The Criminal Justice System

Sweden has two parallel systems for responding to youth crime: one within the municipal system of social services provision and the other within the criminal justice system. These systems are expected to work in conjunction, which they often do so—although they are sometimes in competition with one another. The following section focuses on the criminal justice system’s response to youth crime.

The Police

The age of criminal responsibility being15 years old places restrictions on the ways in which the police deal with the offenses committed by the youngest offenders. The police can, however, initiate investigations into crime, even when the suspect is under the age of 15. This is the case if the penal value of the offense, when similarly committed by an adult, is equivalent to a prison term of 1 year or more and there are no special reasons for not initiating such an investigation (SFS 2015:446). However, the outcomes of such investigations are not presented to the public prosecutor and should focus on the necessary information to provide to social services (see later). At the same time, the police are required to prioritise cases involving young offenders. Investigations of such offenses are required to be conducted promptly. The police officers who investigate offenses committed by young offenders are required to be particularly suited to the task. When offenses committed by persons under the age of 18 are investigated by the police, they should always take place in collaboration with social services and, where possible, with the offender’s parents or guardians (SFS 2015:446).

As the age of the suspect increases, so too does the degree of similarity with the investigation of offenses committed by adults. The promptness requirement exists for offenders over the age of 15 as well. The use of special coercive measures, such as pre-trial incarceration, for young suspects is also restricted by law (SFS 2015) although critics feel that these restrictions do not go far enough.

Some argue that the long-term trend in the Swedish legislation is towards an extension of police rights to investigate offenses committed by young people. A statement of opinion from the Swedish Council on Legislation described these trends as involving “a shift in perspective from the social services towards criminal law” (Lagradet 2010, page 1).

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