I first heard this story earlier today while in my car and I confess to a serious skidmark moment.
Writing for The Atlantic, Max Fisher lays out the story and focues on the difference between our system of Retributive Jusice and Norway’s system of Restorative Justice.
The American justice system, like most of those in at least the Western world, is built on an idea called retributive justice. In very simplified terms (sorry, I’m not a legal scholar), it defines justice as appropriately punishing someone for an act that’s harmful to society. Our system does include other ideas: incapacitating a criminal from committing other crimes, rehabilitating criminals to rejoin society, and deterring other potential criminals. At its foundation, though, retributive justice is about enforcing both rule of law and more abstract ideas of fairness and morality. Crimes are measured by their damage to society, and it’s society that, working through the court system, metes out in-turn punishment. Justice is treated as valuable and important in itself, not just for its deterrence or incapacitative effects. In a retributive system, the punishment fits the crime, and 21 years in a three-room cell doesn’t come close to fitting Breivik’s 77 premeditated murders.
Norway doesn’t work that way. Although Breivik will likely be in prison permanently — his sentence can be extended — 21 years really is the norm even for very violent crimes. The much-studied Norwegian system is built on something called restorative justice. Proponents of this system might argue that it emphasizes healing: for the victims, for the society, and, yes, for the criminal him or herself. Sounds straightforward enough, but you might notice that there’s nothing in there about necessarily punishing the criminal, and in fact even takes his or her needs into account
Before you thank whoever you thank for beng an American, read all of Fisher’s piece and then, if you wish, we can discuss.