The mainly neutral to wartime country of Sweden sets between its sister Scandinavian neighbors of Norway and Finland and like all countries in the old world it’s criminal justice system started with an emphasis on corporal punishment, the death penalty, and a centralized prison with a retribution of these being the main goal for the structure when dealing with criminals (Hofer, 2014). Over time Sweden’s criminal justice system has become increasingly more emphasized on the treatment, rehabilitation, and reintegration of criminals. This discussion will give a brief analysis of Sweden, its criminal justice system, government, police, corrections, and the creation of a typical European country in the 1700s to a unique welfare state ideology that has brought the country into the modern era.
Sweden’s’ People, Society, and Economy
For the past two centuries, Sweden had declared armed neutrality, especially during the past two world wars and has thrived incrementally on a mixer of a capitalistic system intertwined with a welfare state and the elements of what that entails (Central Intelligence Agency, 2014). The elongated country is just over the size of California with rolling lowlands in the east and a mountain region in the west. The majority of citizens live in the southern region where the climate is more hospital then the northern ice regions that can be difficult to thrive in certain seasons. As of 2018, Sweden has a population of just over ten million, ranking it at 91 when compared to the rest of the world (Central Intelligence Agency, 2014).
Swedish is the official language, and its people practice a mainly Lutheran sect of Christianity, with a mixer of Roman Catholics, Muslims, and Jews making up the rest of the religious community (Central Intelligence Agency, 2014). Due to the climate in certain parts of Sweden, 87% of the population lives in urban areas with 1.5 million living in the capital of Stockholm (Central Intelligence Agency, 2014). The economy in Sweden, as mentioned, has an open, competitive, capitalistic economy that has allowed the welfare benefits of the state to thrive through exports and resources such as timber, hydropower, iron, engine manufacturing, telecommunication equipment, and other factories direct machinery (Central Intelligence Agency, 2014).
Sweden’s Criminal Justice History
Sweden is a distinctive country in terms of its history of past old-world functioning to a merger of capitalism and socialism that started in the 1980s which at first added a welfare budget to the government while shrinking economic grow (Terrill, 2009), and like its economic modernization over the years, Sweden’s criminal justice system has transformed as well. Sweden and Finland share a similar history with Finland once being part of the Kingdom of Sweden until the Russian Empire, in 1809, conquered Finland, marking the point where the two countries separated (Vuorela, 2017). Before this, the criminal justice system of both countries was based on the Swedish Civil Code of 1734 which adhered to the guidance of lex naturalis, meaning natural law, which supported severe punishments such as death and corporal chastisement (Vuorela, 2017). Out of this “natural law,” both Sweden and Finland evolved to accumulate the economy into a capitalistic welfare state that effected a criminal justice system of reintegration and rehabilitation (Vuorela, 2017). Sweden, when compared to the rest of the world, has a meager modern crime rate. The peak of Sweden’s crime rate was at the height of a great famine in 1866 that affected the Scandinavian region which led to higher property crime rates due to absolute poverty and survival (Vuorela, 2017). Since this event, Sweden’s crime rate and sentencing, in all trends, has fallen considerably. The relations between the United States and Sweden are also a unique aspect of the country given that Sweden was one of the first European countries to recognize American independence, leading to a durable mutual bond hat has grown through the years.
The self –isolation of neutrality that Sweden has prescribed for centuries has led to a mixture of non-allied policies that have been shaped by the protocols of countries like France, Germany, and the United States (Terrill, 2009). This governmental mimicry and isolationism have made Sweden unusually stable with a woman eventually playing a massive role in the modernization of the governmental system with 47% of the seats, in the parliamentary system known as the Riksdag, being held by females (Terrill, 2009). This stability can be seen in Sweden’s constitutional law, which is known as fundamental law, made of four acts (Terrill, 2018). The Swedish constitution is like that of the United States with a preamble that declares the fundamental political principles, principles that stem from the power by the public given to the government that is a democracy (Terrill, 2009). The basis of law in Sweden relays on the constitution mentioned above, which declares freedoms such as press, acts of succession, and civil liberties.
The Police Force in Sweden
Law enforcement in Sweden, like many European nations, started in villages and towns that had self-reliant, self-sustaining police that volunteered their time and effort through tithing. This continued into the 19th century until the reform of the police in Stockholm, which leads to many changes in police professionalism and organization (Terrill, 2009). The new police force is extremely organized with a centralized system that has many checks and balances, which include up to date training. Sweden police force does have an issue of management in that the power or centrality has been seen as a political aspect, or it could be seen as a local one. Over the years, this has led to a nationalized centralization of the Swedish police force but not without some blowback from critics (Terrill, 2009). Even with this criticism, Sweden has continued to rely on the nationalized centrality of organizing its police force headed by the Ministry of Justice that oversees the National Police Board, National Criminal Investigation Department, and the National Police College (Terrill, 2009), leaving no doubt to how the police system is organized. Sweden, even with its low crime rates, has seen a rise in crime over the past few years but even so, the public opinion of the said police force has a high confidence level with over 60% in opinion polls (Terrill, 2009).
A crime that has started to gain traction in Sweden, and that could affect the public opinion of the police force is crimes committed by motorcycle gangs. The growing organization of street crimes and the crimes they commit is seen by Swedish law enforcement as a clear threat to the stability and democracy of the state (Rostami, Melde, & Holgersson, 2015). This seemingly new crime wave brought on by organized motorcycle gangs is being seen as a severe social problem given the popularity of social media and the innovations it has produced in the realm of public opinions and communication (Rostami, Melde, & Holgersson, 2015). As mentioned before, Sweden is a capitalistic and socialist-style country, and public opinion is almost as valuable as money when it comes to the centralized organization of Sweden’s police.
Sweden’s Judiciary System
Sweden’s judiciary system, like the country in general, has come a long way from a “local custom” system of districts, or lands, that dished out their own judicial and legislative power to what they are today (Terrill, 2009). The centralization of Swedish courts was established in the 1600s, which laid the foundation for appeals, criminal, and general trial courts (Terrill, 2009). Currently, the courts with in the country are of a three-tiered court hierarchy that is based on the Code of Judicial Procedure which lays out the organization of a Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and District Courts with the Chancellor of Justice being the countries chief legal adviser (Terrill, 2009). An interesting aspect to point out is that Sweden does not elect their judges into office, but are appointed, nonpartisan, and hold their office for life (Schartmueller, 2018).
The Penal Code of Sweden forms what is and is not a crime such as crimes against life, liberty, health, or public order (Terrill, 2018). The criminal procedure process within the juridical system mirrors in many ways that of the United States were a criminal has the rights and privileges such as succumbing to lawful arrest, the power of search and seizure or detainment, innocents until proven guilty and a trial that allows the prosecution and defense to ask question and or cross-examine the evidence, witnesses, and the defendant (Terrill, 2009).
One of the essential aspects of Sweden’s criminal justice system is its corrections and prisons. There are many similarities between Sweden and the United States, but two main distinctions are the factors of Sweden’s centralized police force and the treatment or implications it puts on its convicted prisoners. This treatment, which has evolved from mostly solitary confinement for the majority of its inmates, has lead Sweden and other Scandinavian countries to be extremely lenient when it comes to sentencing or incarceration with the primary goal of corrections to focus on rehabilitation and the seeking of reintegration back into society with less emphasis on punishment (Schartmueller, 2018). This has led to much shorter sentences in Sweden when compared to the United States with existing programs that lead to conditional release that help minimize the effects of long term imprisonment to have positive reintegration into the surrounding communities (Schartmueller, 2018).
The reformed corrections that Sweden applies to can be defined as ‘Nordic Exceptionalism’ which is a term used to describe the humane treatment and rehabilitative goals when it comes to the corrections of sentenced criminals in Sweden and alike or adjoining country’s in the region (Bruhn, Nylander, & Johnson, 2017).
Sweden’s Criminal Justice System effectiveness and Human Rights
Sweden’s crime rate is currently increasing in some significant areas, but when compared to other countries of greater or like population, Sweden still has a low crime rate in comparison. There has been a rise in crimes such as those involving firearms and sexual assaults. Some believe that this is due to the increase in immigrants matriculating into the region, mainly Muslims, but with a lack of creatable longitudinal studies on this facet the reason for increased crime rates in Sweden could be for multiple reasons stemming from multiple factors.
In the arena of human rights, Sweden is one of the flag carriers for the equal treatment of individuals, no matter race creed or color in all manners that involves a local, state or federal government. Sweden has aided and partnered with corporations such as Human Rights Watch, which was founded in Finland as Helsinki Watch, to call out governments or private organizations that try to take or water down the human and civil rights of citizens of any nation. Due to the influx of immigrants into Sweden, the government suspended, for a time, the activation of an immigrant to claim political asylum, leading to notable world human rights organizations to plead for a lift to the ban.
Bruhn, A., Nylander, P.A., & Johnson, B. (2017) From Prison Guards to What? Occupational Development of Prison Officers in Sweden and Norway, Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, 18:1, 68-83.
Hofer, H. (2014) The Development of Crime in Light of Finnish and Swedish Criminal Justice Statistics, Circa 1750-2010. European Journal of Criminology, 11:2, 169-194.
Central Intelligence Agency. (2016) Sweden. In The world fact book. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/br.html
Rostami, A., Melde, C. & Holgersson, S. (2015) The Myth of Success: The Emergence and Maintenance of a Specialized Gang Unit in Stockholm, Sweden, International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 39:3, 199-217.
Schartmueller, D. (2018) How Long is Life? Comparing the Process of Release for Life-Imprisoned Offenders in Demark, Finland, and Sweden. European Justice Crime Policy Res, CrossMark: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10610-018-9388-z
Terrill, R.J., (2016) World Criminal Justice Systems: A Comparative Survey (9th ed.). NewYork, NY: Routledge.
Vuorela, M. The Historical Criminal Stattistics of Finland 1842-2015: A Systematic Comparison to Sweden, International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 42:2-3, 95-117.