• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Swedish jails empty despite crime rise
Open house day at Swedish prison. File photo: Claes Sandén/Kristianstad kommun/Flickr

Swedish jails empty despite crime rise

The Local · 10 Jan 2014, 12:01

Published: 10 Jan 2014 10:57 GMT+01:00
Updated: 10 Jan 2014 12:01 GMT+01:00

Swedish judge Carin Westerlund says she seldom hesitates to take the opportunity of keeping a convict out of prison.
   
"I can choose to hand down a probation or community service sentence rather than condemn someone to prison," Westerlund, a judge in Uppsala district, told AFP. She added that in the cases where alternative sentences were not available, she had seen no change in the severity of sentencing.
 
"Burglaries, narcotics or sexual violence, I'd say the sentences haven't changed in the last ten years," Westerlund said.
   
As Swedish judges opt for electronic tagging and other sentences that keep inmate numbers down, Sweden is closing prisons. Anyone sentenced to less than six months in jail has the right, since 2005, to request an electronic bracelet rather than incarceration. Many judges have embraced the policy.
   
Along with its Nordic neighbours, Sweden has one of the world's lowest incarceration rates, at 0.5 per 1,000. It is half the level of France and ten times less than the United States. The country's prison population fell by nearly 1,000 inmates over the last decade to about 4,300, reveal figures from the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården).
   
Greater use of electronic bracelets and probation may not explain alone the rapid fall in the number of prisoners, correctional officers said.
   
"It's still too early to give definitive answers," said Nils Öberg, head of the Prison and Probation Service.
  
A recent study from Stockholm University's criminology department indicated that non-custodial sentences have played a major role in slashing prisoner numbers. In 2011, the Supreme Court (Högsta domstolen) issued new criteria for drug trafficking convictions, which resulted in less severe sentencing for more minor crimes.
 
   
 Swedish courts are also more likely to grant parole after two-thirds of a sentence has been served. Another factor may be large state investments in rehabilitation and recidivism prevention programmes.
   
A 38-year-old inmate at Norrtälje prison, who declined to give his name, said that prisoners in Sweden have access to education and "a chance to start over."
   
"It's the first time I serve a sentence and I hope it'll be the last." 
 
 
Statistics from the National Crime Prevention Council (Brottsförebyggande rådet - Brå) revealed that reported crimes are on the rise, from 1.2 million in 2004 to 1.4 million in 2012. The increase included a significant rise in reported drug crimes, fraud and assault.
 
The statisticians noted in their half-year review published at the end of 2013, howevver, that reported crime rates should not be interpreted as reflecting the number of  actual crimes committed. The public's willingness to report crime and the intensity of certain police work, for example, could influence the numbers, Brå argued.
 
"The number of reported crimes in certain criminal areas, such as narcotics and traffic offences, is in large part due to the police's and other authorities' efforts to investigate (them)."
 
Sweden's current conservative government has attempted to bring in tougher sentencing for serious crimes, in particular murder, but their proposals have run up against opposition from a judiciary that believes more in rehabilitation than punishment. That more lenient approach is supported by many Swedes but it has its critics, not least from the National Victim Support Association (Brottsofferjouren - Boj).
   
Story continues below…
"Life sentences for murder cases are not that frequent anymore," said Sven-Erik Alhem who heads the association. "In my opinion, it's obvious that any murder case should be punished by life sentences... It's very important to say that the families of those who have been killed suffer a lot. They don't think it's right to have a short period of time in prison."
   
In 2013, Sweden closed four prisons and one rehabilitation centre, out of a total of 82 penal institutions. Correctional services head Öberg said the facilities were "quite old" and that a big investment would have been needed to keep them operational. The remaining institutions are generally under-occupied.    
 
"If short sentences are served in probation, that empties the prisons," said Anders Ekström, inspector of Norrtälje prison, which has 160 inmates and a capacity for 200.
   
Öberg does not think fewer criminals in the country's prisons will lead to more violence or put him out of work.
   
"It's a good opportunity to work on preventing re-offending and finding a more effective way to strengthen public order and security in the long-run." 
 
Ariane Picard
AFP/TL/at

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Where to see the Northern Lights in Sweden
The Northern Lights pictured in Sweden on Wednesday night. Photo: Norrsken Sverige

An unusually high level of solar activity means the spectacle could be visible from rare spots in the country.

Swedish police 'in crisis' says union head
A file photo of Swedish police officers. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

The creation of a new merged national police authority in Sweden has not gone well, according to the Swedish Police Union.

Nobel Prizes 2016
Nobel Literature Prize announcement delayed
Haruki Murakami (pictured) is one of the bookmakers' favourites. Photo: Bernat Armangue/AP/TT

The delay is due to 'arithmetic', an academician said.

Horny elk hold up Swedish hunt
One of the randy animals in question. Photo: Mikael Fritzon/TT

The giant things just can't contain themselves.

Sweden to ban masks but not burqas at football matches
A masked supporter at a Stockholm derby football match last year. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

The ban is designed to curb violence at sporting events in Sweden, but it must also follow conventions on religious freedom.

Video
Heckler humbles Swedish golf champion with perfect putt
Henrik Stenson met his match in the final practice for the Ryder Cup. Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP/TT

Well that wasn't supposed to happen...

Presented by Invest Stockholm
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges

It’s no secret that Stockholm is serious about sustainability. We took a look at how the city's emerging startups are tackling global challenges, making the world a better place.

Warm weather melts H&M profits
An H&M store in central Stockholm. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

A warm autumn may be good news for Swedes, but it was bad news for Sweden's biggest clothing brand.

Rail delays after heavy winds batter Sweden
The weather is expected to clear up. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Commuters were advised to take it easy in traffic on Friday, after harsh winds toppled trees across roads and railways across Sweden.

Homes
In pictures: Eight traditional Swedish tiled stoves
A tiled stove. Photo: Wrede Fastighetsmäkleri

The traditional Swedish masonry stove (kakelugn) is still a popular feature in many homes today. Houzz.se's Amanda Strömberg has found out more.

Sponsored Article
‘I view the world in a different way now’
National
OPINION: Sweden bad, Norway good, Trump better? I'm confused
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
National
Here's how much Sweden's highest-earning authors make
National
Where to see the Northern Lights in Sweden
Blog updates

27 September

Cutting your nose …. (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Last week, Jeremy Browne, the Special Representative for the City of London, visited Sweden. Jeremy was…" READ »

 

7 September

Svensk or svenska? (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hejsan! My inbox is full of questions :-). Here’s one about when to use “svensk” and…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Expat finances in Sweden: the Common Reporting Standard
Gallery
People-watching: September 28th
Sponsored Article
Let's Talk: a personal Swedish language tutor in your pocket
National
Aliens' sex lives? Why Swedes want Nasa to send a condom into space
Analysis & Opinion
'If Sweden really wants startups, drop the red tape on migration'
Gallery
Property of the week: Gotland
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Trump an 'embarrassment' Springsteen tells Sweden
Sponsored Article
'Creating a sense of home': Collective living in Stockholm
Gallery
People-watching: September 23rd-25th
Politics
Russian Sweden Democrat aide resigns over suspect deal
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
National
Muslim teacher leaves job after not shaking male colleague's hand
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: 'So much more than beaches'
Travel
Why we adore autumn in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 21st
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
Stockholmers hunt killer badger after attack on neighbourhood hipster cat
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
The Local Voices
Why this Russian developer is committed to helping refugees - with tech
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
Six key points in Sweden's budget plan
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
The Local Voices
How a Swedish name finally made recruiters notice this Iranian's CV
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Gallery
Property of the week: Luleå
Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden’s ’a-kassa’
Gallery
People-watching: September 16th-18th
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Culture
Why Swedish TV has given these kids' trucks a sex swap
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
National
TIMELINE: Everything you need to know about the Julian Assange case
Gallery
People-watching: September 14th
Politics
Why Sweden is putting troops on holiday dream island Gotland
The Local Voices
'What I mean when I say: I came here to blow myself up'
Society
VIDEO: Are Swedes that unfriendly?
The Local Voices
'Whenever I apply for jobs I’m treated like an unwanted stranger'
3,006
jobs available