Prisoners’ experiences of drug treatment and punishment in four Nordic countries

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AIMS - This article describes and analyses prisoners’ experiences of drug treatment in prison in four Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. The article examines how prisoners experience drug treatment, control and sanctions as related to three main topics, namely motivation; the content of the measure and relations to staff; and control and sanctions. METHODS & DATA - The article is based on data from twelve prisons, three in each of the four countries; 91 interviews with prisoners; and around six months of observation. The two main kinds of drug treatment measures are drug treatment units and day programmes. RESULTS - Prisoners described several motives to participate in drug treatment measures: to leave drugs and crime; to renew relations with family and friends; to solve health problems; and to improve their prison conditions. Prisoners found that drug treatment measures offered possibilities to acquire new ways of being. Staff behaviour seemed to be more important to prisoners than the methods used, and some prisoners seemed more positive to staff involved with the drug treatment than to other staff. A surprising finding was the prisoners’ limited critique of controls and sanctions. We see this as embedded in the situation of being a prisoner, and also in relation to contexts outside prison. CONCLUSION - In discussing their experiences in the treatment units, prisoners are not so concerned about the rehabilitative features or the controls and sanctions. They evaluate their present situation in light of a future, which is their real concern. This is in line with a main task for staff, which is to prepare prisoners for release.

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