Psychiatric unit has history of escapes

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The special psychiatric hospital where confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik now seems most likely to be confined has a history of escapes that’s making several politicians and police uneasy. Meanwhile, a former doctor at the Dikemark psychiatric hospital says Breivik could even be legally released after just five to seven years.

This is the psychiatric institution in Asker, Dikemark, where Anders Behring Breivik may be committed. PHOTO: Asker Kommune

That’s not what most lawyers and prosecutors involved in the case believe, but Dr Thor Kvakkestad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it’s “quite unusual” for patients diagnosed with psychosis or schizophrenia to be held in custody for the rest of their lives.

Kvakkestad has treated patients suffering from psychosis and paranoid schizophrenia, the mental health ailments said to be afflicting Breivik, for the past 17 years and was formerly on staff at Dikemark in Asker, west of Oslo. “My experience is that patients with psychosis and schizophrenia are returned to society and followed up by local clinics after five to seven years,” he told NRK. “There are a few exceptions, where the patient has a chronic disease and doesn’t respond to medication, but that’s very seldom.”

He said that patients who cooperate with staff, react positively to medication and become relatively free of symptoms “have the right to prove themselves out in society again. In psychiatry, the goal isn’t to punish but to make the patient healthy so he or she can function among us others,” Kvakkestad told NRK.

That was enough for the director of Norway’s court administration, Tor Langbach, to call for a review of regulations and re-evaluate whether also psychotic persons should be held accountable for their actions. Breivik faces charges of 77 murders, hundreds of attempted murders and billions worth of damage after he bombed Norway’s government headquarters and carried out a massacre on the island of Utøya. He was declared criminally insane earlier this week, though, and if that declaration stands, he can’t be sentenced to prison and instead, if found guilty as expected, will be committed to a psychiatric institution.

Six escapes in five years
Meanwhile, security systems at Dikemark were also called into question when newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday that six persons have managed to escape from Dikemark over the past five years. All of those who escaped were guilty of murder, rape and other forms of violent assault.

One man who stabbed three persons at random on a street in downtown Oslo last year was among them, as was a man who murdered his wife in front of their two children. The latter fled his minders when he was allowed to go to a local bank. Another Dikemark patient escaped while buying tobacco at a local kiosk. All the patients were eventually recaptured, by police, but not before several hours, during which time they posed a threat.

Dikemark itself is considered secure, with bars on the windows, locked doors and employees carrying alarms. Patients, however, are not locked into their rooms, reports Aftenposten, and they’re also occasionally allowed out on escorted excursions. That’s when most of the escapes have occurred, when the patients are under the control of hospital staff and not police.

“This happens, unfortunately, at regular intervals,” police inspector Hanne Kristin Rohde told Aftenposten. “We view these escapes seriously. From our point of view, there’s reason to point out that society must have confidence that persons committed to compulsory psychiatric care don’t run away.”

André Oktay Dahl, a member of the parliament’s justice committee for the Conservative Party, is also worried about the record of escapes. “We have demanded better security and we assume it is better,” Dahl told Aftenposten. “Even though these escapes are the exception, there are too many escaping.”

If Breivik is sent to Dikemark, Dahl said that he “takes it for granted that the worst mass murderer we have had since World War II will be placed behind locked doors.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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