Room Available in Swedish Jails

Empty prison cells!?! America is infamous for its overcrowded prisons, but in Sweden, closing prisons due to a lack of inmates is the new normal. Inmate levels in Sweden, which have been decreasing 1% a year since the year 2004, decreased by 6% between 2011 and 2012. Experts predict that the levels will decrease again this year by the same rate. Due to the diminishing number of inmates, the Swedish government closed down prison facilities in the towns of Åby, Håja, Båtshagen, and Kristianstad. Two of the prisons will probably be sold to private buyers and another two will be given for temporary use to other government administrative agencies. Sweden’s prison services will retain the right to reopen two of the closed prisons based on a need for more cells. However, the possibility of this happening is very unlikely.

A possible reason advanced by experts for the drastic drop in prison admissions is the government’s focus on rehabilitation over punishment and that the Swedish courts are issuing “lenient sentences” for drug offences. These reduced sentences are an attempt by the lower courts to conform to a directive issued from the country’s Supreme Court in 2011. According to official data, the Swedish prison population has reduced by nearly a sixth since it peaked at 5,722 in 2004. Hanns von Hofer, a professor at Stockholm University, said that the reduction in inmate population could also be related to a shift in policy towards probationary sanctions instead of short prison sentences for minor thefts, drugs offences and violent crimes. In 2012, there were 4,852 people in prison in Sweden, out of a population of 9.5 million. The math shows that for every 100,000 people, 95 people are behind bars in Sweden. These numbers are severely low when you compare these ratios with other countries around the world.

According to data collected by the International Centre for Prison Studies, the five countries with the largest prison population are the United States, China, Russia, Brazil, and India. The United States currently has a prison population of 2,239,751, calculating to 716 people per 100,000 behind bars. China ranks second with 1,640,000 incarcerated persons, or 121 people per 100,000 behind bars.

Based on these statistics, do you think American courts should be more lenient with regards to the sentencing of drug offenders?

Do you think this mentality would reduce the population in American jails?

What other ways can America prevent people from going to jail?



Photo: St. Thomas Online


  1. America’s drug war has been a highly debated one since it first began. Although I couldn’t agree more with punishing people who are selling drugs, especially when they are selling those drugs to children, I also think some of these sellers are punished a lot more severely than need be. The fact of the matter is there are people serving harsher sentences for selling and possessing certain amounts of weed than people who commit the horrendous crime of rape. There is no legitimate reason one can think of to punish a marijuana dealer more harshly than a rapist. I definitely think these punishments need to be reassessed. I also believe that a stronger focus on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment via incarceration would slow down the influx of American prisoners. If it is one thing we have learned from countries like Sweden it is that we are doing the whole prison thing wrong. Criminals come out of their sentences worse than they went in most of the time and this is because we make no attempt to rehabilitate them as humans. If we can focus on that goal it would make an immense difference on the criminal system in the U.S.

  2. I 1000% support the stance that American courts should be more lenient with regards to the sentencing of drug offenders, and even offenders in general. This mentality would severely reduce the population in American jails. From first hand experience, I see people being put in prison for “aggressive panhandling” or for “smoking a blunt on the street.” Should they be given a year in jail? If they are, is the pan handler going to come out rich, and the pot smoke going to come out hating drugs. The answer to these questions is NO.
    People are individually unique. They do things for a multitude of reasons. Throwing everyone in prison doesn’t help the problem, it actually exacerbates it. The U.S. needs to help people work on their issues, and help people so they will not commit crime again. The criminal justice system should be more than a robotic machine.

  3. I think that the United States should look into this Swedish policy to assist with the issue of prison overcrowding. Prisons being over crowded is a major issue in the United States. A lot of the people taking up space in the prisons are incarcerated for minor drug offenses. If the United States lessened the punishment for drugs or tried more rehabilitative procedures, than the rate of people in prison would lessen extensively. In many suburban towns where crime is low, when people commit a drug offense, they end up being punished harder than people in urban towns where crime rates are higher and the criminal offenses are more extensive. America can prevent more people from going to jail by implementing rehabilitation programs. Not only would the rehabilitation programs lessen the prison population, but it could help stop recidivism rates and make crime lower in general. It is a great idea.

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