Jobs instead of fines for young offenders

Swedish justice minister Thomas Bodström is to propose changes to the punishment of youth offenders. Instead of fines, which are imposed upon almost half of criminals under the age of 18, Bodström wants them to be put to work.

In a draft of the proposal, which has been seen by the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, the Ministry of Justice criticises the current tendency to impose fines:

“The punishment does not have the rehabilitative effect which the government considers to be fundamental. The youngster is not motivated to abide by the law. On the contrary, higher fines could mean debt which could make it harder for young people to establish themselves in adult life.”

Unpaid community service for people aged 15-17 would, believes the ministry, be a far more effective punishment in the long run.

Currently, teenagers may only be sentenced to community service if they also receive care from the social services. According to SvD only half of the country’s districts actually impose community service – and Thomas Bodström says that is unacceptable.

“The penalties under this system are not designed for young people. They were written for adults and intended to be imposed upon adults. Prison and fines are poor sanctions for young people,” he told SvD.

District courts should therefore be required by law to impose community service upon young offenders, says Bodström, either in local council work, in the religious community or in a charity. The minimum period would be 20 hours of work, and the maximum would be 150 hours – but it would not apply to teenagers who commit crimes which carry jail terms of more than a year.

The work should be “meaningful”.

Another aspect of the proposal is enforced mediation between victims and criminals who are under the age of 21. Today, such rehabilitation only takes place in half of the legislative districts of Sweden.

“Many only realise what they have done when they are first confronted with the crime victim,” Thomas Bodström told SvD.

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