Swedish society faces major challenges in expanding prison capacity to deal with serious crime and the many gang conflicts in certain immigrant communities. At the same time, there are alarming signals on how criminal gangs are increasingly taking control of institutions by bribing employees or initiating sexual relations with them. This is reported by writer Mats Dagerlind at Samnytt.

Dozens of new prisons need to be built and thousands of people need to be hired to deal with the problems in Swedish cities. In order to bring in all these new employees, the requirements may have to be lowered. This, in return, will increase the risk of bringing in unsuitable people who can be more easily manipulated by the inmates.

A number of cases have already been revealed where prison officers were bribed to become the inmates’ errand boys. They have fixed mobile phones or drugs and facilitated communication between the prisoners and their cronies on the outside so that the criminal enterprise can continue.

Several scandals have also been revealed where female prison officers have started sexual relations with criminal men and have provided various services for them. It has been seen that the gangs have actively tried to plant their own people in the prisons and train to become prison guards.

A recent report shows that these problems have doubled in a short time. “What we saw as a risk a few years ago has now become a reality,” says Josefin Skoglund at the Norwegian Correctional Service’s security department in a comment to the media.

The prison service must be expanded and many new employees must be hired to keep up with the wave of serious crime that is sweeping Sweden. Unfortunately, the existing prisons are already understaffed. This increases the work pressure on the existing staff and creates a vicious spiral.

In its latest annual report, the Correctional Service reports on shortcomings in both the quality and quantity of prison staff. They report a “very strained staffing situation” where one in five prison officers have left the profession in the past year alone.

“We have a hard-pressed working environment that causes experienced employees to resign. This creates a huge recruitment requirement and sees a constant influx of new personnel”, explains Heidi Noteklint, president of the trade union Seko Kriminal.

She confirms that the requirements for working as a prison guard have been lowered, while at the same time the work has become more demanding as serious crime has increased in scope. The age limit of 23 years to be employed has been lifted, as well as the requirement that applicants must have at least upper secondary education. In many countries, it is a matter of course that you must have a clean criminal record in order to work in a prison. However, having a previous criminal record is no obstacle to employment as a prison officer in Sweden.

Heidi Noteklint agrees with the concerns that the lowered requirements increase the risk of unsuitable people being employed to guard the prisoners.

Between a third and half of those who are employed as Swedish prison guards have been allowed to do so without even having completed the compulsory basic education. The risk of prison guards succumbing to pressure from the inmates also increases as a result of deviations from the routines that the guards should always work in pairs. Nowadays, they often meet the prisoners alone. This also increases the risk of being exposed to violence and hostage situations.

Surveys show that a majority of those who work as prison officers believe that security in the institutions cannot be maintained with today’s understaffing and low levels of competence. At the Class 1 institutions where, among others, gang leaders, murderers and terrorists serve their sentences, five out of six employees agree with this opinion.

There is an average of one incident a day in a Swedish prison that can be classified as infiltration and/or inappropriate behaviour by a prison officer where a prisoner or his cronies on the outside were bought or duped. Just a year ago, there were half as many. Next year, the number may have doubled again.

Just a few of these cases lead to investigation and disciplinary or legal action. The Probation Service’s powers to act against the problems are limited.

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