Under the system with heavily moralistic underpinnings, at least 60,000 people aged 16 and over were imprisoned without due cause for ‘crimes’ including alcoholism or plain ‘laziness’. The practice continued up to 1981 with the poor being particular targets.
Many of the people locked away by suffered physical or sexual abuse while many were also forced to undertake forced labour. Some were sterilized in what has been described as a “dark chapter” in Swiss history.
The period of imprisonment has also left many with life-long health and psychological problems. In addition, without education or training, a large number have struggled to find work, meaning they now live in poverty.
An old building, part of the psychiatric hospital site of Cery, near Lausanne, where people were placed in 'administrative detention'. Photo: AFP
Now, after four years of investigation of the practice, an independent expert commission on Monday released its final report (here in German). The 400-page document sums up the work done in that period.
It describes a system that took different forms depending on historical context and location and makes a series of recommendations.
These recommendations include financial measures such as tax relief for former prisoners with high tax debts, assistance with medical bills, the provision of free public transport network passes and even a special life-long income for victims of the system.
The independent commission, which was established by law in 2014, also called for the establishment a centre dedicated to informing the Swiss public about the system and providing victims with a place to exchange experiences and access education and services.
The Swiss parliament in 2014 formally recognized people locked away had been treated unjustly. Victims were given 25,000 Swiss francs (€23,000) in compensation but no one has been prosecuted for their part in the system.