Youth Service and Care in Accordance with the Social Services Act
In theory, youths aged 15-17 who have committed serious offenses can still be sentenced to a prison term. In practice, however, this happens very rarely. In 2014, for example, only four individuals below the age of 18 were sentenced to prison. In all of these cases, the youths in question were 17 years of age and had been convicted serious offenses and had extensive criminal histories. Prison sentences are much more common among youths aged 18-20. In 2014, 458 youths in this age group were sentenced to prison and only 12 were sentenced to youth custody (Bra 2015:216). In accordance with Swedish legislation, the prison sentences awarded to youths aged 18-20 are milder than those awarded to persons aged 20 and older for equivalent offenses. Young people cannot be sentenced to life imprisonment. This so-called “youth rebate” has been the subject of debate at the political level. It and might be removed, either in whole or in part, if the nature of the political majority in the Swedish parliament were to change.
Of a total of approximately 110,000 criminal convictions in Sweden in 2014, approximately 9000 were for youths aged 15-17 and approximately 12,000 were for persons aged 18-20. The most common type of conviction among the youngest age group was for a waiver of prosecution (approximately 3100) (Bra 2015:216). A waiver of prosecution is best described as a form of caution, which can be issued by the prosecutor for relatively minor offences following an admission of guilt by the offender. It is not uncommon for prosecutors to make such decisions in the presence of the youths and their parents, having first contacted the social services to ensure that adequate treatment measures are in place. In these cases, no sanction is imposed but the offense is recorded in the convictions register and remains there for a period of 5 years.
The second most common type of conviction among the 15-17 year age group involves the imposition of a fine. According to the Swedish legislation, a fine may be imposed either by means of a court sentence or in the form a prosecutor’s decision to issue a summary sanction order. In 2014, approximately 1100 youths aged 15-17 were fined in connection with a court conviction, while 1700 were issued with a summary sanction order. In both cases, the fines take the form of day fines, a system in which the number is determined on the basis of the penal value of the offenses as well as the basis of the individual’s income.
Two other types of sanctions worth mentioning in relation to 15-17-year-olds are youth service, which is a form of community service for young people, and youth care, which involves the court stating in its sentencing decision that the youth should be subject to care under the direction of the social services. In 2014, a little over 1300 youths were given youth service sentences and 1200 were sentenced to youth care. The youth service sanction was introduced into the Swedish sanctioning system at the same time as youth custody in 1999 (Prop. 1997/98:96 s. 152 f.). This sanction was initially structured as an additional sanction to be imposed when youths were sentenced to social services care. The responsibility for specifying the contents of the sanction was thus assigned to the social services (Forss 2013), who were already responsible for determining the nature of treatment measures for youths both under and over the age of 15. As will be shown later, these measures may be implemented in relation to young offenders both on the initiative of the social services themselves and (when the youth is over the age of 15) on the basis of a court conviction.
An evaluation conducted by the Swedish National Council for Crime (Bra 2002) showed that the youth service reform had not been implemented to the extent that had been intended. For example, only half of Sweden’s municipalities had an organisation in place to implement the sanction. In 2007, the Swedish legislation on young offenders was reformed again (Prop. 2005/06:165 p. 64). Youth service was transformed into an independent sanctioning form, thus removing the requirement that the sanction be linked to a sentence to care on the basis of the Social Services Act. Further, the municipalities were required to have a system in place for implementing the sanction. This reform was clearly appreciated by the courts. In 2008, almost 3000 youths were sentenced to youth service. Since that time, however, the number of such sentences has declined by more than half (Bra 2015:205).
Similar to community service for adults, the youth service sanction involves the offender being required to engage in unpaid work. The sanction can be imposed on individuals aged 15-20. It is, however, much more commonly imposed on youths aged 15-17 than on youths aged 18-20. The number of hours one is sentenced to youth service may vary between 20 and 150. The sanction is only awarded if the defendant consents to participate.
The youth care sanction (which is not the same as youth custody LSU) involves the court sentencing the youth to receive care under the direction of social services. Until the legislative reform of 2007, this sanction, which at the time was formulated slightly differently, was labelled care in accordance with the Social Services Act. In order for this sanction to be imposed, the youth must be regarded as being in need of care, and a care plan must be presented to the court by the local social services administration.