Foreigners more likely to be crime suspects

People who were born abroad are more likely to end up on the police's register of probable suspects than people whose parents were both born in Sweden.

The likelihood of being added to the register is also greater if one or both parents were born abroad, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), which presented a report on Wednesday. However, those born outside of Sweden are at the greatest risk.

As well as its own research, Brå has examined Swedish and international studies on the subject, and the conclusions drawn in the new report do not differ noticeably from those in a similar report published in 1996.

Sten Höglund, who until recently was the head of the Sociology Institute at Umeå University, is one of the two researchers who analysed the latest material.

He said that the increased risk of a person with a foreign background ending up on the suspects register was not insignificant “but nevertheless moderate”.

Höglund also made it clear that there are weak grounds for discussing crime rates from the perspective of ethnic differences.

“The dominant difference in all crime is gender,” he said.

“The difference between men and women is significantly greater – to the men’s disadvantage – than the ethnic differences. There is also a greater risk of ending up on the register if you are from the lower class.”

Jerzy Sarnecki, Professor of Criminology at Stockholm University, has also had a good look through Brå’s report, but was reluctant to comment before its publication.

However, Sarnecki acknowledged that the increased likelihood pointed to by Brå does exist.

“I believe that primarily it can be explained by how the situation in the new country develops for these people,” he said.

“We know, for example, that there is discrimination in the job market, and if you can’t get a job you can’t establish yourself – and then the probability of crime is higher.”

An individual’s background could be one factor among many which influence the likelihood of committing a crime, according to Sarnecki. But he pointed out that context is important, using himself as an example:

“The fact that I am a professor at Stockholm University and not an alcoholic in early retirement is not only because I am unbelievably talented, but probably also because I come from a middle class background in a central European country,” he joked.

Sarnecki noted also that many Swedes who moved to Denmark and the USA in the middle of the 1800s faced the classic problems, including crime, which all ethnic minorities can encounter in a new country.

“But it was often the poor people who emigrated,” he said.

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TT/The Local