The director of public affairs at Café Exit, the support group organisation for former prisoners, has queried why the man suspected of killing three elderly people in Østerbro in February and March wasn’t under lock and key.
Since his arrest it has come to light that the 26-year-old had prior convictions for both rape and murder, and Hans Andersen from Cafe Exit, who is himself a former prisoner, questions whether the system “examined him closely enough”.
“Instead of helping him, they released him and then didn’t check on him, and all of a sudden he’s in a position where he might have murdered another three people,” Andersen told CPH POST.
“Maybe these three killings could have been prevented if the system had been working as it should be.”
Not a serial killer’s profile
Arrested on March 9, the man is suspected of killing an 81-year-old woman on March 7, an 83-year-old woman on February 7 and an 80-year-old man on March 2.
However, despite the serial nature of the crimes, Andersen does not believe the person responsible is a serial killer.
“What qualifies a serial killer is someone who kills for fun,” he said. “I think he has not done it for fun. He has maybe done it just to get some money for drugs and so on, so I don’t think it qualifies him as such.”
Long sentence likely
The average sentence for murder in Denmark is 16 years, but Professor Anne Okkels-Birk, an independent criminology consultant, is doubtful the person responsible is of sane mind.
“I would say for this man here, if he is guilty of three murders, there’s a very high likelihood of insanity,” she said.
“Insanity would also mean that he would only get out when he was okay again, and then he would have to stay on probation. There is a likelihood of lifetime imprisonment and there is a likelihood of security detention. I don’t see anything lenient.”
And even if the suspect is convicted of murder, contends Okkels-Birk, he’ll probably be judged to be psychotic and committed to a psychiatric ward.
“I think this might be relevant here because if the man was psychotic at the time of the crime, then he will be sent to a psychiatric hospital instead of going to prison,” she explained.
Failed by society
Ultimately, says Andersen, most killers are victims. In his line of work, he meets a lot of people who have fallen through the cracks in society.
“Quite a few of the guys in prison: they have had a very poor childhood, very poor upbringing, never had an education, never met love in their life,” he said.
“You could really make a difference if you catch them at an early age.”
Okkels-Birk concurs, adding: “Most people who commit murder in Denmark are people who are ordinarily functioning people who get into a very, very bad life situation in which they kill somebody or they are in an environment of drug addiction and abuse.”
Still an exemplary example
Nevertheless, Denmark continues to have a much lower per capita murder rate than countries like the US, for example, where there are an estimated 2,000 serial killers at large right now. Beyond the Østerbro killer and Thomas Quick, who was convicted in the 1990s of murdering eight people in Sweden and Norway, Scandinavia has none.
As well as some “hard to understand” gun laws, contends Andersen, the US is averse to adopting open prison systems – the key to Denmark’s better rehabilitation rate, as the system allows for people to better readapt to society after release from prison, often leaving them better off than when they came in.
“Most people in open prison have regular access to go and visit their friends and family at home,” he said. “And that means that people are tied in better with their community and it’s less of a shock when they leave prison.”
Okkels-Birk, who grew up on the grounds of an open prison and recalls one of her childhood friends being the inmate who painted her house, is also a major advocate.
“Open and closed prison systems are tied together,” she explained. “People behave better in a closed prison because they want to go to an open prison. People behave better in open prison because they don’t want to go to closed prison.”
Okkels-Birk believes that if the incentives of an open prison system were transferred to a larger system in another country, the open-prison concept might be successful.
The concept certainly worked for her childhood friend. “He had killed his boss for money,” she recalled. “But I ended up really liking him.”