In Sweden,we’ve got a public authority called the Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO is the Swedish acronym), an institution tasked with ensuring that laws are adhered to and that we as citizens can file complaints if some part of the government has stepped on us. People in general don’t make much use of this right as they go about their daily lives, and if they do, they certainly don’t experience the JO as being very accommodating – yet inmates at Swedish prisons sure make up for it. The background for this article was a JO decision I read this morning dated 30 September this year, where a woman had filed a complaint since she felt it had been “disrespectful and offensive” that corrections officers had interrupted her and her inmate boyfriend when they had engaged in sexual intercourse in front of their five-month-old daughter during a conjugal visit. Swedish JO response here
Inmates are usually free to engage in such intercourse at their will at Swedish institutions, and to my knowledge the officers never interrupt the ones who do, even if you might feel this is a luxury the ones who have had themselves confined to institution life should be denied. Yet this time, on the afternoon of 18 September 2010, they had their little toddler with them in a baby stroller in the middle of the room while they slept with each other in the nearby bed. The corrections officers had noted that the woman had brought their baby into the room, and when they heard from the outside that the couple were engaged in intercourse inside the room, they went up to the shift officer’s quarters because they were worried about the well-being of the child. This officer then accompanied them to the room, carefully knocked on the door to then a couple of seconds later opened it.
The inmate was then asked to come with them to the office, but was given time to get dressed with the door closed. At the office, they explained to him that it was against prison rules and the Social Services Act to engage in sexual intercourse in front of children. Then he was allowed to return to the room. The woman did however feel it was a violation of their personal integrity and decided it was time to make her voice heard about it. Among other things she stated that her daughter was asleep at the time and therefore didn’t see or hear what went on. Furthermore she felt that she and her boyfriend ought to have been explicitly informed about these rules in advance, that you’re not allowed to engage in sexual intercourse within the sight of children – it wasn’t enough that they were urged in person to show respect for other people during their stay at the institution. That’s why she filed a complaint against the two officers who had went for the shift officer.
As is usually the case during JO complaints against the Prison Service, soon a large portion of the prison administration and other staff within the Prison Service were interrogated on what had taken place, among others security inspector Christer Jansson and prison chief Gustaf Robertsson. These men described the extensive information visitors are presented with about the rules during stays, but admitted they’re never explicitly informed that it’s not allowed to engage in sexual intercourse in front of children – as if it should be necessary to point this out.
When it was time for JO Cecilia Nordenfelt to make her decision about this complaint, she expressed herself in the following way:
“The Prison Service has stated that it’s not appropriate that there is sexual activity in a conjugal room where children reside and that it’s not allowed according to prison policy. Personally I remain hesitant to whether it’s reasonable to enforce such a general ban. In normal cases one should, according to my opinion, be able to let this be settled by the child’s guardians. If an institution has a policy concerning sexual intercourse during visits where children are participating it does however appear obvious that the prison informs the inmate and the visitor in advance about this policy. In my opinion it might be suitable to deliver such information in writing. From the investigation, it’s clear that the procedure adhered to by the prison is that the inmate and the visitor are verbally urged to show respect for other people but that they’re not explicitly informed that sexual intercourse isn’t allowed when children are present. I feel it’s not enough with an exhortation to show respect. When taking into consideration that one risks interrupting the conjugal visit because of there being sexual intercourse taking place, the institution has to explicitly brief about the ban in question. The Prison Service deserves criticism for the lacking information.”
So according to this JO it’s acceptable to have sexual intercourse right in front of a toddler, and if the prison doesn’t feel this should be allowed, it’s expected to inform about this in writing. For sure, the complaint didn’t lead to any repercussions for the affected parties – complaints to the JO very rarely do – but it’s unbelievable that such a preposterous complaint leads to such a large investigative effort.
The prison in question – Västervik norra
Even though this prison sure looks comfortable from the outside – the web page
lists occupations such as a workshop (wood and mechanical); education at elementary, high school and university level; agym, a volleyball court and table tennis – inmates here have sent in no less than 46 complaints about it to the JO
. They appear to empty their hearts out complaining about every little thing. To quote what a Facebook page for ex-convicts has to say about this prison
(this is one intact paragraph, broken up for commentary).
“The truth is that this prison abuses its power relatives have it hard coming in contact with inmates mail doesn’t work either the way you’re used to… Sometimes you had to wait for a whole week for mail and it turned out that the letters you got were sent the week before.”
Ah, the downsides of prison life… You don’t get mail delivered the next day like people do out in society.
“Some “SCREWS” that is corrections officers treat the inmates very bad and the prison has gotten countless numbers of Jo complaints against it…”
Later on I’ll show you some of these very complaints.
“Then when they complain that there is work to be had that isn’t true either the inmates have got nothing to do and prison chief Christoffer he doesn’t like giving furloughs unless you attend one of the programs he feels a client should attend…“
No work? How about being unemployed out in society? Isn’t it enough with all the opportunities for sports and leisure you have on the inside?
“There is a lot of blackmail on the part of the prison and that’s not ok… My cohabitant had it rough other inmates’ relatives had it rough as well and to put more salt in the wound the prison didn’t inform you if like the soc [social services] or the probation administration had been looking for you… A whole week could pass before you were informed of this… Dear readers this is the truth about Västervik Norra prison a bad institution……”
The prison chief told an inmate to shut up when he was interrupting a meeting repeatedly. The inmate filed a complaint with the JO, and both the Prison Service and the JO agreed to criticize the prison chief over this, saying that it “wasn’t suitable” for him to express himself that way. Link
According to the inmates at the institution, the prison had unlocked the doors to the rooms too late on repeated occasions during 2009, when they were supposed to be unlocked at 8 in the morning. On 17 December 2009, they were unlocked at 8:10. On 3 January 2010, one unlocked them as late as at 8:20. The institution staff explain that snowfall had prevented them from getting to the prison in time. For 3 January the prison states that one did indeed lock up at 8:00, when all the rooms appear to have been opened, but apparently one room got locked up again. The officer in charge didn’t notice his mistake until at 8:20, when he unlocked the door and went over to the inmate to apologize. The Prison Service explains that the officers work in different units with different procedures, and the officer had followed the wrong procedure at this time. In her response, JO Nordenfelt quotes a law text with the acronym KVFS 2009:4, which explicitly states that all prison rooms have to be unlocked at 8:00 at the latest. She continues: “What has happened is naturally not acceptable and the prison can’t escape criticism” Link
The moral of this story? If you go to Sweden for a visit, don’t bother checking into a hotel or a hostel, when you can get yourself incarcerated and enjoy free quarters. Remember – if you get anything less than 5-star service, complain to the JO!