By American prison standards, Anders Behring Breivik—the Norwegian mass murderer who killed 77 people in 2011—is living in luxury. His cell has a treadmill, a computer, a private bathroom and a PlayStation.
But a Norwegian court ruled this week that his confinement amounts to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Those creature comforts didn't make up for that fact that Breivik is kept in near-total solitary confinement, a judge concluded.
Breivik sued the government over his prison conditions last month, arguing that he was being subjected to torture because of the isolation. He is currently banned from having any contact with other prisoners in Skien prison.
While judge Helen Andenaes Sekulic found that the isolation violated the European Convention of Human Rights, she rejected another of Breivik's requests to loosen restrictions on his visitors and communications with the outside world.
Many in Norway were shocked by the ruling. The decision "feels a bit like being punched in the gut," Eskil Pedersen, who escaped Breivik's shooting, told Norwegian Broadcasting.
But others said it made them proud of their country's justice system. Bjørn Ihler, another survivor of the attack, told the newspaper Aftenposten that subjecting Breivik to solitary meant “following the same logic as his.”
“We can’t let our society stoop to such a low level as that of a terrorist,” Ihler said.
The ruling is remarkable in part because of what it says about Norway's prison system—which is based on rehabilitating offenders, not punishing them. But it also shows the growing global consensus about how solitary confinement is inhumane.
According to the United Nations—which has urged its members to ban solitary confinement in most cases—there are 20,000 to 25,000 inmates in the U.S. in total isolation. Forms of solitary are also practiced in countries like Argentina, Kazakstan, and China, the UN reported.
Of course, most U.S. prisoners in solitary don't have a PlayStation in their cell. But the court's ruling suggests that no video game can make up for total isolation.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.