Norway has a long history of a lenient penal system and a strong belief in prisoner rehabilitation. Those cultural mores will be tested as the case against suspected mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik proceeds.
Yahoo! News reports that under Norwegian law, the most anybody can be sentenced for any crime is 21 years. There is no death penalty. Prosecutors can request to extend prison terms by five years at a time if the convict is deemed a continuing threat to society.
"You can, but it's highly unlikely," Carol Sandby, a lawyer with the Norway Office of Public Prosecutions told the Montreal Gazette. "That would mean that person is going to spend his entire life in jail."
And that is something Norwegians just don't believe in.
Norway "takes the mantra of rehabilitation to an extreme," Foreign Policy's Robert Zeliger said. "The Norwegian prison system takes seriously the philosophy that inmates should be treated as humanely as possible and that jail sentences should be seen less as punishment than as an opportunity to reintegrate troubled people back into society."
Norwegian prisons are not like they are here in the United States. Time magazine wrote last year that prison guards "don't carry guns ... and call prisoners by their first names and play sports and eat meals with them."
Things seem to be working -- just 20% of released inmates end up committing crimes that land them back behind bars. In the U.S., that figure is upwards of 60%.
But Norway has never seen a crime like the one Breivik is accused of committing.
"That's what the world needs to understand about Norway," Sandby said. "This incident represents our loss of innocence, because we've been a very safe country to live in until now. There's been no reason to keep people in prison for life."
But now there might. Breivik reportedly said in court on Monday that he is prepared to spend the rest of his life in prison. He may get his wish, as he likely has changed his nation forever.