Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Anders Breivik and the humanity of education in prison

Anders Breivik ensured his place in history the day he shot dead 69 people on a small Norwegian Island, having earlier killed eight others with a bomb planted in government offices in Oslo. Breivik’s horrendous…

There’s been outcry over Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Breivik’s plans to study at the University of Oslo. EPA/Stian Lysberg Solum/Pool Norway out

Anders Breivik ensured his place in history the day he shot dead 69 people on a small Norwegian Island, having earlier killed eight others with a bomb planted in government offices in Oslo.

Breivik’s horrendous crimes were driven by his espoused extreme right-wing political ideals, so it is perhaps not surprising that his enrolment in political studies subjects at the University of Oslo has attracted international attention.

Breivik is not the first mass murderer to undertake university study from a maximum security cell – Julian Knight, the Hoddle Street Massacre killer, completed a Bachelor of Arts degree while still in prison, majoring in in strategic and defence studies.

While Anders Breivik was not accepted into a full degree and will only study isolated subjects, his case raises some fundamental questions about prisoners' rights to access education whilst incarcerated.

Certainly prisoners like Anders Breivik and Julian Knight are extreme examples in almost every way.

For a start, most people in prison arrived there through far less heinous actions. Unlike Knight and Breivik, most prisoners will not remain imprisoned for decades at a time. On the latest data, only around 5% of Australian prisoners are serving a life sentence or other indeterminate sentence. The median expected time to serve for sentenced prisoners is just under two years; while a third of prisoners had an aggregate sentence, including time likely to be spent on parole, of less than two years.

The reality is that most people who go to prison will leave and return to the community. Education has role to play in rehabilitating these offenders but it also has a lot to do with why they may be there in the first place. The links between education, employment and offending are long established. Numerous studies have shown a lack of education to be a clear risk factor, which can predict the likelihood of a person offending.

Having little formal education can exacerbate employment prospects and lead to unstable accommodation, social isolation, and negative social relationships. It is no coincidence that many prisoners are illiterate.

Research has also long demonstrated that prison education programs reduce the likelihood of people returning to prison, a recent analysis found a 43% reduction in recidivism for participants. With rates of recidivism around 50% or more for some groups, anything that reduces the risk of re-offending cannot be a bad thing.

But prison education is not a magic bullet and other factors in released prisoners’ lives – such as mental health, drug use, further offending and the fact of having been in prison – can affect their chances.

Nonetheless, education is and should be a core element of correctional systems throughout Australia and across the world. Educational programming ranges from basic literacy and numeracy through to vocational training and higher school courses – all intended to help equip prisoners with the skills and knowledge to have a better chance of succeeding back in the community.

Recent Australian research shows that prisoner education can also have positive labour market outcomes. Other research has found prisoners completing academic or vocational education had odds of post-release employment 13 to 28% higher than those not participating.

Even for prisoners who are unlikely to ever be released, having access to education plays a valuable role in making time spent in prison meaningful and productive.

Of course, how you think prisoners should spend their time depends on your view on the purpose of imprisonment. But most people would accept the proposition that time spent in prison should yield some benefit – to the community, the justice system, and the offender.

Education provides opportunities to benefit all these parties. If nothing else, access to education can keep long-term prisoners engaged and occupied, which tends to make them easier to manage.

The Rector of Oslo University, Ole Petter Ottersen has spoken out in support of Anders Breivik’s admission to Norway’s most prestigious university. As he noted, Norwegian prison rules are clear - all inmates, like all other citizens, are entitled to apply to study and be considered on their merit.

As Ottersen observes, there is a basic humanity in Norway maintaining its rules and principles in the face of the moral outcry arising from Breivik’s application – a humanity arguably beyond Breivik himself, but a quality that education may help him attain.

In studying political subjects, Breivik will encounter ideas of democracy, human rights and freedoms that are contrary to the views he has espoused. Whether this will ultimately have any positive effect on Breivik remains to be seen, but his case brings to light the potential for education to be positively empowering and enriching.

Sign in to Favourite

Join the conversation

28 Comments sorted by

  1. Theo Pertsinidis
    Theo Pertsinidis is a Friend of The Conversation.

    ALP voter

    Will Murdoch media take the same punishment as Anders Breivik for it's attack and demise on another labor party movement this time in Australia?

    report
  2. Max JUST DEFIANCE Cook

    REALPolitik Outlaw Journalist

    Sure to attract derision from my antagonists, merely because they can, and also from the soft-headed of the "Fabianist" persuasion, who are therefore generally "pro-Labor", I nevertheless challenge the assumed verdict that Brievik's actions were inhumane, as in the article's 2nd last paragraph's line

    "...in the face of the moral outcry arising from Breivik’s application – a humanity arguably beyond Breivik himself, ...."

    and.., for my being on the apparent opposite to Breivik, on the far left…

    Read more
    1. Mulga Mumblebrain

      Rocket surgeon

      In reply to Max JUST DEFIANCE Cook

      Truly detestable, evil, swill. Brievik's victims were mostly terrified, defenceless, children, slaughtered mercilessly for the crime, above all others, of supporting the Palestinians, the reason that they and the Norwegian Labor Party and Norway itself, had been vilified by Zionist hatemongers (one called Norway a 'nation of Quislings' for daring not to obey Israel's Likudnik fascist regime)in the weeks leading up to the merciless slaughter by a fanatic supporter of Israel, and all it truly stands for.

      report
    2. Max JUST DEFIANCE Cook

      REALPolitik Outlaw Journalist

      In reply to Mulga Mumblebrain

      OK. I accept your responses to my post.

      What you inform about the NLP being anti-zionist, which, I assume from your post is what Breivik is [a zionist], is news to me.

      I'm very anti-zionist.

      The record of the "left" we know worldwide as the "Labour Party" and the larger ILO movement, speaks for itself however, in the horrors it's extremist totalitarian regimes have caused. And, I believe the ILO et al have pro-zionism tendencies.

      I personally don't condone Breivik's actions, but ask…

      Read more
  3. Robert Tony Brklje
    Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired

    Correctional Services Officers (the modern evolution of Prison Guards) are human beings doing a very important job. First and foremost a prison should provide a work environment that keeps the healthy and safe, especially mentally healthy.
    Education, proper medical care, a non-violent environment as possible, all targeted at the prisoners keeps the environment mentally safer for the guards.
    So access to TV, Radio and even a version of the internet (one way, citizens have a right of digital protection…

    Read more
  4. Gary Murphy

    Independent Thinker

    "...Breivik will encounter ideas of democracy, human rights and freedoms that are contrary to the views he has espoused. Whether this will ultimately have any positive effect on Breivik remains to be seen..."

    Why should we care about this man? He killed 69 people in cold blood.

    His crime was UNFORGIVABLE. He should be locked up for the rest of his life and given absolutely no privileges.

    report
    1. Henry Verberne

      Former IT Professional

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      I can understand your view, his crimes were absolutely appalling. But he is a human being and we need to try to understand what made him do it so society may just be able to reduce or avoid these terrible acts.

      report
    2. Mulga Mumblebrain

      Rocket surgeon

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      We know what made him do it, and who. They are all listed in his Manifesto, and they are overwhelmingly Zionist Islamophobes, a number of whom infest the MSM sewer in this country.

      report
    3. Trevor S

      Jack of all Trades

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      "Why should we care about this man? He killed 69 people in cold blood."

      What he did was detestable,, and yet

      http://www.smh.com.au/environment/too-hot-to-handle-can-we-afford-a-4degree-rise-20110709-1h7hh.html

      Professor Kevin Anderson: ‘‘If you have got a population of 9 billion by 2050 and you hit 4 degrees, 5 degrees or 6 degrees, you might have half a billion people surviving.

      Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute and climate adviser to the German Chancellor and to the EU, has said that in a 4-degree warmer world, the population “carrying capacity estimates [are] below 1billion people”.

      Kind of puts what we do every day driving in our cars into perspective. Is what we are doing, knowing what we know as unforgivable ?

      report
  5. Rene Oldenburger

    Haven't got one

    The Dutch have basically the same system as Norway, consequence is that in The Netherlands they have to close prisons because there aren't enough criminals there.

    Offering education and other training to prisoners obviously works and Brevik shouldn't be denied the same, despite what he did

    report
    1. Michael Sheehan

      Geographer at Analyst

      In reply to Rene Oldenburger

      Rene, Breivik is such an outlier, I doubt there are any generalisable lessons to apply, or learn. With perhaps the exception that just like the Catholics say 'every sperm is sacred', Norway might gain strength from being able to say, 'see, we rehabilitate all'.

      report
    2. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Michael Sheehan

      Michael, I'm not saying that Breivik will actually learn or will actually change his persona and becomes a rehabilitated individual.

      Breivik simply is within a prison system that follows the philosophy that rehabilitating criminals is better than the punishment system.

      Does it always work for every singly prisoner, no it doesn't but over all that system works as opposed to system that uses prisons as a punishment system.

      Breivik is merely an individual within that system

      report
    3. Michael Sheehan

      Geographer at Analyst

      In reply to Rene Oldenburger

      Rene, yes I agree entirely with the argument 'he's just like all other inmates in our penal system'. Very fair and rational.

      report
    4. Michael Sheehan

      Geographer at Analyst

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      Henry, I don't know. Do you? My position is clearly expressed in two sentences posted right above you. In fact, the very post you are responding to.

      report
    5. Mulga Mumblebrain

      Rocket surgeon

      In reply to Rene Oldenburger

      If it was your son or daughter slaughtered like a tethered beast, I dare say you would sing a different tune. Lock him up until he dies is the only just punishment. Let him learn to meditate upon the evil of his soul.

      report
    6. Rene Oldenburger

      Haven't got one

      In reply to Mulga Mumblebrain

      If that It was my son or daughter I would want to see him dead

      report
  6. Gil Hardwick

    anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

    It must be said that a very significant part of criminal recidivism in release from prison is ongoing failure to provide inmates with good quality education, especially those caught up in the system during early adolescence and most likely to be back again and again.

    Some of our ostensibly 'better' prisons with fully equipped carpentry and mechanical workshops, farms, gardens, dairies and abattoirs, still house their education section in a couple of recycled dongas, or old primary school demountables…

    Read more
  7. Michael Sheehan

    Geographer at Analyst

    "In studying political subjects, Breivik will encounter ideas of democracy, human rights and freedoms that are contrary to the views he has espoused."
    Wow! In 2013, there are still leftist academics who either have not read, or did not understand, Orwell's "1984". Send him to Room 101, for inescapable sermons on "democracy, human rights and freedoms".
    Except, Breivik was born and raised in Norway. He would have been instructed on these notions since he was in nappies.

    report
  8. Mulga Mumblebrain

    Rocket surgeon

    Of course education for most prisoners is a good idea, but Brievik is different. His crime is so monumental, so wicked, so cruel, so callous that he ought to rot until he dies. If, and only if, he displays genuine and deep remorse over a protracted time, may he be granted some respite from the strictest regime. But, of course, Brievik is simply a phenomenon produced by the ubiquitous and undiminished Islamophobic industry, whose serial, unremitting hate-peddlers, as listed in Brievik's detestable 'Manifesto' remain at large, some in the MSM sewers of this country, peddling their genocidal and brutish filth to the Brieviks to come. They ought to share their hideous progeny's fate, in my opinion.

    report
    1. Gil Hardwick

      anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

      In reply to Mulga Mumblebrain

      So you respond, Mumblebrain, with even more hate-peddling?

      Some solution.

      report
    2. Mulga Mumblebrain

      Rocket surgeon

      In reply to Gil Hardwick

      A simple moral proposition. When you see deliberate, callous, diabolical evil inflicted on scores of innocents, and consequently their families, friends and society as a whole, it is, in my opinion, morally obligatory to respond with outrage. You seem to be mitigating the evil, if not actually exculpating the beast.

      report
  9. John Crest

    logged in via email @live.com.au

    "Even for prisoners who are unlikely to ever be released, having access to education plays a valuable role in making time spent in prison meaningful and productive."

    Can you explain what you mean by "productive"? In what sense is it productive to educate someone who will (almost certainly) never be released?

    And what is the rationale for providing "meaning" to a whole life tariff prisoner? So far as I was aware, all we had to do was provide three squares and a cot.

    Victoria has the farcical situation of Craig Monogue refusing to answer to his former nickname of "fatty" and insisting we refer to him as "doctor".

    Is that what you meant by productivity and meaning?

    report
  10. leonie wellard

    retiree

    The inhumanity of Breivik puts him far outside the humanity of any justice system. In a case such as this I feel the only answer is a response in kind. Capital punishment should be mandatory in this instance...saves a lot of taxpayers' money and in his last moments he may well experience the terror he inflicted on his victims. If that sounds harsh, so be it.

    report
  11. LP Hock

    Retired

    This reminded me of the old communist die-hard - many highly educated in law, medicine etc and forsake family and society to pursue their cause. They did not succeed but holed in prison for three decades until determined that they don't cause public harm. Of course, the world and their world passes them on. Today, they can't said that their conviction, faith had any positiveness but pain for themselves, families and society. I have worked with Scandinavians and no doubt, their society and lifestyle compromised by government policy towards migrants - but as an international society they kept their woes not to the public eyes.

    report
  12. Yoron Hamber

    Thinking

    The man is seriously mentally disturbed, as long as one remember that, one can allow him his way, under observation. His state of mind is not a normal one. Read that one in a hundred are born without empathy, only leaving them ego. I'm pretty sure he's one of them, no matter what people say.

    report