Kriminologiska institutionens avhandlingsserie nr. 25, 2007.

This thesis investigates changes in the justice system’s response to youth crime between 1980 and 2005. A central question is whether the legal system’s response as regards the choice of sanction and the official definition of offences has become harsher. This is studied in two empirical analyses examining: 1) the sanctions issued in connection with all convictions of youths aged 15–17 between 1980 and 2005, and 2) the assessment made of the perpetrator’s criminal intent among all youths aged 15–17 convicted of lethal violence between 1982 and 2005.

The results show that the approach to both sanctioning and the official definition of offences has become harsher and more intrusive. This cannot be explained by reference to changes in the offences themselves or in the youth offenders’ backgrounds. It has, for example, become increasingly rare for prosecutors and the courts to opt for the least intrusive sanctions, such as waivers of prosecution or fines. Instead, youths are increasingly often prosecuted and sentenced to remand into the care of the social services. As regards the most serious crimes, such as attempted murder or manslaughter, fixed-term custodial sanctions have come to dominate since the mid-1990s. In cases of lethal violence, the assessment of criminal intent has changed. It has become increasingly uncommon to define acts as involuntary manslaughter by means of aggravated assault, and more common to define these acts as murder. This shift can at most be marginally explained by changes in the nature of the violence, or in other circumstances associated with these cases.

The shifts can partly be explained by penal reforms that place the crime and its penal value at the centre, while assigning the perpetrator’s conduct less significance. However, the shifts must also be understood as part of a complex of factors that includes the general politicisation of crime policy, the crime victim discourse and a general, increased sensitivity towards violence.