October 28, 2004

The End of Personal Responsibility

The time of personal responsibility has passed. No longer will you have to admit fault or recognize that the error or mistake lies within you, and not within the stars or some other silly excuse. In a development in Norway which I am sure will be reproduced as soon as possible in the United States, it has become impossible to imprison the "mentally ill", whatever that means.

A Stavanger man convicted 25 times and with 70 offences on the books since his last conviction may be able to sue for damages thanks to new laws. The man has now been diagnosed as 'extremely mentally handicapped' since 1992, and should have received treatment rather than prison time. The man's defense counsel, John Christian Elden, has filed to reopen cases involving 19 convictions since 1992.

District attorney Tormod Haugnes told newspaper Stavanger Aftenbladet that authorities have little choice but to acquit since it is not possible to imprison the mentally handicapped.

"New rules give him the right to commit crimes for the rest of his life, without punishment," Haugnes told the paper. "This is the most extreme result of the new penal code, where preventive detention is replaced with custody and compulsory treatment."

Elden told Aftenbladet that his client could demand compensation for the unjustified imprisonment for the seven to eight years he served for the convictions, and said the damages could likely amount to millions of crowns.

Please tell me that I am not the only one who thinks that this is outrageous, especially considering how easy it can be to manipulate the mental health system.

Posted by Random Penseur at October 28, 2004 07:53 AM


While I sort of agree that this is eliminating the need for personal liability, I don't think it's the blank check to go on a crime spending spree, necessarily. Personally, I do feel that it is up to the penal sytem to be able to evaluate and treat criminals as well-one of the basic principles of a penal system is to be as a rehabilitation and a deterrant. So the government does have the responsibility to treat the people it is trying to rehabilitate.

In my mind, anyone who is able to perpetrate certain offenses-murder, crimes against children, repeat offenders-are quite likely mentally ill, and do most likely need treatment. If governments aren't willing to accept that some inmates need treatment, they'd better be prepared to see said inmates again and again.

That said, I don't see that the former inmates have the ability to go for damages in the millions of crowns area, I do agree that's outrageous, but I do think that they should be given access to state mental health care.

And from someone who was in the mental health care system in Scandinavia, let me tell you-it is NOT easy to manipulate the system. And I lived in the most tolerant of the countries, where they like to give prisoners a little bit of jail time and a good cuddle before letting them go again.

Posted by: Helen at October 28, 2004 09:23 AM

I don't believe that legislation would ever come across the ocean, especially to the US. North Americans tend to be more of the "lock 'em up, so I don't have to look at 'em" mentality. In Canada at least, the criminals get a good education and come out with all sorts of new concepts on committing crime. We also tend to let the mentally ill roam the streets, because the lack of allocation of funding for those types of institutions.

Posted by: Oorgo at October 28, 2004 11:04 AM

If you haven't already seen it, there's a good piece at OpinionJournal today on related initiative efforts to dilute California's three-strikes law. I suspect the thing won't pass, as Gov. Terminator is now doing ads against it.

In the US, these issues are, and rightly should be, part of the political process, and features which I don't believe the Europeans have, like the initiative and the recall, influence policy in these areas. I've read now and then -- but have never seen comprehensive analysis -- that the European democracies don't have a number of features that allow the majority to express itself in areas like taxation and capital punishment, to name two issues.

Posted by: John Bruce at October 28, 2004 02:26 PM

I suspect they want to keep them out of jail so they won't be unduly influenced by the strippers they provide the other prisoners.

Posted by: ivan at October 29, 2004 10:05 AM

Gee, thoughtful comments, one and all. I enjoyed reading them even if I lack the time to reply to you all. Thanks!

Posted by: RP at October 30, 2004 12:22 PM
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