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Swedish prisons "full of psychopaths"

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12:25 CET+01:00

The more high profile murderers sentenced to psychiatric care and the more people killed on Sweden's streets by mentally ill people who should have been in psychiatric care, the louder the cries that something is amiss in Sweden's criminal care system.

Are the likes of Mijail Mijailovic and the Knutby nanny simply exploiting the system, like Jack Nicholson's character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, blagging themselves short-term treatment instead of long-term punishment?

While that may be the public's perception, it seems the reality is rather different.

According to research carried out by psychologists on data held by the National Reception Centre (Riksmottagningen), 60% of violent criminals in Swedish jails are psychologically disturbed and "many ought to have been sentenced to psychiatric care instead of prison".

Researchers studied the records of all 2,262 prisoners who have passed through the Reception Centre in Kumla since it opened in 1997. In that time, according to SvD, only seven violent criminals or sex offenders were diagnosed as being seriously psychologically disturbed, while "psychologists had clearly suspected that a further 33 criminals had serious psychological problems". These individuals were nevertheless sent to prison.

"That is characteristic of the sharpening of legal practice since 1999," said professor of Criminology Jerzy Sarnecki. "We have a great number of very disturbed people in our prisons and they'll be there a long time."

Somewhat stating the obvious, SvD described Swedish prisons as "evidently full of psychopaths, antisocial personalities and the generally disturbed". The paper cited the researchers' findings that 40% of sex offenders had personality disorders and 30% of those in jail for serious violent crime were psychopaths.

One man who may end up with treatment instead of punishment is the 52 year old suspected of killing Helén Nilsson in 1989.

This week Sydsvenskan revealed that preliminary psychiatric analysis showed that the man - who is suspected of killing at least one other woman, Jannica Ekblad, in addition to 10 year old Helén - "seems sick" and will be put through more stringent tests after his trial at the end of November.

The case for the prosecution hit a stumbling block this week when a DNA laboratory in England said that it was not possible to accurately analyse the sperm taken from Jannica Ekblad's body. Nevertheless, police are satisfied that the DNA found on Helén Nilsson's body and the droplets of Jannica Ekblad's blood found in a cottage tie the 52 year old to their deaths.

If only police in Linköping had such solid evidence.

After declaring almost two weeks ago that the man who killed a 56 year old woman and an 8 year old boy on a street in broad daylight would be caught "within a week", police were still lacking a suspect.

Although the killer's DNA was found on the knife used to stab his two victims, it did not match anyone in the police's DNA register. The best the police could do was release a description of the man to the public.

"The attacker is thought to be an isolated, psychologically disturbed, young man; a solitary, odd type who has probably been seen wandering around Linköping in the evenings and at night," said Kerstin Mälman of the Östgöta police information department.

The problem for the police, according to Mälman, is that nobody saw the killer's face. Nevertheless, following the release of the description on Monday the police were flooded with tips as to the killer's identity.

So many, in fact, that the police couldn't handle all the calls, Mälman admitted to Dagens Nyheter on Wednesday.

"Now we've increased our staff and ask people who couldn't get through on Tuesday to try again," she said.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Sydsvenskan

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