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EXPLAINED: What happens when a foreigner goes to prison in Sweden?

Foreign citizens are significantly over-represented in Swedish prisons. Here are some of the rules about how they should be treated.

EXPLAINED: What happens when a foreigner goes to prison in Sweden?
A prisoner reads a book in his cell in Sweden. Photo: Swedish Prison and Probation Authority

How many foreigners are in prison in Sweden? 

According to the Swedish Prison and Probation Service, 2,820 of the 8,960 people who began a prison sentence in 2020, about 31 percent, lacked Swedish citizenship, meaning foreigners are significantly over-represented. 

What help can foreigners get from the embassies when in prison in Sweden? 

Consular staff from many countries will help you contact relatives back home, and also contact Sweden’s authorities on their citizens’ behalf if they report mistreatment. 

“The Embassy provides impartial, non-judgemental assistance to British citizens who have been arrested or are in jail in Sweden. We aim to make sure they are treated properly in line with Swedish regulations, and no less favourably than other prisoners,” the UK embassy told The Local in a statement. 

The UK embassy also has a ‘prisoner pack‘ explaining the system in Sweden and what help those sentenced to imprisonment can expect from them. The German embassy has a list of German-speaking lawyers citizens can call on if arrested. 

READ ALSO: What happens if a foreigner gets arrested in Sweden 

Is it possible to get released early, and serve less than your full sentence? 

Prisoners in Sweden typically serve two thirds of their sentence so long as they behave well. This is called villkorlig frigivning, or “parole”. It only applies to sentences longer than one month.

What right do you have to serve your sentence in your home country? 

To get a transfer to their home countries the prisoner should first inform the prison of their interest in applying. They can then make a formal application by filling in this form

How successful they are likely to be depends on where their home country is.

In 2021, 148 prisoners were transferred from Sweden to another country, 13 of them to another Nordic country and 73 to another EU country. None were transferred to countries outside the EU. 

Is it possible to get leave from prison to visit family or attend important events? 

In Sweden, prisoners can apply for and be granted “permission“, to leave the prison for a certain number of hours to, for example, visit the Swedish Public Employment Service, go to Alcoholics Anonymous, or visit family. 

According to Ulf Mossberg, a press officer at the Swedish Prison and Probation Service, prisoners could even be granted permission to leave Sweden for a short period. 

“A detainee can be granted permission to go to another land only if there are special reasons and sufficient control can be maintained. Special reasons could include, for example, a visit to a loved one who is close to death,” he said.  

What difference does a prisoner’s home country make for transfers? 

A lot. Within the Nordic countries, there is a well-established system that enables citizens of other Nordic countries who are given a prison sentence in Sweden to serve part or all of their sentence in their home country. 

Since 2015, there has also been a European Union framework for transfer of prisoners back to their home countries, Ulf Mossberg, a press officer at the Swedish Prison and Probation Service, told The Local.

The UK also has a Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Sweden. 

Mossberg said that transfers outside the EU tended to be difficult to arrange. 

“In addition to the fact that both countries need to agree on a transfer, it is generally the case that there needs to be a certain standard and humanitarian values ​​in the countries that are to take over the convicted person in order for a transfer to be possible,” he said. “In some countries, prison conditions are poor, which means that Sweden cannot transfer convicts to all countries. Some countries have no agreement at all with Sweden.”

According to Mossberg, arranging a transfer in these cases can be so complex and time-consuming that the sentence is over before it happens. More often than not the delay comes from lengthy court processes in the prisoner’s home country. 

“A common obstacle to being able to transfer convicts is that the transfer process can be very long while the sentence times are often short,” he said.

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Swedish opposition proposes ‘rapid tests for ADHD’ to cut gang crime

The Moderate Party in Stockholm has called for children in so called "vulnerable areas" to be given rapid tests for ADHD to increase treatment and cut gang crime.

Swedish opposition proposes 'rapid tests for ADHD' to cut gang crime

In a press release, the party proposed that treating more children in troubled city areas would help prevent gang crime, given that “people with ADHD diagnoses are “significantly over-represented in the country’s jails”. 

The idea is that children in so-called “vulnerable areas”, which in Sweden normally have a high majority of first and second-generation generation immigrants, will be given “simpler, voluntary tests”, which would screen for ADHD, with those suspected of having the neuropsychiatric disorder then put forward for proper evaluations to be given by a child psychiatrist. 

“The quicker you can put in place measures, the better the outcomes,” says Irene Svenonius, the party’s leader in the municipality, of ADHD treatment, claiming that children in Sweden with an immigrant background were less likely to be medicated for ADHD than other children in Sweden. 

In the press release, the party said that there were “significant differences in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD within Stockholm country”, with Swedish-born children receiving diagnosis and treatment to a higher extent, and with ADHD “with the greatest probability” underdiagnosed in vulnerable areas. 

At a press conference, the party’s justice spokesman Johan Forsell, said that identifying children with ADHD in this areas would help fight gang crime. 

“We need to find these children, and that is going to help prevent crime,” he said. 

Sweden’s climate minister Annika Strandhäll accused the Moderates of wanting to “medicate away criminality”. 

Lotta Häyrynen, editor of the trade union-backed comment site Nya Mitten, pointed out that the Moderates’s claim to want to help children with neuropsychiatric diagnoses in vulnerable areas would be more credible if they had not closed down seven child and youth psychiatry units. 

The Moderate Party MP and debater Hanif Bali complained about the opposition from left-wing commentators and politicians.

“My spontaneous guess would have been that the Left would have thought it was enormously unjust that three times so many immigrant children are not getting a diagnosis or treatment compared to pure-Swedish children,” he said. “Their hate for the Right is stronger than their care for the children. 

Swedish vocab: brottsförebyggande – preventative of crime