Justice Minister Knut Storberget visited the high security prison this week where confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is being held in full isolation. He emerged with high praise for the guards assigned to keep watch over Breivik, saying they have a “tough” job, and he aired various options for keeping Breivik in custody for a long time.
“There’s hardly a person in Norway who hasn’t been disturbed by the gruesome events that occurred on July 22,” Storberget told reporters after his prison visit, referring to Breivik’s bombing of government headquarters in Oslo where eight persons were killed and his subsequent massacre at a Labour Party summer camp where Breivik gunned down scores of victims and killed 69.
The guards at the Ila Prison west of Oslo have “close contact with the person charged with these events every day, and that’s demanding,” Storberget said. He used more time than scheduled to meet with prison staff and speak with the guards to ask them how they’re dealing with “the emotional reactions they must have and likely take home with them” from work.
“I’ve had a lot of strong experiences since July 22 and this was a new, tough meeting,” Storberget said. “I met experienced guards but also some young ones, with families, who have to deal with this every day.”
Storberget said the state was boosting budgets for the prison to increase staff to reduce the load on those who must work most closely with Breivik. Security at the prison will also be further increased, not least since Breivik may be sitting there for many years.
Keeping Breivik behind bars
Storberget also addressed the debate over how long Breivik can be kept in prison under Norwegian law, which has no provision for a life sentence and no death penalty. While some local law professors have said Norwegians must accept that Breivik can be returned to society like most other convicts, Storberget seemed to be looking for ways of keeping him in custody.
A special form of protective custody called forvaring can effectively keep a criminal in prison for life, if he or she is believed to remain a threat to society. News bureau NTB reported that Storberget is also looking for other measures.
“I would like an evaluation of whether we can use other measures, for example that a release would be objectionable or offensive to society,” Storberget told NTB. He doesn’t think such a measure would constitute a major change to legal precedent or violate the constitution, which prohibits new laws from applying to previous deeds. In other words, politicians can’t pass special laws to punish a criminal for a crime already committed.
“I think it’s timely when we’re facing extremely serious events for us to also evaluate the length of a prison term based on society’s understanding of justice,” Storberget told NTB.
Brevik has so far shown no signs of regret for his actions. His trial is due to start before summer of next year.
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