Torture, or accepted punishment?
Denmark police toss suspects in solitary
April 30, 1997
Web posted at: 11:40 p.m. EDT (0340 GMT)
From Correspondent Bill Delaney
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CNN) -- According to a recent European Union poll, Danes consider themselves less likely to be victims of crime than any other Europeans. But that sense of security comes with a chilling caveat.
Danes are also more likely to spend time in solitary confinement than anyone in the Western world.
Lawyer Christian Wissum says the Danish legal system forever ripped from him his sense of security in March 1995.
Wissum was lunching with his wife when police came to arrest him for fraud he didn't commit. He spent three harrowing months in solitary confinement.
"The worst part is the uncertainty," he says. "It is just terrible. You ... believe, when you have been there quite some time, that you are actually losing your mind. I thought at the time that I was going crazy."
More than half of all suspects in Denmark go to solitary. Human rights organizations claim that as many as one in ten is innocent.
Police call solitary 'a necessity'
In 1996, 1,125 people were sent to solitary confinement, 27 of them for more than six months.
"They may be in prison for six months," says Ole Esperson, chairman of the Baltic Sea Commission on Human Rights, "and then suddenly they have to go to court and defend themselves in a very complicated trial, maybe a financial case, and there is a risk that it is not a fair trial."
Solitary confinement has passionate defenders, among them the police, who say Denmark's legal system makes the practice critical.
There is no plea bargaining, for example, which lowers incentives for suspects to confess or produce evidence. And suspects who are not isolated have the incentive of concealing evidence and tailoring their alibis.
Danish police say solitary is especially useful when dealing with drug offenses and other serious crimes.
"It is an absolute necessity when you talk about organized crime," says deputy chief of police Arne Stevens.
Cases are reviewed monthly
And, in truth, it could be worse. Unlike a recent British case where it took three men 18 years to be freed while their case was appealed, cases in Denmark are reviewed monthly.
Family visits are allowed weekly and other diversions -- radio, television, books and newspapers -- are permitted.
Still, it is ironic that a person arrested in Denmark might wind up in solitary, guilty until proven innocent.
Christian Wissum says isolation so ravaged him that he could barely read or write when he got out.
"It is a kind of torture," Wissum says. "In my opinion it is torture undertaken by the official Danish authorities against a citizen."
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