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Swedish Prison System Cracking Down on the Male Norm

Men are overrepresented in Swedish prisons and women risk being seen as exceptions. As part of its gender mainstreaming efforts, the Swedish Prison and Probation Service has looked closer at the male norm in its treatment programmes.

The Prison and Probation Service is a government agency and part of the Swedish legal system. Its main tasks are to implement prison and probation sentences, to supervise conditionally released persons, to implement instructions for community service, and to carry out pre-sentence investigations in criminal cases.

The agency is currently participating in the Swedish national Gender Mainstreaming in Government Agencies (GMGA) programme, with an aim to ensure that women and men are provided the same opportunities and other conditions when it comes to education, programmes and other activities. The overarching objectives are to ensure that measures to prevent relapse into criminal behaviour are individually based, to prepare clients for a gender-equal life upon their release, to ensure an equal distribution of resources and services to women and men and to develop gender-mainstreamed agency governance.

Tailored Interventions

One of the agency’s interventions to deal with the gender inequality is to review its treatment programmes from a gender equality perspective, since they are well aware that the programmes are primarily designed for men.

‘We have adjusted our practice assignments and examples to make it easier for women to relate to them’

‘Only seven per cent of our clients in Swedish prisons are women, which means that the needs of male inmates tend to set the standard for how things are done,’ says Martin Gillå, department head at the agency. ‘We have adjusted our practice assignments and examples to make it easier for women to relate to them. We always have to adapt our methods to the target group. It might for example be a matter of using women protagonists in examples. We haven’t developed a separate programme for women. That’s not the idea. Female and male inmates have the same great variety in their respective needs. We don’t want one treatment programme for drug users, one for those who have committed violent crimes and one for women.’

Gender Stereotypes – A Big Challenge

The prison environment can be tough and the jargon rough.
‘The stereotypical views of masculinity and femininity tend to become extremely polarised among our clients, and it has been very challenging to break this pattern. The fact that men and women are kept separate in the prisons may of course help reinforce the stereotypes, so it is important that the staff can go in with a norm-critical approach and try to break away from the stereotypical understandings of what’s masculine and what’s feminine,’ says Martin Gillå.

He describes these stereotypes as ‘men are violent’ and ‘women are victims’.

‘We try to add some nuances to these views, because the stereotypes can make it harder to leave the criminal life behind.’

Include Gender
Edited: 25 Oct 2016
Published: 6 Oct 2016
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