Rethinking Sweden’s prisons

Sweden prides itself on treating prisoners humanely, valuing rehabilitation over punishment, but recent high-profile escapes have created a public and media outcry, says the New York Times.

The Swedish government has tightened prison security and is performing a comprehensive review of Sweden’s prison system.

Recent high-profile escapes, the first from Sweden’s maximum-security prisons in a decade, underscore a change in the prison population:

  • With close to 5,000 inmates, Sweden’s 43 medium-security prisons and 4 maximum security prisons are operating at capacity.

  • Prison officials say inmates are savvier, bolder, more organised and more violent than in the past; they have become more adept at smuggling in contraband, including weapons and cell phones.

  • Swedish prisons are handling more dangerous inmates from Eastern Europe, more people doing time for drug crimes and a record number of prisoners serving life sentences.

    The government is taking small steps to reconcile the prison problems, but is treading carefully to avoid disparaging the country’s commitment to treat prisoners with dignity. An initial plan to build a bunker-style prison for the most violent offenders has been abandoned, but the government is planning to upgrade the maximum-security wings of three prisons and to convert a fourth prison to high-security.

    Despite the tightened security, inmates are still being treated humanely. Inmates live comfortably in private rooms with their own television set. They also enjoy unlocked cell doors and routine conjugal visits.

    Source: Lizette Alvarez, Escapes Lead Sweden to Rethink Liberal Prison System, New York Times, March 20, 2005.

    For NYT text (subscription required):

    For more on Crime: Prisons:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 4 April 2005
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