Metaphorical Pirates

Noting the relative insouciance of the operators of the Swedish file-sharing service The Pirate Bay upon conviction, Tom Lee remarks “The gravity of the situation seems to have not yet struck the people involved — either that or Swedish prisons are awfully cushy.”

I think the issue is that Swedish prisons actually are pretty cushy. You can read a funny account here or a more serious explanation from Sweden’s Kriminalvarden agency. But the long and short of it is that, as I understand it, the Swedish system basically understands criminal activity as overwhelmingly stemming from substance abuse problems, mental illness, and lack of labor market problems. Consequently, though the prisoners are certainly closely supervised, the conditions in prison are extremely humane and not especially “punitive.” The emphasis is on trying to help people with their problems and trying to ensure that dangerous people aren’t out and about on the streets.

To the best of my knowledge, the system works pretty well. But what it won’t do is provide a ton of deterrence against criminals who are to a large extent motivated by a conviction that they’re actually doing the right thing. One would rather avoid Swedish prison, but it’s not a terrifying situation and a prisoner of conscience could comport himself relatively comfortably.