EU anti-torture body blasts Swedish jails

EU anti-torture body blasts Swedish jails
A view of a hallway at the Kronoberg remand centre in Stockholm
The Council of Europe's anti-torture body has criticized Sweden for the long periods of isolation endured by inmates in the country's jails and remand prisons.

In its preliminary observations following a visit to Sweden in June, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) found that Sweden had not taken sufficient action to meet recommendations made by the committee during its last visit in 2003.

In a statement issued by the committee’s Second Vice-President Pétur Hauksson, CPT said the action taken by Sweden “still fails to meet the Committee’s concerns (in particular, in the areas of legal safeguards against ill-treatment of persons in police custody, the imposition of restrictions on remand prisoners, the isolation of certain categories of sentenced prisoners, and the holding of immigration detainees in prisons).”

The committee stressed that Sweden must do more to limit the time spent by prisoners in isolation and slammed the “quasi-systematic” imposition of restrictions for remand prisoners, which led to periods of 6 to 18 months in isolation.

CPT commended officials in Gothenburg for taking steps to improve conditions but added that they were still far from meeting new targets, which in any case were deemed insufficient.

The committee detailed the deleterious effects of isolation, which have let to thirty suicide attempts at Gothenburg Remand Prison in the first six months of this year.

“Significant periods of isolation induce disorientation in time, memory disturbance, and deterioration in communication skills, to name but three serious effects. Further, symptoms of anxiety disorder are commonly seen, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression develop, and there is agitation, self harm and a risk of suicide.

“The fact that juveniles as young as 15 are being subjected to restrictions akin to isolation is of particular concern to us.”

The acting head of the national prison service’s western division, Christer Krohn, confirmed that there has been a “large increase” in the number of suicide attempts at Gothenburg Remand Prison, a development that could be partially explained by isolation practices.

“We notice that those being held are in a worse mental condition now,” he told newspaper Göteborgs-Posten.

Gothenburg prosecutor Mats Eriksson told the newspaper that he welcomed the committee’s report but added that he did not believe restrictions were more common in Gothenburg than at other remand prisons.

Prosecutors are authorized to request restrictions on remand prisoners if there is deemed to be a risk that they will jeopardize an investigation through contact with mass media or individuals close to the crime of which they are accused.

“As prosecutors we are tasked with investigating crimes. And it often happens that remand prisoners make contact with witnesses or victims, causing them to pull out. This is why it is necessary for them to face restrictions,” he said.

The preliminary findings from the CPT come a year after a report from the United Nations Committee against Torture also directed strong criticism against Sweden for the conditions in its remand prisons. The UN report argued that cut backs within the prisons service have created security risks for both staff and inmates.

CPT found that staff cuts at Hall and Kumla high security prisons, as well as the Gothenburg remand prison, had led to reduced access to toilets and the provision of assistance, particularly at night. Low staff levels could constitute a risk for both staff and prisoners, the committee said.

The committee found that conditions for prisoners at Hall and Kumla were generally of a high standard, but noted that troublesome prisoners were held in isolation for over a year in some cases.

“The regime offered to such inmates at Hall and Kumla Prisons was extremely impoverished (out-of-cell time being limited to one hour of outdoor exercise per day, which was taken alone).”

The committee also recommended improvements to procedures used by police establishments, Migration Board detention centres, psychiatric establishments and a home for young people.

A full report is to be presented by CPT to the Swedish government in November and will take into account the responses of the Swedish authorities to the committee’s preliminary findings.

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