Norway killing: Made-to-order cell

2012-08-22 22:15
A normal cell at inside Ila prison, just outside Oslo, where Anders Behring Breivik has been held. (Ila Prison / Glefs AS, AFP)

A normal cell at inside Ila prison, just outside Oslo, where Anders Behring Breivik has been held. (Ila Prison / Glefs AS, AFP)

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Oslo - 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 receives his sentence Friday for killing 77 people in a bomb and gun rampage last year.

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

If found mentally fit, he will remain isolated, for now, in the high-security prison where he disposes of three 8m² cells: a bed room, 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 prisoners, who have access to a school that teaches from primary grades through university-level courses, a library, a gym, work in the prison's various shops and other leisure activities.

It's 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 spokesperson for Ila (EE-luh) Prison.

Dealing with an unrepentant killer responsible for Norway's worst massacre since World War II 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 22 July last year. Then he unleashed a shooting rampage that left 69 people dead, mostly teenagers, at the summer camp of the governing Labour Party's youth wing. The youngest victim was 14.

In testimony 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.

Custom court room

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 $6.8m. 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 court rooms 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 didn't 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.

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."

Cell with a bathroom

Ila Prison has prepared itself for every possible outcome on Friday. A psychiatric ward was built just in case he is declared criminally insane. It cost between $340 000- $510 000, according to Norway's health ministry.

The facility, featuring a 9m² 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.

Bjercke estimated the cost of keeping Breivik there at $1.2m - $1.7m a year.

That's 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 $1.2m 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 programmes 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, Bjercke said. 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," 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. 

Politically motivated

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 wouldn't comment on any special security measures taken to make sure Breivik doesn't escape. He said someone last escaped from the prison, which doesn't have armed guards, in 2004, but was caught within minutes.

During the 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 Breivik would appeal 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's an old man, if at all.

That's more important than the conditions under which he's 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," Bjelland said.

- AP
Read more on:    anders behring breivik  |  norway  |  norway attacks
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