Skip to content

Violent crimes in Finnish prisons hard to crack

An Yle investigation shows that even serious cases remain unresolved.

Archive photo from Riihimäki prison. Image: Jaani Lampinen / Yle

Lack of evidence often prevents cases of violent crimes in prison from being solved. Footage from surveillance cameras is pixelated and it is difficult to make out what is actually happening.

An example of violent crimes inside prison is a case from Riihimäki in 2019, where a prisoner assaulted another inmate with a metal pipe. He beat the victim at least 20 times, continuing even after the victim had lost consciousness. The victim was treated in hospital for life-threatening injuries, but the abuser was never convicted for the crime.

The assault was captured on tape by surveillance cameras.

The reason no conviction was made is the quality of the surveillance footage. The equipment used in the country's prisons is of poor quality, forcing investigators to rely on eyewitnesses. The victim told the guards that he fell in his cell and hit his head. During the preliminary investigation, the victim refused to comment on the incident and the suspect denied the crime.

A culture of silence slows down investigations

Jyri Paasonen, a researcher at the University of Vaasa, has also drawn attention to poor surveillance technology in prisons.

According to Paasonen's research, employees at prisons describe security footage as "two pixels poking each other" and want better surveillance equipment. An employee has responded to the survey that he "wishes the prisons would update their technology so that it can be repaired without having to look for spare parts in a museum."

In addition to poor technology, slow preliminary investigations are also the basis for the unsolved crimes.

Some of the prisoners do not want to talk about the violence they experience, because they fear for their own safety.

This culture of silence can make it very difficult to obtain sufficient evidence of extortion or violence between prisoners for the police to be able to initiate a preliminary investigation.

If it takes a long time to initiate a preliminary investigation, police lose the chance to gather important DNA evidence.

Violent crimes between prisoners have increased

In 2020, 143 cases of violent crime between prisoners in Finnish prisons were reported. Threats of violence occurred 138 times. The police received a total of 82 criminal reports. Only 32 cases led to internal disciplinary action in prisons.

The number of violent crimes and crime reports increased and the number of threats decreased compared to 2019. Riihimäki and Turku prisons generated the most crime reports.

Statistics only show the incidents that come to the attention of prison staff.