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Norway mass murderer tests the limits of lenient justice system

STAVANGER (NORWAY) -- Anders Behring Breivik, a mass murderer, spends his days in a three-room cell. He plays video games, exercises, watches TV, and takes university-level courses on mathematics and business.

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Norway mass murderer tests the limits of lenient justice system

Breivik, 42 years old, is halfway through his 21-year sentence. He wants early release and might be shocking to anyone outside Norway. In 2011, he bombed Oslo killing eight people. Then he stalked and shot down 69 others, mostly teenagers, at a summer camp.

However, no matter the severity of the crime, convicts can benefit from a criminal justice program that offers them some of the same opportunities and comforts as those on the outside.

Nonetheless, Breivik's extreme situation is testing Norway's tolerance and rehabilitation commitments.

"We have never seen anyone in Norway responsible for such violence." There has been some debate about whether a part of the justice systems should be modified for someone like him," Erik Kursetgjerde, an 18-year-old who survived the Utoya Island massacre. He advises that you take a slow approach and not allow Breivik to undermine the system.

Breivik, who was a parolee for three days, renounced violence but also displayed a Nazi salute. He also endorsed white supremacy and repeated ideas from a manifesto that he had released at the time of his murder spree. Norwegians were familiar with his rambling diatribes in the partially televised criminal trial.

Kristin Bergtora Sandyvik, a professor of law at Oslo's University of Oslo, said that this was a difficult time for survivors and the bereaved, as well as Norwegian society in general. She also stated that there is a debate in Norway about whether parole regulations should change to stop this kind of grandstanding.

Breivik sued the Norwegian government in 2016 for human rights violations. He complained about being isolated from other prisoners, strip searches, and the fact that he was frequently handcuffed during his early years of imprisonment. Breivik also complained about prison food quality, including the use of plastic utensils and the inability to communicate with fellow prisoners.

Although Breivik's case regarding human rights was eventually overturned by a higher tribunal, it showed how far the Norwegian criminal justice systems could go to protect prisoners' rights and living conditions.

Randi Rosenqvist, his prison psychiatrist, stated that "his conditions in accordance with Norwegian standards are excellent." At the parole hearing, she testified that Breivik remains a public threat.

Even though Breivik's outbursts during this week's parole hearing were a bit extreme, Norwegian authorities have not shown any signs of abandoning their treatment of him as any other inmate at Skien prison.

"The main punishment in a Nordic prison sentence is the deprivation or liberty. The Nordic countries all have a system that is based on a humane and lenient criminal policy. This starts with the understanding between the parties that punishment shouldn't be too harsh. Professor Johan Boucht, from the University of Oslo Department of Public and International law who also has experience in Sweden and Finland. The second aspect is rehabilitation. It is better to rehabilitate an inmate than to create a prison for criminals.

Norway's justice system was primarily focused on punishment up until 50 years ago. In the 1960s, there was a backlash against the harsh prison conditions. This led to criminal justice reforms that focused on rehabilitation and kinder treatment.

Norwegian sentencing laws and prison conditions contrast sharply with those in France or other European countries like France. There, the worst criminals face life imprisonment with the possibility to appeal after 22 years.

The longest sentences are not often given to French defendants. However, Salah Abdeslam is one of those who will be serving the longest sentence. He was the last member of the Islamic State cell which attacked Paris in November 2015. Abdeslam has been bitter about his conditions at Fleury Merogis prison. He is currently under 24-hour surveillance and is in solitary confinement. The furniture is fixed to the floor of the tiny cell, and he can only exercise for one hour each day.

Breivik's relatively mild treatment in prison doesn't mean that he will be released anytime soon or in 2032 when his sentence expires.

Although the maximum sentence for Norway's prison inmates is 21 years, it was changed in 2002 to allow sentences to be extended indefinitely by five-year increments in rare cases.

Oystein Storrvik was Breivik's lawyer at the parole hearing. He stated in his closing arguments that Breivik should be freed to show that he has reformed and is no longer a danger to society. This is impossible to prove when he is isolated.

However, Breivik's conduct during the parole hearing this week was enough evidence to show that he should not be allowed to see freedom again.

Kristine Roeyneland is the leader of a group that supports families of Breivik's victims, survivors and their loved ones. She said that his comfort in prison and his ability to spread extremist views via public parole hearings are both unacceptable.

No matter what happens to Breivik's request of early parole, which will now be decided by a panel of three judges in the coming weeks, many are enlightened about the Norwegian government's apparent determination to treat him as any other prisoner.

Sandvik, a law professor, said that people might fear that he is using the law to his advantage. But you can also state that he is being used as a stage by the law. He is a megaphone for rule of law.

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