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NCJ Number: 203102 Find in a Library
Title: "Well-Built Machine, A Nightmare for the Soul": The Swedish Prison System in Historical Perspective
Journal: Journal of the Institute of Justice and International Studies  Issue:1  Dated:2002  Pages:11-21
Author(s): Roddy Nilsson
Date Published: 2002
Page Count: 11
Type: Historical Overview
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, this paper presents a historical overview of the Swedish prison system and describes the characteristics of its development to the present.
Abstract: The new criminal code of 1864 confirmed the dominant status of the prison in Sweden. The religious and idealistic rhetoric associated with the value of imprisonment hid the more painful elements of the prisons. As in almost all countries that developed a prison system in the 19th century, a paramilitary organization was adopted in Sweden; but this model never became dominant in Sweden, mostly because the majority of the prisons were relatively small. The first decades of the 20th century saw only minor changes in the system. The 1930's marked the beginning of the Swedish Welfare State, and the prison population started to resemble the current population, as juveniles, short-timers, psychiatric patients, and first-time offenders were managed in ways other than through imprisonment. The prisons were largely inhabited by long-term and habitual offenders. A major change was the statutory abolishment of solitary confinement. The new criminal law of 1965 incorporated the concept of treatment into the whole criminal justice system. Sweden, along with the other Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, has the reputation of being the most lenient and liberal prison regime in Europe. The relatively small size of the prison population in these countries has made it easier to develop and maintain more tolerable prison conditions. Other factors impacting the use of imprisonment have been the country's nonviolent history, its cooperative tradition, the steady economic growth, the homogeneous population, and the general social ambitions of the welfare state. The low degree of political influence in the criminal justice field has also made it possible for a relatively small group of committed reformers to influence penal development in a humanitarian way. Although an ideological shift toward harsher criminal politics began to emerge in the 1980's and 1990's, Sweden has continued to resist a large-scale use of imprisonment. For the last three decades, the prison population has hovered around 60 per 100,000 inhabitants. In the last 4 years, the implementation and expansion of electronic monitoring and community service has produced a 20 percent decrease in the prison population. 41 footnotes
Main Term(s): Corrections policies
Index Term(s): Corrections in foreign countries; Foreign correctional systems; History of corrections; Prison conditions; Sweden
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