Foto: Jonas Klinteberg
The Hällby facility's notice to prisoners that the policy will be much more restrictive in terms of who can possess decks of cards. Photo: Jonas Klinteberg

Jails restrict card-playing

"You can play rock-paper-scissors"
2:23 min

Passing the time playing poker and other card games is getting a lot harder at some Swedish correctional facilities, who are fed up, because they say the card games have been causing too much conflict among the inmates. 

Kumla, Salberga and Hällby are three prisons that on October 1, decided to pull decks of cards from their facilities, because of the rifts they were causing among the inmates.

Kenneth Gustafsson, the head of the correctional facility at Kumla, tells Swedish Radio P3 that card games were giving rise to threats and violence among the inmates.

He says that card games have been a growing problem there for a long time. At times, the prison has looked like a card club when inmates who are usual visitors to gambling clubs start playing.

At the little shop kiosk at the Kumla facility, you can't buy cards anymore. But the decision hasn't gone without criticism.

Jonas Klinteberg, the publisher of the prison newspaper, Filen, has himself served time at several of the facilities in Sweden, and he says that weekends are all about playing cards, and that it's a pastime that's been extremely popular, at least in the prisons where he's been.

He says that prisoners he's talked to at other facilities are uneasy that they might also lose the right to play cards, and that even if the inmates can't get a hold of cards, there are other ways to gamble.

"You can play rock-paper-scissors for ten-thousand kronor, too," he says.

At Hällby, another penitentiary, while making their rounds, the staff has found lists of debts in some of the cells, with inmates in some cases owing others tens of thousands of kronor after playing cards.

Peter Kjellin, head of security at Hällby prison, says that when poker got popular, the problem got a lot worse, and he describes how certain alpha prisoners may decide to play cards and then sort of force the others to join in.

Kirseberg in Malmö was the first penitentiary to restrict card-playing. They reigned it in two years ago, and they think it's made a big difference: fewer threats, less violence, and a better atmosphere. Richard Boström, who's the head of the prison there, explains why they decided to limit card-playing:

He says the problem came to a head when people came to the prison to leave money for their relatives who were inmates, because of the inmates' debts. He says that you have to act when it gets to that point.

While the Parliamentary Ombudsmen got complaints when Kirseberg decided to restrict cards at its facility, staff at Hällby and Kumla say that most of their inmates were relieved about the decision.

For the moment, the decision whether to allow a prisoner to use cards is made on an individual basis.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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