Convictions of Young People Rise

News | Daniel Haidvogel | February 2008

The number of young people convicted of robbery, violence, theft and damaging property is at a historic low, according to a recent study by the Viennese Institute of Criminal Sociology published in January. And while young people of an immigrant background are less likely to commit a crime, they are much more likely to be convicted, the study reported. 16 % of the offenders that are sentenced are foreigners, compared to 9% of Austrian origin.

In some prisons, as in Gerasdorf, a full 30% of the inmates are foreigners, the result of a variety of assumptions according to Norbert Gerstberger, Chief Justice of the Youth Court. "Somebody who hasn’t got a stable home might try to escape," the judge told the Austrian daily Der Standard. "Because of this uncertainty, it is necessary to arrest these people."

Also attitudes in society have changed.

"Nowadays people report others to the police much more often than in the past," said Arno Pilgrim, a member of the Viennese Institute of Criminal Sociology.

One response, proposed by Austrian minister for justice, Maria Berger, is sending the young offenders to boot camps as a way to change their attitude and behavior. And while the situation is as yet unresolved, plans are already in place for a "youth competence center" to open in Erdberg in 2010 that will include a prison as well as a psychiatric ward. The Social Democrats want to reinstate the Court for Youthful Offenders, which was closed down in 2003 and suggest there should be more psychologists at school to help young people to cope with their problems.

Only in 1989 were there fewer convictions in the past couple of decades. This is due to new and varied means of punishing and rehabilitating offenders. Offenders can do community service or some sort of conciliation rather than simply having to go to prison.

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