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In order to understand a country’s juvenile justice system, one first needs certain knowledge about that country’s juvenile justice system foundations. According to Traskman (1984), the Swedish criminal code of 1864 was based on the views of the classical school of criminal justice, which rested on the two cornerstones of justice and proportionality. Thus, the punishment should proceed from the criminal act and be proportionate to the severity of the act in question. Over time, however, this classical view was abandoned, and sanctions gradually became individualised on the basis of different characteristics of the offender. When determining the severity of sanctions, increasing consideration came to be given to factors such as the offender’s anti-social nature, psychological condition, and the danger he or she posed to society. By the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, the Swedish justice system was characterised by a treatment focus (Sarnecki 2015). However, this approach came to be questioned in Sweden during the latter part of the 1970s—similar to many other parts of the western world.

The criticism of the treatment ideology was primarily focused on two factors: fairness and its effectiveness. With regard to the issue of fairness, it was argued that reacting to criminal acts on the basis of the offender’s perceived need for treatment was unjust (e.g. Bra 1977). Critics noted, for example, that two youths of the same age who together committed the same offense (e.g. breaking into the cellar of an apartment building) could receive completely different sanctions. The second aspect of the criticism related to the effects of treatment and was inspired by contemporary

J. Sarnecki (*)

Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden

Gavle University, Gavle, Sweden e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

S.H. Decker, N. Marteache (eds.), International Handbook of Juvenile Justice, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45090-2_21

debates in the USA. In a seminal article on American prison reform and correctional treatment, Martinson (1974) concluded:

“with few and isolated exceptions, the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism” (Martinson, 1974:25).

Martinson’s conclusion came to be interpreted as “nothing works”.

It could be argued that Martinson’s (1974) article had a major impact on Sweden (Pratt and Eriksson 2011). The criticism of the treatment ideology had a profound effect on the workings of the Swedish justice system, which has gradually returned to its foundations in the classical school. The final report of the governmental inquiry “Ett reformerat straffsystem” (A reformed penal system: SOU 1995:91) proposed that legislation should greatly reduce its focus on the goals of prevention and should, instead, proceed on the basis of a neoclassical perspective, with the courts determining sanctions on the basis of the penal value of a given offence viewed in relation to other crimes. These ideas were largely implemented in Sweden by means of a reform of the Swedish Penal Code, which came into force in 1999. However, the current legislation still includes a range of elements associated with the treatment ideology, especially in regard to young offenders.

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