Police statistics indicate that only one burglar or car thief out of 10 is caught in Sweden--and fewer still are convicted and sent to prison. Of the 1 million crimes recorded in 1986, 730,000 of them went unsolved.
Numbers like those have spurred Anna-Greta Leijon, the nation's new justice minister, to action.
She has promised tougher measures that could signal an end to a permissiveness that many attribute to Sweden's postwar social welfare doctrine.
"It is high time to put the victims of crime in focus instead of the criminals," Leijon said. "We need to look more at the crime than the criminal."
Safe for Criminals
"As of today, it is almost safe--for the criminal--to commit even gross and violent crimes," said Leif G. W. Persson, a criminologist with the National Crime Prevention Council.
The United States has a better record. According to the FBI in Washington, 70% of U.S. murders in 1986 were solved, as were 14% of burglaries and 15% of motor vehicle thefts.
While Sweden's crime curve has gone sharply upward, only about 10% of those arrested have been sentenced to prison.
Sentences generally have become milder, except for serious drug crimes. Remission of half the sentence has become standard.
Dangerous Spy Escaped
Leijon took the justice portfolio in November after Sweden's most dangerous spy, Stig Bergling, escaped when he was left unguarded on a prison furlough. Her predecessor resigned because of it.
She pledged to review the policy of remissions and prison leaves. Unguarded furloughs are likely to come to an end.
Leijon, 49, is the first woman to hold the key Cabinet post and the first without a judicial background. She came to the job as top trouble shooter for the governing Social Democratic Party with a mandate to rebuild the ministry shaken by the Bergling affair.
She has been a prominent figure in Swedish politics for 14 years when, as immigration minister, she ordered the expulsion of a wounded German terrorist linked to the Baader-Meinhof gang. Police later uncovered a plot to extract revenge and to kidnap her in a coffin.
Habitual Criminals Targeted
As justice minister, Leijon has targeted a small group of habitual criminals believed to be responsible for most property crimes.
Criminologist Persson has estimated that a group of about 15,000 commit at least 80% of all home burglaries. A small group of about 500 are responsible for about 1 in every 3.
If those 500 were locked up, "it would save approximately 50,000 families from being victimized," he said, arguing that the authorities have been too easy on them.
Rehabilitation efforts have been disappointing, he said in an interview. The issue is "whether we should let a great majority of law-abiding citizens pay for these few's failure and society's kindness to them."
"I and others feel disappointed the liberal policy did not work," she said shortly after taking her new job.
Leijon said she would seek tougher law enforcement and harsher penalties for violent crimes, including wife-beating and sexual offenses against minors.
Leijon also promised to free the hands of the police, who under current regulations are not allowed, for example, to seize the spray-paint cans from teen-agers caught vandalizing subways.
But Leijon has been accused of interference with the independence of the courts after criticizing a judge who, she said, gave an inexplicably mild sentence of four months in prison to a 49-year-old man who had sexual relations with two 9-year-old girls.
She has also been accused of abandoning the humanistic approach that many people regard as an essential element of the national character.
Fears Called Groundless
Leijon says the fears are groundless and promises to continue the therapy-oriented treatment prisoners receive.
Some commentators say her law-and-order approach is more befitting the conservative opposition than her own socialist-minded party and suggest that she may be trying to undercut the conservatives on one of their key planks as the country moves towards elections this year.