What Sweden's Empty Prisons Can Teach Us About Criminals

Rebecca Stokes

jail cellDid you hear about Sweden? No, I'm not talking about the snow. Rather, the fact that due to lack of criminals to fill them -- Sweden is shutting down four of its prisons. Before you pack your bags and learn to accept extreme cold as part of your new reality, you should know that crime hasn't gone down there. In fact, it's actually gone ever-so-slightly up.

So what's with the lack of furious inmates incarcerated, I hear you sassily inquire. Ah, now here is where it gets interesting. Over the past several years Sweden has put a real emphasis on rehabilitation INSTEAD of immediately throwing someone into the clink. How do you like them apples? Sweden is trying to solve a problem rather than lock it up. It's an interesting idea, that's for sure, and Sweden's not alone -- several European countries are following similar models.

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It's easy to look at the shuttered doors of their prisons as proof that their system is working. That is, if you overlook their still-nominally-rising crime rate. I'm not saying that because I disagree with their model. On the contrary, I think that putting on emphasis on rehabilitation in the system in the U.S. is something we as a nation should have begun doing a long time ago. It's not a secret that our prison system is broken. Just look at our chronically high recidivism rate! If you've committed a crime in the U.S. and been sent to prison, the odds are not in your favor of staying out of jail.

I think we need to re-examine how quick we are to send people to do time in prison rather than addressing the actual underlining causality. We hear constantly about prison over-crowding here in the states, and as funny as it to think about, we can't exactly export our convicts to Sweden. This is part of why I have no problem -- on one level -- with stupid celebrities doing days of time in jail instead of years. They SHOULDN'T be draining our resources behind bars instead of doing community service. Maybe this is something we need to think about for our non-famous non-violent low-grade offenders. 

Do you think we should look at Sweden's system to curb over-crowding in our prisons, or are they off-base?

 

Image via derekskey/Flickr

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