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Sweden: Proposal to Do Away with Penalty of Compulsory Institutional Care

(Apr. 6, 2012) It was reported on April 3, 2012, that a government-appointed committee has presented a proposal to the Ministry of Social Affairs to eliminate the possibility of sentencing criminals to compulsory institutional care. The committee has been studying the relevant laws on the subject since 2008, and it recommended that Sweden follow the practice of many other Western countries in regard to psychiatric treatment and institutional care. (Sweden Mulls Scrapping Mental Care as Penalty, THE LOCAL (Apr. 3, 2012).)

According to the proposal, criminals would still have to be deemed responsible for their own actions in order for them to be convicted and sentenced to imprisonment. As a result, those suffering from psychiatric illnesses, but considered responsible for their acts, could be sentenced to prison, a measure that is not possible under current Swedish law. The proposal states, however, “that it is important even for these to receive psychiatric care in prison at an early stage.” (Id.) Chapter 30, section 6, of the Penal Code stipulates: “A person who commits a crime under the influence of a serious mental disturbance may not be sentenced to imprisonment. If, in such a case the court also considers that no other sanction should be imposed, the accused shall go free from sanction. (Law 1991:1138)” (The Penal Code, Ds 1999:36 [English translation with amendments up to May 1, 1999], Government Offices of Sweden website; Brottsbalk [Penal Code] (1962:700) (as last amended Jan. 9, 2012), NOTISUM.SE.)

A Swedish criminologist, Mikael Rying, expressed criticism of the proposal, noting, “[i]t isn't as if I am for more lenient punishments but it is reasonable these people should be treated in places where there are people with the expertise to deal with them … .” In his view, the Swedish Prison and Probation Service lacks the ability to cope with such individuals, whose dangerous behavior, he maintains, “won't go away with severe punishment.” (Sweden Mulls Scrapping Mental Care as Penalty, supra.) In contrast to the 1970s, when two out of three murderers in Sweden were reportedly convicted to psychiatric care in Sweden, in 2011 the number was 13%. Therefore, Rying questions whether new legislation is really needed at all. (Id.)