Cantons suggest exporting Swiss convicts

More people are being locked up in Switzerland than ever before, statistics show Keystone

Exporting prison inmates to neighbouring countries, such as France and Germany, could help alleviate chronic overcrowding of Swiss jails, according to the cantons that run Switzerland’s detention centres.

This content was published on January 4, 2015

Swiss prisons are currently bursting at the seams with more inmates than capacity. Official statistics revealed that in 2013 there were 7,072 adults locked up in facilities designed for 7,048. Overcrowding reached boiling point at the Champ-Dollon prison a year ago with a series of violent clashes between inmates.

Guards at Geneva’s main jail - one of Switzerland’s most overcrowded prisons-  went on strike last year to protest at conditions while the Federal Court also ruled in favour of an inmate a year ago who complained of the cramped conditions.

Whilst Switzerland has already earmarked an extension to its own prison capacity, cantonal justice directors - mainly from the West of Switzerland - believe that the radical idea of asking prisons in other countries to take some Swiss inmates deserves consideration.

Swiss public television SRF has learned that the cantonal authorities sent a letter to Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga last November asking her to look into the option.

Thomas Freytag, head of an influential think-tank on prison policy, told SRF that the current overcrowding situation presents significant safety and security risks.

Charles Juillard, Justice Director of canton Jura, told the 10 vor 10 news programme that exporting inmates could be a sensible short-term answer until a more sustainable solution could be found in Switzerland.

“The best solution, naturally, is to build more prisons, but this is expensive and takes a long time,” he said. “In the meantime we could send prisoners abroad, in particular to Germany.”

A handful of other countries already employ a prison service sharing scheme, most notably Belgium and the Netherlands and Liechtenstein-Austria. Last year Sweden rejected a request from Norway to rent out part of its prison space to its neighbour, but left the door open to some sort of future cooperation.

While cantons are responsible for running prisons inside their own borders, the plan of cooperating with other countries to use their detention services would require federal intervention.

The Federal Justice Office confirmed to that it had received the letter from cantons asking it to look into the matter, and is currently reviewing the request. “The question is not an easy one to answer, and requires a well-founded legal basis,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that no time frame had been set for answering the request.

Experts told 10 vor 10 that the radical plan could run into political opposition in parliament as it might reflect Switzerland in a poor light – unable to sort out its own problems without international assistance.

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