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Mentally disordered criminal offenders in the Swedish criminal system

Journal article
Authors Christer Svennerlind
Thomas Nilsson
Nora Kerekes
Peter Andiné
Margareta Lagerkvist
Anders Forsman
Henrik Anckarsäter
Helge Malmgren
Published in International Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Volume 33
Issue 4
Pages 220-226
ISSN 0160-2527
Publication year 2010
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry
Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Pages 220-226
Language en
Keywords Swedish model, Accountability, Severe mental disorder, Criminal Law, history, Criminals, psychology, Forensic Psychiatry, History, 20th Century, Humans, Mental Competency, legislation & jurisprudence, Mental Disorders, therapy, Prisoners, psychology, Punishment, Risk Assessment, Sweden
Subject categories History of Ideas, Psychiatry, Criminal law, History of medicine, Practical philosophy, Theoretical philosophy


Historically, the Swedish criminal justice system conformed to other Western penal law systems, exempting severely mentally disordered offenders considered to be unaccountable. However, in 1965 Sweden enforced a radical penal law abolishing exceptions based on unaccountability. Mentally disordered offenders have since then been subjected to various forms of sanctions motivated by the offender's need for care and aimed at general prevention. Until 2008, a prison sentence was not allowed for offenders found to have committed a crime under the influence of a severe mental disorder, leaving forensic psychiatric care the most common sanction in this group. Such offenders are nevertheless held criminally responsible, liable for damages, and encumbered with a criminal record. In most cases, such offenders must not be discharged without the approval of an administrative court. Two essentially modern principles may be discerned behind the “Swedish model”: first, an attempted abolishment of moral responsibility, omitting concepts such as guilt, accountability, atonement, and retribution, and, second, the integration of psychiatric care into the societal reaction and control systems. The model has been much criticized, and several governmental committees have suggested a re-introduction of a system involving the concept of accountability. This review describes the Swedish special criminal justice provisions on mentally disordered offenders including the legislative changes in 1965 along with current proposals to return to a pre-1965 system, presents current Swedish forensic psychiatric practice and research, and discusses some of the ethical, political, and metaphysical presumptions that underlie the current system.

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