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Assessment of the Justice Model Applied in Spain

The JCA utilizes a model which aims to educate through punishment and punish through education. To this end, on the basis of the developmental criminology approach, a dual criminal policy is designed to attend to the different realities which the juvenile justice system faces: adolescence-limited and persistent offenders (Moffit 1993). For the first context, the JCA establishes a normalizing policy to give the juvenile a second chance through various strategies (decriminalization, mediation, or low-impact educational measures), and for the second context, it establishes a robust criminal policy which aims to respond to the most serious cases, fundamentally by recourse to custody for periods of time which have gradually been lengthened in the successive amendments to the JCA.

The normalizing policy is the one most commonly employed since most are medium offenses. It is basically structured around diversion mechanisms and low-impact educational measures (fundamentally, socioeducational activities and community service). It is worth remembering that decriminalization is only possible, both by the prosecutor and the juvenile judge, in cases of minor crimes and offenses. In both cases, the law expressly provides that juveniles are taken to court if there has been use of violence or intimidation. Given that violence is a feature of many juvenile behaviors, the possible impact of this decriminalizing policy will not be extensive, as many cases will be taken to court obligatorily. With regards to deinstitutionalization, it must be noted that there has been a fall in custody rates, especially custody in closed centers. Interventions are largely community based. In fact, the measures most commonly adopted are probation and community service. It is worth noting that this normalizing approach is not a soft policy. Indeed, it is relatively interventionist and in most cases, the measures adopted have an effect on the juvenile offender’s everyday life.

The criminal policy directed at responding to the “hard-core” delinquents, that is, older delinquents (16 and 17 years of age) who are reoffenders and commit serious crimes, has received the most attention in the media (Bernuz 2005). This is essentially because most of the legislative reforms have referred to tougher measures to manage this serious delinquency, which, however, is less common among juveniles. Nevertheless, despite this process of legal criminalization of serious delinquency, the impact has not been great, since only a relatively small number of juveniles fit this profile and because the judges have preferred, within the limits laid down in the JCA, to opt for shorter measures which aim to contribute to the educational, responsibility-oriented process, which requires a response in the juvenile’s best interest (Fernandez-Molina 2012).

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