On June 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik posted and emailed his radical conservative ideological treatise titled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence. He then detonated a bomb in a government building in Oslo, Norway, killing 8 people. He then traveled to the island of Utøya and opened fire at the Worker’s Youth League camp, killing 69 more people. Most of the victims on Utøya were teenagers.
When all was said and done, Breivik had murdered 77 people. He was captured without incident and charged with causing a fatal explosion, mass murder and terrorism. He was then subjected to a psychiatric examination to determine whether or not he was sane enough to stand trial. Upon the determination that he was sane, Breivik was tried and convicted of all counts.
Then in a move that shocked most of the civilized world, Breivik was sentenced to a grand total of 21 years in prison. That’s a total of 7670 days (counting leap years) or 99.6 days for each person he murdered. Not only that, but his prison cell consists of a three cell suite, complete with laptop computer, television and exercise equipment. If Breivik serves his entire sentence, he will only be 53 years of age when he walks free.
One of the news agencies in Norway explained that they do not believe in the death penalty and that America’s penal system is ‘cruelly punitive.’ They went on to say that the sentencing is:
“Consistent with Norway’s general approach to criminal justice. Like the rest of Europe . . . Norway no longer has the death penalty and considers prison more a means for rehabilitation than retribution.”
In other words, prison is not a place to punish someone for committing a crime, but to rehabilitate them so they won’t do it again. I recall listening to Chuck Colson after he was released from prison for his involvement with the Watergate scandal that eventually forced President Richard Nixon to resign. Colson had started his ministry, Prison Fellowship and was being interviewed on one of the news networks. I remember him being emphatic that prison needs to be either a place of punishment OR a place of rehabilitation, but not both. He went on to say that the rehabilitation programs in most American prison are failures and as such, we need to make our prisons a place of punishment and to serve as a deterrent to would be criminals.
This seems to contradict the Norwegian way of running a prison as they believe wholeheartedly in rehabilitation, not punishment.
Colson isn’t the only one to speak out against prison rehabilitation. Back in 1949, C.S. Lewis wrote about what he referred to as The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment. Lewis said that not punishing criminals in favor of remediation led to the end of justice and the beginning of tyranny. In his treatise, Lewis wrote:
“It is essential to oppose the Humanitarian theory of punishment, root and branch, wherever we encounter it. It carries on its front a semblance of mercy which is wholly false. That is how it can deceive men of good will.”
“Thus when we cease to consider what the criminal deserves and consider only what will cure him or deter others, we have tacitly removed him from the sphere of justice altogether; instead of a person, a subject of rights, we now have a mere object, a patient, a ‘case.’”
I did a paper on punishment versus rehabilitation a few years back for the Christian Ethics class in seminary. I learned from my research that the countries that had the lowest crime rates had the strictest penal systems. Their prisons were places to be avoided at all costs and so many people thought twice before committing a crime. They also didn’t have paroles or probation programs either. When you were sentenced to 25 years, you did 25 years, not 6 or 7 years, and when you were sentenced to life, you did life.
I also looked at the penal system in Scripture and it was pretty harsh as well. I’ve had a number of Christians tell me that Christ taught forgiveness and that is true. He taught forgiveness but not to allow people to get away with crimes such as murder. He never said anything to indicate that He was doing away with the Law of Moses which included a strict and harsh system of punishment.
The bottom line is that Anders Breivik is not really being punished for his act of terrorism and mass murder of 77 people. Spending the next 21 years in a three cell suite, being fed every day, free medical, and access to the Internet and exercise equipment almost sounds more like a reward for committing such atrocities.
100 days for each person he violently murdered. That certainly wouldn’t be a deterrent to me and most likely isn’t too many others, either. I believe Norway’s sentence is an insult to humanity and to the families of the victims.