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Comparison
of the Criminal Justice System

Between
Sweden and the United States

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By:
Angela Tucker

University
of Texas at Arlington

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comparison
of the Criminal Justice System

Between
Sweden and the United States

The
prison population in the United States has been an issue for a very long time.
The concern currently is where and how new prisons can be built with respect to
finances and the community. This will only add to the concern of the prison
population in later years. If the United States could look at the current
criminal justice system and compare it to that of another country with a lower crime
rate the United States may learn something that could eventually solve the
problem. The best country to compare it to would be that of Sweden. Sweden has
a population of close to ten million people according to the World Bank and “Sweden
is closing prisons and reducing the prison population” (James, 2017).

            To begin, some of the policing
aspects of Sweden are similar to that of the United States. Sweden has an
emergency number of 112, which is just like that of the United States emergency
number, 911. Citizens can report a crime or pass on some information they think
may be helpful to the authorities. The Swedish Police Authority is similar to
that of the United States. There is the police region that is broken down by
regions and is the immediate police response like the United States has the
local patrol officers. The Swedish Police work with other foreign police and
they also work with the European Union to plan strategies to jointly fight
organized cross-border crime. If the United States and Mexico would work closer
together to fight the war on drugs, I believe there would be some improvement
in crime in both countries.

The
Swedish police are also involved with the development of police agencies in
nearby countries. “In the partner country, the Swedish Police help to create a
police organization that respects and protects human rights, follows the rules
of a state governed by law, and which can be held accountable and prioritize
the needs of the citizens” (Polisen, 2017). The Swedish police
also “participate in peace and security operations as well as
conflict-preventing activities” (Polisen, 2017). Overall the local police in Sweden are
there to “prevent crime, monitor public order and safety, conduct
reconnaissance and carry out criminal investigations (Polisen,
2017).”
As stated in the Police Act (1984:387). Every year the Government of Sweden
will provide some goals for the police to achieve each year. The National
Police Commissioner will produce a document that explains how these goals are
to be systematized and met as well as mentioning areas that need more attention.
The National Police Commissioner of Sweden is similar to the United States
Attorney General.

 Above all, there is the National Operations
Department which has the authority to ensure and enforce that funds and resources
are being used appropriately. This department is also the point of contact for the
Swedish Security Service, Armed Forces and other departments of the like. This
department is also responsible for “coordinating, planning and monitoring the
special efforts undertaken by several authorities against serious organized
crime (Polisen, 2017).” The United States
Department of Justice is similar to the National Operations Department in
Sweden. The Department of Justice includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other federal law enforcement
agencies. The law enforcement departments of Sweden seem to work closer
together than those of the United States. The Government really invests in law
enforcement not only within Sweden but also with surrounding countries.

Even
with all the training the Swedish Police have and continue to go through, there
will always be crime and criminals to catch. In the United States everyone has
the right to a fair due process and is innocent until proven guilty in the
court of law. The citizens of Sweden also have those same rights. In Sweden
there are three different types of courts; the general courts, the general
administrative courts and the special courts. The general courts include the
district court, the courts of appeals and the Supreme Court. The general courts
try both criminal and civil cases.  The
general administrative courts include the administrative courts, the
administrative courts of appeal and the Supreme Administrative Court. The
general administrative courts try cases such as Social Services, tax cases,
immigration cases, care for minors and substance abusers. The special courts
include the Labor Court and Patent and Market Courts. “The courts have an
independent status within the Swedish constitution. Neither the Riksdag nor any
other authority may decide how a court should adjudicate in a particular case” (Sveriges
Domstolar, 2017).

The
United States has many courts which are also broken down but in a different way
than Sweden. Sweden is broken down by the type of case, whereas, the United
States is broken down geographically. In the State court system there are the
local courts, State Appeals court and then the State Supreme Court and
eventually the United States Supreme Court. The Federal court system starts
with the District Courts and then there is the Federal Court of Appeals and
then the United States Supreme Court.

Just
like in the United States, when a person gets caught committing a crime in
Sweden there is a preliminary investigation done. If there is enough evidence
to suggest the person is guilty then a court date will be set. During this day
in court, the prosecutor will speak their case. In the United States, there is
a jury panel made up of citizens that will decide based on the testimony and
evidence if a crime was committed by the accused. In Sweden, lay judges
represent the citizens. They are the ones to decide if a crime was committed by
the accused after hearing the testimony and seeing the evidence.  When a decision has been made the lay judges and
chairperson will give their answer and their reasoning behind it. They will
also provide details on how to appeal if anyone chooses to do so. This is
something that the United States should adopt. Some people are so closed minded
it is hard for them to look at the bigger picture which could lead to the truth
and others discriminate. Having someone that sees things in a different way,
such as a judge, will makes things fair. Knowing the reasoning behind the
decision may also lead to new ways in the investigation process. If the lay
judges believe the person is guilty they will provide the punishment that they
believe should come with it. This could include fines, forfeit of property,
community service or imprisonment. It appears everything is on a case by case
basis. The United States does not do things that way. Each charge carries a
certain punishment. Regardless of the circumstances on the case if a prosecutor
is able to sway the jury on a certain charge than the accused will receive the
punishment that comes with it.

Once
a person has been convicted of a crime in the United States that carries a
prison sentence, that person is taken into custody. There are prisons for males
and prisons for females. There are even juvenile facilities. Once in prison, a
person loses a lot of their freedom. Meals are served at the same time every
day and everyone is given a job to do such has laundry or cooking. There is a
lot of down time and some inmates chose to better themselves by going back to
school or learning a new trade. There are programs and volunteer groups that
rehabilitate inmates who want the help and prepare them for life in the free
world. These programs may include drug or alcohol addiction programs. Once time
has been served the inmate is released. Some may be released early due to good
behavior or to finish serving their time in the free world with some
stipulations such as parole. On parole, there are basic guidelines the parolee
will have to meet. This includes living at an approved place with random checks,
maintaining a job, meeting with the parole officer on a regular basis, and
possibly random drug tests.

In
Sweden, the main focus of prison is rehabilitating. The authorities believe in
treating the problem that an inmate may have. This may include but is not
limited to mental illnesses, drug addiction and alcohol addiction. Sweden
invests in its’ prisoners and provides them with the care they need so they can
return to society. “The rehabilitation method is achieved through giving the
inmates sufficient library access, access to university courses, and apprentice
courses in learning a range of skills” (Rehabilitation, Not
Incarceration, 2017). When
a person is released from a prison in Sweden they are able to find a job and
make ends meet. This makes it as if their life on the outside had never stopped.
Otherwise, they’d walk right back into the lifestyle they were living before
and this creates a cycle.

The
re-incarceration in the United States is extremely high while that of Sweden is
extremely low. Sweden focuses more in their inmates, while the United States
let them do what they want within in reason. If a person in prison in the
United States wants to better themselves then they can do so with the few
resources that are available. That will take a lot of self-dedication to make a
true improvement. In Sweden, the inmates are given more than just resources but
encouragement too. Showing some respect and having a willingness to help
someone can set a person on a whole new path. The guards that are there treat
the inmates with respect. There are stories about the prisons in the United
States and the prison guards are always on their toes because they have no idea
what may happen. The inmates tend to take out their anger on the guards just because
they are doing their jobs of keeping people in line and doing what they are supposed
to be doing.

I
think one of the biggest reasons for the difference in the incarceration rates
between the United States and Sweden is the Criminal Justice System. In the United
States there are people serving hard time for first time petty offenses like theft,
whereas in Sweden, the lay judges will likely agree on a sentence that is not as
harsh like a fine or community service. There are some major similarities between
the two countries when it comes to the Criminal Justice System. The differences
between the two seem small but show to have a huge result.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

James, E. (2017, November 29).
‘Prison is not for punishment in Sweden. We get people into better shape’.
Retrieved December 1, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/26/prison-sweden-not-punishment-nils-oberg

Polisen. (n.d.). The Swedish
Police. Retrieved from

https://polisen.se/en/Languages/The-Swedish-Police/

Rehabilitation, Not Incarceration.
(2017). Retrieved from https://rehabilitationnotincarceration.weebly.com/

The Judgment – Sveriges Domstolar. (2009, November 27).
Retrieved from   

http://www.domstol.se/Funktioner/English/Legal-proceedings/Trials-in-criminal-cases/The-judgment/

The Judicial System – Sveriges
Domstolar. (2012, May 30). Retrieved from http://www.domstol.se/Funktioner/English/The-Judicial-System/

The Swedish courts – Sveriges
Domstolar. (2017, November 8). Retrieved from http://www.domstol.se/Funktioner/English/The-Swedish-courts/

 

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