Sweden’s unethical criminal justice system

It is hard to justify absence of punishment for child sex crimes, much less understand placing the offender’s civil rights above the liberties of an innocent child

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Pity the little children
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Melissa S. Gresham
On 1 December 2013 17:55

It is impossible to believe that any government agency would allow a paedophile to adopt a child on the basis that his relapse into criminal behavior seemed low.

But a man convicted of molesting a five-year-old girl has been given permission to adopt a ten-year-old boy by Sweden’s municipality social affairs committee. An assessment was not given to back up the decision; but based on research of criminal recidivism in Sweden, an overview of the criminal justice process, and the liberal attitude on prison treatment and rehabilitation, Sweden needs ethical policy makers.

Studies show the child sex offender recidivism rate in Sweden is as high as 35 percent compared to other types of sexual crimes at 13 percent.

Among the reoffended adult males, the studies show “that incarceration had almost no preventive impact on sexual and violent recidivism” (Carlstedt, 2012). Additionally, recent statistics from Brå show overall recidivism among men is 44 percent and 92 percent relapsed into crime if they have had nine previous adjudications.

The man approved to adopt has had 90 guilty convictions in his life. From these statistics, how is it concluded that Swedish authorities do not fear he will relapse?

Sweden’s lenient imprisonment policy has evolved from the New Penal Code and the Prison Treatment Act, which aims to re-socialise or transform prisoners. The goal is to “empty the prisons”, seeing incarceration as rehabilitation rather than punitive. A life sentence in Sweden can be shortened to 14 to 16 years based on good behavior.

Upon studying the Swedish criminal justice system, the most concerning aspect is the attitude behind the policy decisions.

Qualitative studies show punishment decisions are based on minimising the loss of individual freedom, protecting liberty, and repairing social conditions from which the crime originated. By understanding mental and social factors related to the criminal activity, the Swedish Prison and Probation Service believe they can determine what individual hardships led to the crime in the first place.

But it is hard to justify absence of punishment for child sex crimes, much less understand placing the offender’s civil rights above the liberties of an innocent child.

Children, when they are involved, are the true victims in any crime, especially molestation. It is imperative, therefore, that policy-making takes an ethical approach to include obligations, with all consequences and ultimate ends considered.

This does not equate to the release of a sex offender with such high recidivism, much less allowing him to be responsible for a young child. It is difficult, therefore, to draw any conclusion other than the liberal Swedish approach to imprisonment and rehabilitation is heinous and unethical to society. 

Melissa S. Gresham is an Adjunct Instructor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a former helicopter pilot with the U.S. Army. She is also completing her Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration with a specialisation in Terrorism, Mediation, and Peace. Follow her on twitter @melissa_gresham

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