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The impact of Juvenile Justice interventions on young offenders in Spain


Background and purpose. Youth delinquency is a major public concern in all modern societies. There appears to be increasing public and professional concern about violent behaviour among children and adolescents. Juvenile Justice is the area of criminal law applicable to persons not old enough to be held responsible for criminal acts. A juvenile delinquent is a person who has not yet reached the age of majority (18 years old), and whose behavior has been labeled delinquent by a court. The Spanish Young Offenders Act (LO 5/2000) came into effect on January 13, 2001. The Act defines a young person as being aged 14 through 18 years inclusive.

This paper summarizes the activities and achievements of the Juvenile Delinquency Law in Spain (Ley Orgánica 5/2000).

Method. On the paper it will be described a sample of 382 spanish juvenile offenders aged from 14 to 18. The sample was very predominantly male (85, 6%). Data from young offenders´ reports were used to analyse the interventions´ effectiveness and to further our understanding of youth offending by studying risk factors in different contexts (social-demographic, family, school and peer-related factors); custodial sentences outcomes were compared with non-custodial interventions outcomes.

Key findings. The mean of age at their first juditial report was 16, 5 years old.

Custodial sentences sample showed more problematic life contexts (family, school, peer group). Addictions (23, 3%) and economic difficulties (19, 1%) were the most frequent family problems found. Our results showed significant differences in family financial problems (32, 4% of young offenders with custodial interventions and 17,7% of non custodial interventions group). Limited social and economic resources contribute to parental stress, child abuse and neglect, damaged parent-child relations, and family break-up.

Difficulties at the scholarship context are the most frequent risk factors founded in our participants. Poor academic achievement has consistently predicted later delinquency (Maguin and Loeber, 1996). School failure appeared to be recurrent; an 86, 8% of our sample didn´t get their school certificate and a 35, 6% showed behaviour problems at school.

An 87, 5% of the custodial interventions sample and a 77, 5% of the non custodial, had a conflictive peer group. By the time a child enters school, peer and community influences begin to be even more important. Being drawn to antisocial peers may introduce or reinforce antisocial attitudes and behaviour in children. Indeed, aggressive children tend to seek each other. Other studies also indicated that social affiliation with a delinquent peer group predicts school-related problems and antisocial behaviour (Dishion & Loeber, 1985). Our results support the idea that young offenders tend to associate with one another in antisocial networks.

Our results indicated that non-custodial interventions with juvenile defendants showed less recidivism rates (30%) than the custodial ones (70%). Reconviction rates for prison department young offenders institutions are generally in the range of 65%-90% (Bullock, Little and Milham, 1998).

Conclusions and recommendations. Effective preventions and interventions should be based on the premise that youth delinquency is determined either directly or indirectly by the interaction of youth with those in their social system (family, school or peers). Thus, intervention may be necessary in any one or a combination of these systems. Building individual skills and competencies, parent effectiveness training, improving the social climate of the school, and changes in type and level of involvement in peer groups, should be the intervention aims.

Programs must focus on several risk factors at the same time and must be designed to occur over several years and in multiple settings (e.g., family, school, and community). Interventions beginning early in a child's life are some of the most effective. Ideally, the early interventions should be reinforced later as the child enters new developmental periods.

Key references

Bullock, R., Little, M., & Millham, S. (1998). Secure treatment outcomes. The care careers of very difficult adolescents. Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited

Dishion, T., & Loeber, R. (1985). Adolescent marijuana and alcohol use: The role of parents and peers revisited. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 11, 11-25.

Maguin, E., & Loeber, R. (1996). Academic performance and delinquency. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, Vol. 20. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, pp. 145-264.

Contacts: Amaia Bravo, Child and Family Research Group. University of Oviedo, Facultad de Psicología. Plaza Feijoo s/n. 33003 Oviedo, Spain amaiabravo@uniovi.es, Phone+34 985 103246, Fax +985 104141.

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