December 9, 2013

Score One For Sweden

Ah, Sweden.  'tis a wonderful place, with a deep well of excellent prog bands, from the bucolic symphonic splendor of The Flower Kings to the brutal RIO of Gosta Berling's Saga. It is a place where, so the song says, "the coulds are nice," where "the weather's realy pleasin' and they have good rice."  Then, of course, there are Volvos.

Now they've got another thing to add to the "pro" column, at a time when most other countires, and certainly ours, can't hope to match them - they're closing prisons (via):
Sweden has experienced such a sharp fall in the number of prison admissions in the past two years that it has decided to close down four prisons and a remand centre.

'We have seen an out-of-the-ordinary decline in the number of inmates,' said Nils Öberg, the head of Sweden's prison and probation services. 'Now we have the opportunity to close down a part of our infrastructure that we don't need at this point of time.'
Before you say, "well of course they're going to shut down prisons when the crime rate drops," keep in mind that the crime rate in the United States - particular the violent crime rate (you know, where there are actual victims) - has been going down for decades.  

In spite of that (although some will argue because of that), we put more people in prison than any other place on Earth:
The US has a prison population of 2,239,751, equivalent to 716 people per 100,000. 

China ranks second with 1,640,000 people behind bars, or 121 people per 100,000, while Russia's inmates are 681,600, amounting to 475 individuals per 100,000.
The Swedes, by contrast, lock up only about 76 of every 100,000 people, good for either 112th or 180th in the world, depending on who's counting.

To what do the Swedes attribute this sudden surplus of prisons?  Part of it stems from a recent court decision that limited drug sentences, but part of it is also a reflection of:
Sweden's liberal prison approach, with its strong focus on rehabilitating prisoners.
In fact, in the editorial announcing the numbers Öberg argued:
Sweden needed to work even harder on rehabilitating prisoners, doing more to help them once they had returned to society.
Can you imagine something similar happening in this country?  Think about how those prison closures would quickly become economic issues.  After all, so many poor rural communities are tying their futures to the booming prison business, who's to say that closing prisons wouldn't wind up like trying to get rid of weapons systems the Pentagon doesn't want because of the pork associated with their production?  At best, we'd wind up with a bunch of uselessly open empty prisons.  At worst, the powers that be would find new and devious ways to keep them full.

So, congrats, Sweden on your sudden excess of punitive real estate.  Please don't sell them off to any Americans, OK?  It's hard enough to keep my clients close to home as is.

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