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Finland prepares changes to prison release guidance

The move comes after officials accidentally released the wrong inmate in two separate incidents.

Two prisoners have been mistakenly released within the last six months. Image: Laura Hyyti / Yle

Prisons will receive nationwide guidance on the release of prisoners after the discovery of two separate incidents in which inmates were incorrectly released over the last six months. On both occasions, the prisoner tricked guards by using the personal information of another prisoner, who had been due to be released.

In July last year, police apprehended a prisoner who escaped from Kylmäkoski Prison near the city of Tampere, after prison officials mistakenly released the wrong person. Under Finnish law, the escape of a prisoner is a crime that can result in fines or imprisonment for up to one year.

A similar case happened in November last year in Vantaa Prison. The director of the prison, Tommi Saarinen, did not want to go into details of what happened, as the preliminary investigation into the case is still in progress.

"A prisoner was wrongly released under another prisoner's name and information. The error was discovered very quickly and the prisoner was caught a few days later," Saarinen said.

After the escape, a written code of conduct was issued in Vantaa Prison for the release of prisoners.

"An incident like this always leads to changes in practices. We have reinforced existing practices and created new ones so there are additional assurances that the right person will be released," he said.

As a result of the incidents, the Criminal Sanctions Agency (Rise) has also begun preparing a nationwide guide to prisons on the release of prisoners. According to Ari Juuti, Director of Security at Rise, it is possible that there are shortcomings in the instructions of other prisons as well.

"The issue has been discussed in a joint meeting with the security officers of criminal sanctions regions, and they have been addressed within their own areas. But no actual nationwide review has been made with other prisons. In Kylmäkoski Prison, the instructions were revised after the incident, but no additional extensive investigations have been carried out nationwide," Juuti stated.

Legislative reform needed to collect prisoners' biometric details

The prisoner's information used by the guards includes their name, picture and personal identification number. However, biometric identifiers – such as fingerprints – are not currently used.

According to Rise's Director of Security Juuti, incidents such as those at Kylmäkoski and Vantaa could be avoided with the use of biometric identification. He added that legislative reformation is needed to put in additional identification requirements.

These include recording fingerprints or the use of iris recognition, for example. However, Juuti pointed out this has not yet been discussed with the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for preparing legislation for Rise.