Craig Jackson

Craig Jackson

Professor Craig Jackson, Head of Psychology

“You have put me through hell . . . and I won’t be able to survive it much longer. You are killing me” – Anders Breivik, February 2014.

Breivik was found guilty of 77 counts of murder, terrorism, and causing a fatal explosion on July 22nd 2011 following his bomb attack near the government headquarters in Oslo which killed 8 people, then killing 69 more after opening fire on a Young Labour activists meeting on the island of Utøya later that same day. Breivik recently wrote a four page note to prison authorities which contained several requests to improve his prison conditions – such as having a daily walk, and dropping restrictions to the limits on his communications with the outside world. He is far from happy about his life in prison. His trial was pondered over by experts – arguing about his true sanity and the publicity he would get from such a show trial that may encourage other extremists and possible spree killers. However, his situation still continues to get attention even though the trial ended nearly two years ago.

Rehabilitation of a Spree Killer?

I wanted to originally ask if we are being short-sighted in dismissing his requests out of hand. I wanted to write and think more about rehabilitation of this rare type of mass killer. In 2013 Breivik’s mother died, and he was denied permission to attend her funeral. I always thought this was harsh, and it could have been a positive bargaining tool to encourage progress in his planned reform. To my knowledge, no convicted mass spree killer has ever been released from prison, and we may perhaps owe it to society as well as the 77 killed and dozens more injured by Breivik to throw every effort at changing his deluded beliefs and associated arrogance. He was sentenced to the maximum penalty in Norway of 21 years detention, and my contention was that, because it looks possible that he could be released after serving that sentence, every effort should be made to rehabilitate him in a humane and fair way.

In his latest letter, Breivik compared prison to “torture”, requested an upgrade from his current Playstation 2 to a new console, and complained about the lack of up-to-date age-appropriate video games that other prisoners have. “Other inmates have access to video games for adults while I can only play the less interesting children [sic] video games. One example is ‘Rayman Revolution’ a game designed for 3-year-olds”. He also requested his weekly allowance of 300 Norwegian crowns (36 euros) be doubled to pay for more postage stamps, and that searches of his mail be eased off, as it slows down the rate of his considerable correspondence with writers from all around the world. Breivik claims he has behaved “in an exemplary fashion” and deserves an improved “activities offer” compared to other inmates.

Rehabilitation is a natural process in the Norwegian prison system. Halden prison is an example – a high security facility with woods and forests trails, surrounded by a twenty-foot high fence, that uses comfort and modernity as tools to facilitate successful rehabilitation in some of those found guilty of the most serious offences. Modern art, bright colours and graffiti are used large-scale on the walls, to bring elements of humour and stimulations to such a controlled place. Workshops, drawing classes and music lessons are available for prisoners to learn new skills, and they can relax in their en-suite cells with their own mini-fridges and flat panel TVs, as well as socialising in group lounges. The role of prison officers at Halden (and in Norway in general) is to “motivate a prisoner so that his sentence is as meaningful, enlightening and as rehabilitating as possible”. This is in sharp contrast to taking their books and private parcels away – [UK prisons please take note]. This is an environment that could, given time, perhaps work for Breivik, but before that could happen, his deluded thinking styles and disordered personality would have to be addressed while he resides in Skien prison.

Narcissistic Hunger-Games

Some could interpret this request as a positive sign of Breivik complying with the regime; by asking for rewards in return for his adaptive behaviours. Even playing the game perhaps – which implies he has acceptance of his powerless position. Something that is hard for narcissists like Brevik to do. However, after studying the text of the latest letter, I can still see clear signs of his narcissistic and superiority-driven personality coming to the surface. Much of his writing style still contains the arrogance seen in the confused ramblings of his “manifesto” – 2083: A European Declaration of Independence. He is not appreciative of what he has, but rather he focuses on demanding things to be made better for him, and also demanding his things be better than what others have, who he sees as being less important than him

With narcissists like Brevik (and countless other spree killers) the threats are never far away from the demands – just to remind others who they are dealing with. “If I die, all the far right radicals and extremists in the European world will know exactly which individuals tortured me to death . . . This could have consequences for some individuals on the short term [sic] but also when Norway will have a new fascist regime in 13 to 40 years”. He also requests an end to the near-daily body searches he undergoes, and for access to a PC instead of the “worthless typewriter, technology that dates back to 1873,”

With the bravura of someone important, with something interesting to tell, he writes that he will soon announce the beginning of his hunger strike. Like a rock star announcing a new world tour to an eager public. Breivik goes on to write that a hunger strike seems “one of the few and rare alternatives . . . the hunger strike will not stop until [named public individuals] stop treating me worse than an animal”. Breivik had already claimed in previous letters that he was a “freedom fighter” and a “human rights activist,” and he chided the media for not reporting on his tormented status as a “political prisoner”.

Secluded in Delusion

Perhaps one of the greatest arguments to be made for relaxing his link to the outside world would be that it might allow Breivik to accurately see how the world really views him; with pity, and certainly not awe. Norway coped quite well without his limited contribution to society; Norway recovered from its loss and did not give way to extremism in the wake of his attacks; Norwegians mostly view Breivik as a spoilt mother’s boy and fantasist who is insane at worst, or grossly immature at best. Once he understands that he is not seen as a martyr, freedom fighter, or political prisoner by the outside world, he may realise that he was just another mass killer. A killer who took his frustrations out on society, because he could not tolerate his lack of achievement, or his deluded inability to comprehend why someone as “important” as he had no real meaning to their life. Then perhaps, Halden prison, and the regime within, might be able to accommodate him and begin the rehabilitative process.

Keeping Breivik secluded in the comfort of his delusions helps nobody.

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Craig Jackson

Craig Jackson

Head of Psychology Division at Birmingham City University