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The German juvenile justice system covers the age groups of juveniles (14-17-years-old) and young adults (18-20-years-old) offenders (see §§ 1, 105 JJA). The relevant legislation is the Juvenile justice Act (JJA), originally passed in 1923, with major amendments in 1943, 1953, 1990, 2008, and 2013 see in Detail Dhnkel 2006, 2011a). Both age groups are sentenced by specialized youth courts.

Special juvenile policing in the narrow sense implies that there are specialized police, prosecutors, and youth judges. In the police level in bigger cities, special youth units have been introduced. In some model areas, “Houses of Youth Justice” (Hauser des Jugendrechts, see Feuerhelm and KUgler 2003) have been established, where the police, juvenile prosecutors, social workers of the local community, and sometimes mediation schemes work together. The idea behind is to find quick solutions and to avoid detention, due to the efforts of the social work unit, which tries to find alternative solutions to resolving the underlying problems causing the committing of crimes. Juvenile prosecutors and judges must be experienced in questions of education (see § 37 JJA), a legal regulation which sometimes is neglected (see Dunkel 2011a).

The juvenile justice system is strictly based on the idea of education and minimum intervention, in order to avoid stigmatization and negative effects of formal interventions. Therefore, diversion, i.e., the dismissal of cases by the juvenile prosecutor or the youth court has priority (see 5. below). Mediation is given priority in this area of intervention (see § 45(2) JJA), other minor (“informal”) diversionary interventions may be community service orders, reparation to the victim, or reprimands (diversion without interventions is given priority to diversion in combination with certain educational measures, which have to be approved by the youth court, see § 45(3) JJA). “Formal” court dispositions are the so-called educational (see § 10 JJA) and disciplinary measures (see § 13 ff. JJA), for example, mediation, reparation to the victim, community service, the so-called social training courses, the supervisory directive (executed by the welfare authorities or the juvenile probation service), etc. “Disciplinary” measures include a week-end detention or detention of up to 4 weeks in a special unit (not prison). Educational and disciplinary sanctions are not classified as punishment and therefore not registered in the records of young offenders.

Youth imprisonment should be used only as a last resort and for the minimum period acceptable (see §§ 17, 18 JJA). However, short-term imprisonment of less than 6 months is not seen as “educationally” appropriate, and therefore the Juvenile Justice Act forbids such penalties. The maximum youth prison sentence is 5 years, in cases of very serious crimes committed by juveniles 10 years

“Informal” and “formal” (court) sanctions in the German juvenile justice system, 1981-2013. Source

Figure 15.3. “Informal” and “formal” (court) sanctions in the German juvenile justice system, 1981-2013. Source: Heinz (2015a).

(see § 18 JJA). In the case of young adults, the maximum term in general is 10 years. Since 2013 the maximum penalty may be 15 years for very serious and qualified murder cases.

Youth courts deal with juvenile and young adult offenders. Waiver procedures for serious juvenile offenders are not provided. Young adults, however, according to their maturity, can be sentenced either with sanctions of the general Criminal Law or of the JJA. The practice in two thirds, in serious violent cases even in more than 90 % of cases applies the milder juvenile law (in order to avoid higher minimum sentences of the general criminal law, see Dhnkel 2006, 2011a; Pruin and Dhnkel 2015).

The “penal climate” and the sentencing practice in Germany in general can be characterized as moderate. This is particularly true in the juvenile justice system. As can be seen from Fig. 15.3, 71 % of all juveniles and young adults in 2013 were dismissed by the juvenile prosecutor (sect 45 JJA) or the judge (sect. 47 JJA), in most cases because of the pettiness of the offence (sect. 45 I JJA) or because educational measures have been taken by others (parents, school or because mediation, reparation has been agreed).

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