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