The Swedish Prison System



A Swedish prison cell.

Madeeha Akhtar, Columnist

“Our role is not to punish. The punishment is the prison sentence: they have been deprived of their freedom. The punishment is that they are with us,” says Nils Öberg, director-general of Sweden’s prison and probation service.

Prisons in Sweden are rehabilitative, and designed to treat prisoners as people with psychological needs that need to be taken care of. Prison workers aren’t just there to guard the prison, they are there to fill the roll of an enforcer and a social worker. They balance behavioral regulation while preparing the inmates for re-entering society, according to Mic.

Prisoners in “open prisons” do not spend their time behind bars; rather, they live in housing that resembles dorms from a school, and have more freedom than what most people would usually imagine. Prisoners have access to televisions and are even able to visit their families while being monitored. Mic states, “Prisoners and staff eat together in the community spaces built throughout the prison. None are expected to wear uniforms.” This ties back to treating the prisoners as people with psychological needs. Eating with them will make them feel human.

This system obviously works because according to the Guardian, Swedish prisoner numbers have dropped from 5,722 to 4,500 and last year four prisons were closed because of disuse. Swedish prisons focus on the rehabilitation of prisoners, to limit re-offenders. Sweden has the smallest number of re-offenders in all of Europe, just 16%.

This is in contrast to American’s punitive prison system which is overcrowded and has many mentally-ill prisoners locked up. Nearly two thirds of the released prisoners re-offend and come back to prison. The philosophy behind the Swedish prison system is a positive one, which has resulted in reforming prisoners into good citizens rather than punish them which leads to them re-offending.