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Violence on the rise in Sweden’s nearly-full prisons

Sweden’s prisons are nearing capacity and as a result both violence against correctional workers and the presence of illegal weapons are on the rise, according to a report by broadcaster SVT.

Violence on the rise in Sweden's nearly-full prisons
Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/TT
With the nation’s prisons at around 95 percent capacity, attacks on prison staff are increasing. There were 91 reported incidents in which staff members were targeted by violence in 2017, a 65 percent increase from 2015 figures.
 
Violence amongst inmates is also on the rise, with the 327 cases in 2017 representing a 39 percent increase. 
 
“The violence is not growing linearly along with the prison population. It is growing exponentially,” Fredrik Wilhelmsson of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvarden) told SVT
 
Wilhelmsson added, however, that the high occupancy numbers may not be the only reason the figures are up so dramatically. He said prison officials have become better at reporting attacks. 
 
But for Gothenburg prison officer Leif Kyldal, the lack of space within the prisons seems to be the primary factor behind the rise in attacks. 
 
“We have fewer opportunities to move inmates from areas where they shouldn’t be. It may be that they display violent behaviour and shouldn’t be placed among other inmates. That in itself can create problems,” he told SVT. 
 
 
Sweden’s rapidly filling prisons – capacity has jumped from 85 percent to 95 percent in just four years – is a problem officials had predicted. Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said in December that the nation would need hundreds of new prison cells and detention spaces in the coming years in part because of tougher penalties.  
 
With police getting more resources and the punishment in areas like weapons crime more severe, he said that adding hundreds of new prison cells will certainly be necessary, and may not even be sufficient.
 
“Hundreds is not a lot in this context,” Johansson told news agency TT. “The big challenge of the next mandate period will be ensuring that the penal system is shaped so it is capable of taking in those who are now sentenced, and rehabilitates them so that they do not return to crime.”
 
According to the Swedish Prison and Probation Service, the increased prevalence of crime behind prison walls is also leading to the discovery of more hidden weapons as prisoners feel the need to arm themselves against attacks. 
 
The number of seized weapons has more than doubled in just four years, officials said. Most of the weapons are homemade, including filed toothbrushes and sharpened pieces of plastic that have been broken off food trays. 
 

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CRIME

Swedish Green leader: ‘Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity’

The riots that rocked Swedish cities over the Easter holidays were nothing to do with religion or ethnicity, but instead come down to class, the joint leader of Sweden's Green Party has told The Local in an interview.

Swedish Green leader: 'Easter riots nothing to do with religion or ethnicity'

Ahead of a visit to the school in Rosengård that was damaged in the rioting, Märta Stenevi said that neither the Danish extremist Rasmus Paludan, who provoked the riots by burning copies of the Koran, nor those who rioted, injuring 104 policemen, were ultimately motivated by religion. 

“His demonstration had nothing to do with religion or with Islam. It has everything to do with being a right extremist and trying to to raise a lot of conflict between groups in Sweden,” she said of Paludan’s protests. 

“On the other side, the police have now stated that there were a lot of connections to organised crime and gangs, who see this as an opportunity to raise hell within their communities.”

Riots broke out in the Swedish cities of Malmö, Stockholm, Norrköping, Linköping and Landskrona over the Easter holidays as a result of Paludan’s tour of the cities, which saw him burn multiple copies of the Koran, the holy book of Islam. 

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More than 100 police officers were injured in the riots, sparking debates about hate-crime legislation and about law and order. 

According to Stenevi, the real cause of the disorder is the way inequality has increased in Sweden in recent decades. 

“If you have big chasms between the rich people and poor people in a country, you will also have a social upheaval and social disturbance. This is well-documented all across the world,” she says. 
 
“What we have done for the past three decades in Sweden is to create a wider and wider gap between those who have a lot and those who have nothing.” 

 
The worst way of reacting to the riots, she argues, is that of Sweden’s right-wing parties. 
 
“You cannot do it by punishment, by adding to the sense of outsider status, you have to start working on actually including people, and that happens through old-fashioned things such as education, and a proper minimum income, to lift people out of their poverty, not to keep them there.”

This, she says, is “ridiculous”, when the long-term solution lies in doing what Sweden did to end extreme inequality at the start of the 20th century, when it created the socialist folkhem, or “people’s home”. 

“It’s easy to forget that 100 to 150 years ago, Sweden was a developing country, with a huge class of poor people with no education whatsoever. And we did this huge lift of a whole nation. And we can do this again,” she says. “But it needs resources, it needs political will.” 
 
 
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