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There are a number of institutions and professionals in the Spanish juvenile justice system that intervene at different stages with juvenile offenders in order to respond to criminal behavior. It is mainly police officers, public prosecutors, judges, and lawyers who are responsible for setting in motion the legal procedure aimed at making a juvenile accountable for the offenses committed.

Policing and Juveniles

The Police are one of the first institutions that come in contact with juveniles who have committed a crime. Although the JCA recognizes the need for specialized Police Groups, called GRUME (Juvenile Groups) in urban areas and EMUME (Guardia Civil specialized in working with juveniles and women) in rural areas, they have not been assigned many functions. In Spain the police do not act differently with juveniles than with adults, as opposed to what happens in other countries like the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, or Ireland (Junger-Tass and Decker 2006) where they can caution the juvenile or adopt diversionary measures.

The GRUME/EMUME are in charge of arresting the juvenile delinquent and helping the prosecutor clarify the facts. The JCA only mentions the police twice, first, when it rules on the functions of the prosecutor and entrusts them to order the police to verify the facts and the juvenile’s participation (art. 6), and second, when it regulates the arrest of juveniles (art. 17).

However, although it is not mentioned in the Act, there is no doubt that the GRUMES/EMUMES’ actions are wider. On one hand, because the groups have responsibilities with juvenile delinquents as well as with juvenile victims, their work has undoubtedly preventive potential. In fact, when presented as a figure of authority which respects accordingly the rights and guarantees of children as described by the Committee on the Rights of the Child (2007, 6), it serves to encourage pro-social behavior. On the other hand, in practice, the groups are an important element in the juvenile justice system since they are in permanent contact with all its institutions: Juvenile Courts, Prosecutors, Social Services, etc.

The first action to be taken with juvenile delinquents is to determine their age. If the juvenile is under 14 years old (thus excluded from the actions of the juvenile justice system), the police must restrict their actions to the field of juvenile protection. Once the juvenile’s age and identity are determined, the rules of juvenile protection will be applied. The prosecutor will be informed of the known facts and circumstances by sending the police report, referring the juvenile either to his attorney or to the public entity for juvenile protection.

Another main action carried out by the Police is detaining the juvenile. In this case, the action must be most respectful of the juvenile’s rights; in particular, they must ensure the juvenile’s protection (art. 17).

The Police can also keep juveniles in short-term custody, but only for 24 h before formally accusing them of a crime. During that time, juveniles have the same constitutional rights as adults, as well as some specific rights due to their juvenile status such as:

  • • Act enforcement officers must use clear and understandable language according to the offender’s age,
  • • Before a statement is taken, a written notice of the time, place, and purpose of the taking of the statement is given to the parents or guardians, the lawyer, and the prosecutor, and
  • • During these 24 h, the juvenile must be kept in a special room away from adult offenders.
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