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The Youth Custody Act (LSU)

One of few clear consequences for young offenders in the Swedish legislation is found in the introduction of the youth custody sanction (Youth Custody Act— LSU; Lag 1998:603). The objective of this piece of legislation was the introduction of a determinate custodial sanction for youths aged 15-20 who are convicted of more serious offenses. Youth custody was intended to be imposed for offenses that would result in a prison term if the offender were an adult. The length of the sentence can vary between 14 days and 4 years depending on the penal value of the offense. Since the maximum prison term for adults in Sweden for the most serious offenses (murder) is 18 years to life imprisonment, the maximum term for youth custody is considerably lower. In the same way, the length of the custodial sentences imposed on the basis of the youth custody legislation is considerably shorter than the prison sentences that would be imposed on the basis of the legislation that applies to adults. This was also the intention of the legislation. The fundamental principle is that society cannot hold young people accountable for their actions to the same extent as adults. At the same time, the difference in the length of sentences between youth and adults is not as great as might it might appear since all adult prison inmates are released on parole once they have served two-thirds of their sentences, whereas youth custody sentences are served in their entirety.

From the perspective of the philosophy of law, youth custody is a somewhat remarkable sanction. On one hand, its severity is determined in proportion to the penal value of the offenses committed. On the other hand, the sanction’s content takes the form of treatment provision at one of the special approved homes (see later). The nature of the treatment provided by special approved homes is largely the same irrespective of whether a given youth has been placed on the basis of the LVU Act (see later) or sentenced to the youth custody sanction by a criminal court. The National Board of Institutional Care, which is the state agency responsible for the special approved homes, has six institutions that receive youths sentenced to youth custody.

Relatively few youths in Sweden are sentenced to youth custody. In 2014, 56 youths served youth custody sentences, of which only two were girls (SiS 2015:10). This number has remained relatively stable in recent years. Over the course of the past 15 years, the number of such sentences has been reduced by half. When the sanction was introduced, it was said to have had a net-widening effect. The original idea was that youth custody would replace prison sentences for youths aged 15-17, but the new sanction was imposed on youths in this age group much more frequently than a prison sentence had been imposed prior to the Youth Custody Act coming into effect.

In 2014, the mean length of youth custody sentences served was 10.7 months. The shortest sentences were between 14 days and 3 months, and the longest sentences of 24 months were very uncommon. The most common offenses that resulted in youth custody sentences were robbery (53 %) and assault (31 %). There are, however, cases where youths are sentenced to youth custody for serious property crime. Two of those sentenced to youth custody in 2014 (6 % of the LSU Lag 1998:603 sentences) were for murder (SIS 2015:10).

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