Age of criminal responsibility: This age is fixed at 15. Minors under 15 are considered criminally irresponsible. Civil courts can make them repair damage they have caused, and they can be monitored by social services. Minors between 15 and 18 benefit from reduced sentences. The age when you are criminally responsible is the same as the age when you are civically responsible, i.e. 18.
Trials: There are no specialist youth courts. The magistrates responsible for youth cases are professional magistrates who are not specialised in children’s rights. The presence of a solicitor is obligatory.
Measures that can be applied to young offenders. Measures that can be applied to young offenders are the following:
– returning them back to their parents
– community service
– suspended sentences
A new punishment (“juvenile punishment”) was introduced in the Finnish system in 1997 for an experimental period of 5 years in 7 courts. Juvenile punishments consist of “juvenile service” (10 to 60 hours) and complete supervision (from 4 months to a year). This punishment is for:
* young offenders who were under 18 at the time of their offence
* for crimes which would otherwise be punished with a suspended prison sentence, depending on the crime committed.
The aim of this punishment is to instil some sort of “social responsibility” and to socially reintegrate the offender. “Juvenile service” is a form of community service, and includes structured and clear programmes on preventing drug abuse, educational programmes (information on training, housing and other issues linked to citizenship) as well as programmes on the effects of crime.
“Post-care authorities” are in charge of implementing such measures.
The aim is to keep this experimental punishment programme operating until the end of 2001, when a more permanent punishment programme should be introduced.
Coercive measures: There are no closed detention centres, but there are prisons or sections specifically for minors over 15.
Implementing the punishments, except imprisonment, is the responsibility of national and local authorities. They are managed by professionals (with volunteers only involved in mediating) from local authorities, social services, the police, the courts and mediation associations, all of which receive specific training.