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Beyond Borders

Eleanor De, about 6 years ago

Sweden, like the rest of Scandinavia, has long had a reputation of a progressive and liberal criminal justice system. Nils Oberg, the director of Sweden's prison and probation service, commented in 2014 that'the business of prison and probation is about two things - people and change'. This mentality is deeply embedded within Swedish society since freedom is widely understood as freedom through the state rather than freedom from the state and this way of thinking was institutionalised after WWII in the welfare state model. It is important to note that the Nordic penal regimes are increasingly being scrutinised for their Janus-faced character with regard to the treatment of immigrants and one should be weary of placing any jurisdiction on a pedestal. Nonetheless, the broadly rehabilitative stance of the Swedish criminal justice system does provide some useful examples of good practice, two of which will be examined in this blog.

  1. 1. The Krami Scheme

The Krami Scheme helps young offenders rebuild their lives through a work programme which focuses on rebuilding their confidence, preparing them for workplace environments and expanding their social networks. It was originally developed by the Swedish Probation Service, the Labour Institute and the City of Malmö in 1980 as an attempt to encourage greater cohesion between government agencies to improve employment opportunities for young offenders. After its initiative success it was rolled out across Sweden in the 1990s and is now delivered in more than 20 locations and participants are more than 40% more likely to enter full-time employment than those who do take part. Participants are directed to the programme via social workers, probation officers, employment centres or self-selection. They promise to abstain from drugs and alcohol and then dedicated social workers provide 3 weeks of training which aims to instil a positive mentality and work ethic, including activities such as cooking and sports. After this guidance period, participants are placed in internships which last for 2-6 months and lead to full-time employment. To incentivise the employer, Krami provides wage subsidies for 2-3 years, a worthwhile investment since the Board of Health and Welfare showed that over a 15 year period the Krami scheme reduced state expenditure by 2.5 million SEK (£230,000) per individual.

2. Vägen Ut Cooperative

Founded in 2002 with the support of funds from the Swedish ESF (European Social Fund) Council,the Vägen ut! Co-operative is aimed at facilitating entry into employment for those who have difficulties (re)integrating into the labour market, including ex-offenders. The project is made up of 7 co-operatives that employ 50 members and supports an additional 50 people in employment related training and 3 of these specialise in the rehabilitation of people with a criminal history: Vill Solberg (a halfway house for recently release men that follows a structured work programme in horticulture or carpentry), Café Solberg (an offshoot art café for ex-offenders) and Karins Döttrar (which provides 6-12 months work training in handicraft production for women recovering from substance abuse). A 3-year evaluative study found that the work of the Vägen ut! Cooperative provides a sense of empowerment to individuals and creates a sense of solidarity between participants.

The widespread success of such programmes and the rehabilitative mentality serves to demonstrate that, as Nils Oberg said, 'if we reach our goals and manage to increase safety and security in society, it will be money well spent and a social investment worth making'. In 2013 Sweden closed 4 prisons due to the falling prison numbers. There is no doubt that businesses enjoy enormous benefits from the skills and motivation of ex-offenders entering the job market.