Youth offenders in Sweden are more often sentenced to community service (ungdomstjänst) by the courts while the proportion of convicted young people doing time in a detention centre or paying fines has sharply declined, according to the National Council’s recent assessment of penalty reform for juvenile offenders.
“The courts have been able to sentence youth criminals to youth service as a sole sanction for a few years. We see now that the reform has brought results – the percentage of people sentenced to juvenile detention has almost halved while the proportion who receive a fine also has fallen sharply,” said Jonas Öberg, an investigator at the National Council in a statement.
The sanction of community service for the young, in the form of unpaid work, was introduced to the court system in 2007 as a separate sentence option for young offenders between 15- and 17-years-old.
A year later, judges dole out youth community service to more than four in 10 convicted youth offenders.
“Nine out of ten young people who receive the sentence complete it. Interviews with those youth suggest that they are satisfied and believe the penalty is better than fines. However, there is a long wait time to carry out youth service in many communities,” Öberg said.
Prior to the emergence of this type of ‘free labour’ sanction, juvenile detention was the most popular penalty issued by the courts for young offenders.
Back then, almost half of the juvenile offenders received some form of rehabilitation treatment. Now, the number staggers at less than a quarter.
Although the Council states that this decrease is in line with reform intentions, the reform law does not appear to be applied equally throughout the country.
Officials grapple with the more stringent requirements to sentence a youth to rehabilitative care while also debating what defines a reform need.
There are large variations between the country’s district courts, ranging from 10 to 50 percent, who are sentenced to some type of care.
”This means that the National Council should consider the need for national guidelines. That would make it easier for social services and it would lead to a more consistent implementation across the nation,” Öberg said.