Jailhouse shock

Whilst most Swedes finally got a taste of summer this week as temperatures soared across the country, the prison service came in for a real roasting. The broadsheets and the tabloids carried daily stories of

overcrowding, escalating violence between inmates, drug abuse and corruption within the prison service itself.

On Sunday Dagens Nyheter revealed that Justice Minister Thomas Bodström was feeling the heat after the thrills and spills of the recent outbreaks from Hall and Norrtälje prison. Prime Minister Göran Persson came to the rescue, proclaiming support for the minister, but admitted, “I’m deeply concerned by what has happened.”

Persson then put his weight further behind Bodström, supporting his suggestion that Sweden’s most dangerous prisoners should be secured in specialist, high-security prisons.

“Although the prison service aims to rehabilitate prisoners,” Persson explained, “our aim is to ensure the safety of the general public.”

On Tuesday morning Svenska Dagbladet dramatically revealed prison staff at Hall were responsible for helping Tony Olsson, Daniel Maiorana and two other inmates in last month’s jailbreak. The reason? Olsson wasn’t locked in his cell the night he escaped.

Delivering a heavy dose of doom and gloom, Tuesday’s expressen announced: The Prison Service is in Crisis”. The paper revealed that “there are more and more prisoners” in Sweden. But despite being “increasingly dangerous” the inmates “just don’t feel as well as they used to.” Bless.

In the last eight years the average length of sentence being handed out has increased from six to eight months. This has reportedly led to overcrowding and escalating outbreaks of violence behind bars. Moreover, the number of prisoners serving life-sentences has almost tripled in the last ten years.

Meanwhile, Aftonbladet was occupied with a more pressing issue: why a female prison warder had reportedly had sex with a prisoner serving a life-sentence.

“The relationship went on for over fifteen months before it was noticed,” tutted the paper, which pointed out that this wasn’t the first time it had happened.

“It’s a problem when female guards fall in love with prisoners,” Aftonbladet explained, citing a number of incidents that have occurred over the last few years in which female staff have had a sexual relationship with prison inmates.

All the same, Lena Häll Eriksson, Director General of the Prison Service, admitted she was “shocked” at the corruption and lack of professionalism amongst warders. Especially after it was revealed on Wednesday that a 25 year-old male prison guard from Södertälje had been arrested on suspicion of helping jailbird Tony Olsson and his cronies escape Hall prison last month.

Eriksson admitted, “I’ve a feeling [the corruption] runs much deeper than I originally thought.”

After a summer that has seen two jail breaks and worrying allegations of corruption, Sweden’s prison service is likely to remain under increased scrutiny. Indeed, already next week government inspector Björn Eriksson will be setting out to discover what really happened at Hall and Norrtälje.

As Justice Minister Thomas Bodström explained, “He’s completely free to recommend any changes to the current set up.”

Completely free? Unless the changes come soon, he won’t be the only one.

Jon Buscall