthy looks back onJohn Lasseter’s masterpiece and why it’s regarded as a milestone of modern cinemaInfinity and beyond: How Toy Story altered movie history

All the wines recommended this week are available for delivery.Wine with Leslie Williams: Looking for a wine delivery service? Here are a few ...

If I could be reborn for a day I’d be a cat. I love their serenity and independence and how they always manage to find that one shaft of sunlight.This Much I Know: Broadcaster, Mary Kennedy

More From The Irish Examiner