“Our in-depth analysis shows that children are routinely isolated while under arrest or being held on remand and are held shielded from social human contact for 22 or more of a day’s 24 hours,” Fredrik Malmberg, Sweden’s Ombudsman for Children (Barnombudsmannen) told the TT news agency.
Malmberg, who on Tuesday presented a report to the government detailing conditions facing children held on remand, said he was upset that prosecutors often decide to keep children longer than the standard six hours.
According to current rules, suspects aged 15-17 must be released after six hours unless a prosecutor decides otherwise.
Following a decision to hold a young suspect longer than six hours, a prosecutor then has three days before a prosecutor must file a new motion to extend the detention.
By noon on the third day following an arrest, prosecutors must decide whether they will file a remand order. By the fourth day, a court is required to rule on the motion, at which point the suspect can be released or moved to a remand centre.
According to figures from the ombudsman’s investigation, children were held under arrest on at least 3,118 occasions in 2011, although it’s unclear how many of the cases resulted in further detention.
However, about 4 percent, 122 cases, resulted in court-ordered remand.
Malmberg explained that holding children in isolation for such extended periods is a form of torture according to the United Nations definition.
“I’ve met children who mention suicidal thoughts, that they don’t recognize themselves and lose their grip on reality,” he said.
“Isolation has serious health effects and research shows that children can suffer from lasting damage after just a few days.”
Justice Minister Beatrice Ask emphasized the importance of being selective when deciding to hold children on remand, but that doing so is sometimes unavoidable.
“It’s a problem that we have so many youngsters that are suspected of such serious crimes and that there may be others who have acted together,” she told TT.
“Clearly it’s important that they not speak to one another or in other ways undermine our chances of figuring out what’s happened and investigating serious crimes. That’s the main problem.”
In his report, Malmberg looked at 108 out of 122 cases in which children were held on remand in 2011 on suspicions of having committed serious crimes.
In 91 cases, the children were slapped with special restrictions which limited their contact with others, including their parents, for several days.
Malmberg criticized the fact that in many cases remand orders for the children lacked reasons for why the special restrictions were used.
He also slammed Sweden’s courts for not being clear about the reasons required as the basis for holding someone between 15- and 17-years-old on remand.
According to Malmberg, Sweden should follow Norway’s model and prohibit the practice of holding minors in isolation in the country’s jails and remand centres.