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The right description of the modern juvenile justice in majority of countries is that the system is becoming more repressive than being more effective and this has caused alarm among those working in the judiciary. An important question needs to be answered regarding to what local and national authorities might do to turn around this poor trend which seems inevitable in our judicial systems. It should be part of the government role to devise ways already existing in other parts of the world which are more effective and rather more humane in preventing juvenile delinquency and dealing with cases of young offenders. This paper aims to discuss the youth judicial systems in England and Wales as it compares with that of Sweden. In the paper, it shall be important to discuss various ways in which the welfare of the children is addressed in the judicial systems in Europe and Wales including that of Sweden.
In England and Wales, provided the children and young people have attained the age of being answerable to crimes, this group of individuals can be locked up in cells for trials. It is possible to remand them in custody by the courts as they await trials and until they are granted a custodial sentence from the courts (Raymond, 2005, p.1). However, their detention before they are sentenced depends on various factors which include the civil liberty to bail and in addition, any custodial sentence has to be in accordance with the laws that relates to both the specific offender and the offence itself.
England and Wales provide only two routes into custody at the stage of sentence when it comes to the youth justice system. The first route is the provision given under the Detention and Training Order. Here, a strict maximum of order is followed which is usually 2 years. The second route into custody is the grave crime channel where the details of this route are set in section 90-91 under the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 2000 also known as the Sentencing Act. In the Act, the first section exclusively deals with the cases of murder while the second section addresses issues of young people and children under the age of 10 and generally those under the age of 18 who are offenders of grave crimes (Moyer, 2004, p.128).
In the recent past, there have been several cases of young people and children being locked up in England and Wales contrary to what happens in Sweden and anywhere else in the entire Europe. The judicial system which is specially tailored for young people and the children is faced with working beyond its capacity because of the increasing trend of crime in Europe and Wales. The situation worsening this condition is the moving of young people and children around the country in an effort to accommodate them, making it impossible for them to keeping touch with their friends and family members (Minkes, 2009).The reallocation of the children and the young people clearly indicates the tight stretch of resources which as a result causes the judicial system to have difficulties in meeting the purposeful target and especially education for this group of people which is the main role of the system.
One of the most crippling problems in the youth judicial system in Europe and Wales is the overcrowding and the total prison population has gone too high that there should not be any further attempt to increase the prison population as it would be undesirable for the inmates. The consequential effect of this step which is meant to reduce the congestion in prisons can significantly improve the Prison Service role in tackling the behaviors of the offenders and hence reducing the re-offending by the young people and the children. Some of the recommendations which were made to ameliorate the problem of congestion were to ensure that prisons be used only when extremely necessary and for only a very short time as possible (Hough, Roberts, 2008). This means that some cases deserved scrutiny in order to qualify the offenders to be detained and put in prisons.
The current trend in the judicial system in Europe and Wales is not likely to improve in any substantial level and the problem of overcrowding will still remain to hit the prisons if no necessary steps are devised to handle the situation. Other factors responsible for increased juvenile crimes in Europe and Wales is how media and public and also the parliament make the opinions concerning the issue of juvenile delinquency. For instance, parliament increased the maximum penalties causing a welcome effect for the related crimes and therefore failing in the trial of the punitive approach.
The decision of the High Court may have to blame for the levels of custody although this might be a matter of doubts. In November, 2002, the High Court solved the long standing elements as to whether the Children Act of 1989 should apply to the imprisoned children. In its ruling, the High Court established that the local authorities retain an integral duty in safeguarding the childrenâ€™s welfare while at homes and even in prisons. The mechanism on how this increased the congestion in prisons is also a matter of debate which has not been understood why the High Court deserves this blame. The interpretation of this ruling from the High Court by majority of people will determine how the High Court is perceived concerning the issue of the youth judicial system. In general, without pointing a finger any system or the High Court, the number of the young people and the children in custody is important while also considering the conditions which they are kept in (Hill, Stone, 2007, pp.14). At the same time, the threat of an intervention by the local authority can per se cause a more eye cast over the levels of custody.
Europe and Wales have an increased dependency on the custody which brings us to a question of the relevance this has when relating the issues of the levels of custody and crime rates. It is said that crime rates increased drastically between the years 1990 and 2002 despite the dramatic increase in the overdependence on the custody witnessed during this period. Of astounding observation, there was an increase in teenage girls who were being locked up over the past decade. The figures of teenage girls over this period were recorded to be the highest in Europe and Wales compared to Sweden. The only areas that had exceptions in Europe were areas such as Turkey and Ireland which had relatively low rates of girls detained in custodies. Most of the girls in these areas were these of the ages under 21 and they had the highest levels of crime even after Europe and Wales investing much energy in custodies (Goldson, 2006, p.47).
Although the number of children and young people being engaged in crimes has been reported to increase dramatically, the case in Europe and Wales seems to be quite different in the rising cases of juvenile delinquency and the entire system of the youth judicial system. This distinct difference is most likely due to the statutory provisions in Europe and Wales which makes it to be different from that of other parts of the world especially in Sweden. Some of these provisions include the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 0f 1994 which aimed at increasing the maximum sentences. The second provisions which might be blamed for these increases in juvenile offenses is the mandatory sentences which were introduced in 1997 after the passing of the Crime Sentences Act (Minkes, 2009). The last factor to consider here to have increased the rates of offenses and number of children and young people in custody is the Detention and Training Order which was also introduced in 1998 by the Crime and Disorder Act.
The issue of blaming the judicial system in the rise of juvenile crimes goes beyond the boundaries of the courts and attacks the domestic attitudes in bringing into light or the public attention to all the crimes activities in our society. At the same time the media has played a crucial part in increasing the level of crimes in the society especially in Europe and Wales. Media has been blamed for mobilizing itself around the issues of disorders and crimes which consequently increase crime rates among this group of people because of what they watch in televisions and videos. The political system is also to blame over this popular juvenile and children punishment which should to some level be stopped by the policies in the states.
The case of Europe and Wales generally requires a change in the political system and the cultural transformation which accepts that the issue of imprisoning the young people and the children does not help to reduce crimes but instead amplifies the problem. The youth judicial system in Europe and Wales is then perceived to e a failing one rather than gaining triumph as it should be expected (Delgado, 2001, p.32).
The solution has to be found for this failing state of the youth judicial system of Europe and Wales. One such are solution that scholars and policy makers might not been thinking about is the diversion from the courts to the implementation of various policies across the whole region of Europe. Some states have managed this mechanism of diverting their young people and children from the court rooms and engaging in solving the root cause of crime in this group of people by addressing their basic needs without the need to resort into a conviction or trials. In these states, the youth judicial systems there is a common policy of minimum possible intervention and another policy of reluctance to apply the custody in addressing matters related to young offenders.
One of the ways to avoid the custody system when young offenders are involved is the granting the police their power so that they can decide on what step to take. The police have significant powers of making a ruling whether the case should be addressed to a prosecutor or the police can at the same time issue a warning to the young people or refer them to the particular schemes which address the wayward behavior.
The reference of the young offender and children to a prosecutor in these states does not imply that the children and young offenders are treated in a similar manner like the adults. It should be known that children are not small adults; they require a special form of treatment which the judicial system of any state should be able to provide. After the young offenders are sent to a prosecutor, a considerable discretion exists as to whether the offender requires being the subject of the proceedings of the court (Hill,Stone, 2007, p.53). At the prosecutor side, the decision to prosecute the young offenders can only be done in very serious cases and in those cases, in which the court proceedings are considered suitable, there should be a reluctance of intervening by the judicial system and the sentence by the custody is only imposed as the last resort.
Other measures which can be imposed when dealing with the children and young people offenders can be dismissal of the cases after the police report has been received. There can be the imposition of the victim-offender mediation or at the same time the imposition of the social or educational tasks. After all these are done, the case may proceed to court but only done as a last resort. The youth judicial system in these states is well organized and comprises of a technical team which is made of social educators, psychologists and social workers.
In Sweden for instance, the case of the number of young people and children being reported to be committing crimes as increasing is a whole strange issue. Compared to Europe and Wales, this trend does not seem similar mainly because of the youth judicial system in Sweden (Pettersson, 2009).
The criminal youths in Sweden used to receive no correctional treatment or be put in prison prior to the Second World War. After the war, things changed as the social reactions surrounded the judicial system policies. Currently, there is an emerging trend for the judicial system to embrace punishment for the young offenders and leaving the old system of treatments. The punishments as a way of corrections has been common in facilities and programs concerned with juvenile delinquents. It was very clear that the measures involving juvenile delinquents should have a clear distinction from those of the adult offenders (Hessle, Vinnerljung, 2009). This observation has been true over the whole 20th century where the children and young offenders have enjoyed the benefit of these policies.
The decision of the judicial system in Sweden to have a distinction of children and young people offenders from that of adults may have seemed to originating from the 1902 when the laws required that instead of imprisoning this group of people, they imposed forced care. The criminal youths in Sweden was defined by the ages between 15 and 17 during these times although this age was increased to contain young people of ages between 18 and 21. There was also an establishment of youth prisons in 1935. The youth prisons were mainly meant for individuals who could not be given same treatment within the similar system of youth welfare (Pred, 2000, p.7). The treatment in these youth prisons was for an unknown period of time and the prison was to address various needs of the young people but not stressing on the crime the young person committed.
The whole concept forced care to the youth and children offender was abolished after the Second World War. This was then replaced by protective foster care which was provided by community homes. There were very limited prison sentences for younger individuals under the age of 18. These individuals were to be taken care of in child care system and not in the prison system. This change was as result of the realization of the negative consequences that resulted from young people living in such institutions of corrections. It was then reserved as a final option of keeping the young people in these institutions and in 1950s the treatment ideology was conceived to replace all the punishment (Bobo, Thompson, 2006, p.658). This thinking was supported by the new penal code in 1965 which granted support to the mode of thinking which favored treatment instead of punishment.
Although there was support for the ideology of offering treatment to the young people, this same ideology received significant criticism from the very beginning. The main issue of controversy was that there was a significant lack of proportionality existing between the crimes and their related consequences. Following that the consequences were mainly focused on the individual person and not the crime itself, the whole issue stirred a lot of controversy among the critics in the way inhumane and unjust decisions used to be made. It was also proposed that the treatment was not sufficient and the thinkers under this reasoning suggested that it was very humiliating for an individual to be locked in such facilities and institutions despite the name given to this form of treatment. It indicated that there was an involuntary deprivation of the crucial freedom which was needed by any civilian. As a result, the issue of force locking individuals came into the limelight in 1960s and positive results were only expected only if the person receiving the treatment was motivated by the same (Goran, Sonia, 2005, p.70). This path of thinking brought about the opposition of the desire of placing individuals in institutions or in forced care facilities in 1970s and after a lot of debate the youth prisons were finally abolished. The youth welfare would then be based on the voluntary commitment from 1982 and beyond according to the Social Services Act.
The general functioning of the modern judicial system in Sweden is based on the legality principle which implies that the police and other allied agencies in the justice system have an obligation to intervene where there are fulfillment of the legal criteria which serve to define criminal acts. Although, the justice system should intervene in matters relating to legal principles, the Swedish system allows for a lot of exceptions to such provisions. As is the case with other countries, the Swedish justice system offers the police significant discretionary power and the moment the police realize that a minor offence has been committed; their effort is restricted to the order to desist or cease (Pred, 2000, p.18). The police have the powers to direct young offenders in repairing the caused damage due to their acts of crime according the legislations.
In Swedish system, the police have the right to discover, investigate and prevent crimes and in cases where the crime has been reported already, it is the role of the police is to investigate and find answers on who committed the crime. As a consequence, compared to other Western states like Europe and US, the Swedish police have a relatively low rate of clearing crimes committed by both the juveniles and the adults (Petterson, 2009).
Most states have judicial systems which respect the nature of children and the youth and attempt to make a clear distinction from the adult justice systems. It is therefore important for the court to treat the children and the youth not as small adults but according to their nature in order to grow them to become responsible citizens.