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The human being we’re talking about here is, of course, Anders Behring Breivik, who on a July day last year was a very bad boy. And the apartment we’re talking about is, at least in a narrowly technical sense, a prison cell. In a recent piece for the Atlantic, Max Fisher ponders the curious approach to criminal punishment that led to Breivik having such a cushy set-up. While most justice systems, he notes, are “built on an idea called retributive justice,” Norway’s “is built on something called restorative justice,” which aims not at punishment but at “healing.” The convict “is encouraged to grapple with the wrongness of [his] actions” and become a better person – the assumption, of course, being that he’s capable of such a transformation, an assumption that in Breivik’s case seems, shall we say, naïve.
Though he admits that a guy like Breivik isn’t a promising candidate for “restoration,” Fisher nonetheless says he’s been convinced that restorative justice “works, as long as you don’t consider retribution to be its own inherent good.” Still, Fisher isn’t a total convert to Norwegian-style imprisonment. He admits to feeling that there’s just plain something wrong about it – it subverts certain human desires, not necessarily for revenge, as some champions of the Norwegian approach claim, but for a real sense of justice.
Yes indeed. And I would add something else. Fisher focuses on retribution vs. restoration, as if these were the only two relevant considerations. But what about deterrence?
Reflect for a moment on the following: although Norway has weathered the international financial crisis relatively well, thanks to its oil fortune, there are still plenty of homeless people on the streets of Oslo. The city has a disproportionate number of drug addicts awaiting methadone treatment and individuals with severe psychiatric problems who can’t get the treatment they need. Norway’s reputation as a soft touch has drawn more and more gypsies from the other end of the European continent. At night Oslo’s main drag swarms with aggressive Nigerian prostitutes and unsavory types from heaven knows where who want to sell you drugs. And don’t forget the innumerable hard-working nine-to-fivers who pay exorbitant rents for tiny digs – or the tens of thousands of Oslo-area Muslims who, back in their homelands, could only have dreamed about living Breivik-style. Is it absurd to assume that one or more of these persons, at some point, knowing what luxury (relatively speaking) awaits them on the far side of the police station and the courtroom, might decide to commit an unspeakable atrocity in order to acquire a flat like Breivik’s? Is the concept of deterrence, in short, really a dead letter? Or is the Norwegian government being as foolish, in the post-sentencing kid-glove treatment of its all-time number-one felon, as it was in its pre-July 22 failure to take elementary, commonsensical measures to protect its people from his mad designs?
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