Solve a juvenile juvenile crime

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Jost Reinecke

To person

Jost Reinecke is professor for quantitative methods of empirical social research at Bielefeld University. The sociologist researches, among other things, the development of juvenile delinquency in the longitudinal section. Together with the criminologist Klaus Boers, Reinecke has been conducting a long-term study on juvenile delinquency in Duisburg since 2002. It is the only long-term study of this kind in Germany that covers a period of more than ten years and thus the entire period of the youth and young adult phase.

Stephan Kuperion

To person

Stephan Kuperion has been a criminal judge for 20 years and a youth judge at the Berlin-Tiergarten District Court for over 15 years. Kuperion was a friend and colleague of the deceased juvenile judge Kirsten Heisig. They worked together on the Neukölln model, which was introduced in Berlin in 2008. It provides simplified judicial procedures for certain criminal juveniles. Kuperion is committed to the model to this day - in Berlin and nationwide.

Stephan Kuperion is a youth judge at the Berlin-Tiergarten District Court. He has been judging young criminals for over 15 years. Jost Reinecke researches the development of juvenile delinquency. The sociologist is co-author of a large long-term study that repeatedly questions students about their delinquent behavior. In the interview, both of them demand the consistent implementation of educational measures and more resources for prevention work.

The so-called intensive offenders are responsible for a large part of juvenile delinquency. The question is, what helps: harsh penalties, faster negotiations, more prevention? (& copy picture-alliance) You both deal with juvenile delinquency - from different perspectives: Mr. Reinecke, you as a scientist and sociologist; Mr. Kuperion, you as a youth judge. Where do you both see the most pressing problem with juvenile delinquency at the moment?

Stephan Kuperion: I see the most urgent problem in the expectations of politics and society. It is expected that here at the juvenile court we will steer the messed up life of a young person back into the right direction with one, two or three lawsuits. But problem detection should start much earlier, well before the crimes that are often announced. And of course we also have the problem that we cannot do in juvenile prison what we could or should do. Because the corresponding resources are missing here.

Jost Reinecke: I see it similarly. The preventive aspect of juvenile delinquency is extremely important. With the help of studies, we can show that where the development of young people goes wrong, one could and should intervene early on with measures - for example through social work. Police or judicial control would then not be necessary at all.

The demand for more prevention is not new. Why isn't more happening in this area? Why is politics not releasing more resources?

Coupon: I'm the wrong person to talk to. But I believe that politicians shy away from measures to combat juvenile delinquency precisely because it is a problem area that they can never really master. There is no country, no island in this world without crime. Not even without juvenile delinquency. I would like more resources for prevention work. Also because the population develops a certain feeling of discomfort and fear about these incidents of juvenile delinquency, which we also have in Berlin right now. For example robberies at train stations: Politicians are promoting a decline in the numbers. I cannot understand this point of view. Because it's always about individual cases and individual victims. Whether that's 80 or 100 such incidents. Every victim of massive violence is one too many.


Juvenile delinquency in Berlin

In 2013, the Berlin Police Crime Statistics (PKS) recorded 23,781 suspects between the ages of 8 and 21. That was 3.4 percent less than in 2012 and the lowest total since 2003. There has also been a decline in brutality offenses (assault, robbery and liberty offenses) since 2007. In 2006 there was a peak with over 10,000 suspects between the ages of 8 and 21; In 2013 there were almost 7,000. Demographic developments alone cannot explain the decline, because the proportion of people under the age of 21 in Berlin's population is growing.

Additional Information:
Police crime statistics Berlin
PKS 2013
Annual report of juvenile delinquency 2013
Nonetheless, there has been a decline in juvenile delinquency in the last few years. There was a steady increase from the 1990s to the mid-2000s. What are the reasons that we have seen a decline in juvenile delinquency since then?

Reinecke: Here one must first ask whether it is a “real” decline. We are dealing with brightfield statistics here. So it's about reported crime. A reduced willingness to report can play a role in the decline, as can demographic developments or the police's focus away from juvenile offenders. But we're seeing a real decline more than likely. This is also proven by our dark field statistics. The decline has in part to do with social changes: the majority of young people are increasingly disapproving of violence and crime among their peers. There is also more commitment against violence and crime in schools. And we can see that the consumption of violent media is on the decline.


Light and dark field

The bright field includes crimes that are reported to the police. This crime registered by the police is also the basis for the police crime statistics (PKS). This involves the registration of suspects. Dark field statistics include unregistered crime and therefore crimes that are not reported. Information on the unreported field is based on surveys on criminal behavior.
Let's stay with the juvenile criminals. Mr Kuperion, you work as a youth judge at the Berlin-Tiergarten district court. Who is standing in front of you in the courtroom? Does the typical juvenile criminal exist?

Coupon: In Berlin, the currently 28 youth judges are responsible for individual city districts. The twelve districts are shaped very differently. We have almost the same offenses in all of them, but of course we have problem areas. This includes Neukölln with a high proportion of large Arab families. But we also have violent crime in the other districts, with no less brutality. From our perspective as practitioners, we cannot classify young criminals. However, we note that the proportion of violent criminals in the migrant scene is relatively high compared to the population. Overall, however, it is not THE youngsters who are criminals. There is a small group of young people who commit many criminal offenses and repeatedly commit offenses. For some time these have been known to be serious offenders.


Duisburg progress study "Crime in the modern city"

The study by the Universities of Bielefeld and Münster has been carried out in Duisburg since 2002. At the beginning, 3,411 young people who were on average 13 years old were interviewed anonymously. They were asked annually about their delinquent behavior up to the age of 20. Thereafter - up to the age of 24 - every other year. The study thus offers an insight into the dark field, i.e. unregistered crime. Around 84 percent of boys and 69 percent of girls up to the age of 18 admitted to having committed a mostly minor or moderate crime such as shoplifting at least once. Delinquency largely decreases from the age of 15 to 16, without any intervention by the police or the judiciary. The researchers assume that many of the results can be transferred to other large cities.

Additional Information:
Website of the study "Crime in the Modern City"
Mr. Reinecke, does that match the results of your study? Over a period of more than ten years in Duisburg you repeatedly questioned the same students about their delinquent behavior. They come to the conclusion that juvenile delinquency is virtually growing and is therefore an age-typical phenomenon. What exactly did your study show?

Reinecke: Our study is the only larger long-term study in Germany that is based on repeated surveys of the same students. If you ask the same people, you can also examine changes very well. We not only interviewed offenders, but also carried out a representative study of young people for the city of Duisburg. We can demonstrate that delinquency is widespread. Delinquency increases up to the age of fourteen or fifteen, and then we experience spontaneous probation, so the criminological expression. The majority of delinquency goes back and grows in a development-typical manner. This does not apply to the group of intensive offenders that Mr Kuperion addressed. There is a small group of HU offenders who consistently remain delinquent. But this group also shows, at least in our study, declining tendencies in terms of delinquent behavior.

That sounds as if there is “normal” juvenile delinquency on the one hand as a typical age phenomenon and on the other hand there is a hard core of intensive offenders. What does it take in order not to punish the one too harshly and throw them off course and to reach the others early and consistently?

Coupon: Yeah, that's the big problem. All decisions and educational measures are ultimately nothing more than prognostic decisions. Of course there are a large number of young people for whom crime is an episode and who do not exceed a certain level of intensity. One does not have to act with all severity against this. Whereby none of us demands toughness, in the sense that we say that nothing works under six months of youth imprisonment. The decisive factor is the consequence. And what is even more important than the educational measures is what happens when a young person fails to attend the educational measure. It is sick in many areas. It takes a long time before something happens if, for example, the recreational measure or the anti-violence seminar is not completed. Or in a way that doesn't make sense. And again: there are signs that lie ahead of the crime. Abnormalities at school, missed school. Not every truancy becomes an intensive offender, but one thing is clear, the absence of school is a warning sign. For example, we should have a lot more support from social workers and psychologists in schools. We are still a long way from achieving the necessary degree of cooperation between juvenile and family courts. Measures often run in parallel or even against one another.

Reinecke: I fully agree with that. You have to intervene much earlier. Politicians have the tools to do something here. It's not about making punishments harsher. It's about coordinating measures. Especially when it comes to truancy: This is one of the early indicators where one can say that something is going wrong here.

Judicial control procedures usually do not have the desired effect: the coordinated use of the judiciary in the right place is more important. (& copy picture-alliance)

Mr. Reinecke, in your study you also found that contact with the judiciary does not deter young people. On the other hand, that young people who have committed criminal offenses enter into close social ties with one another. A peer group emerges, a reference group that isolates itself from the outside world. So should the judiciary hold back more?

Reinecke: In our study, with the consent of the young people, we were also allowed to record their contacts with the judiciary. We have found that in connection with judicial contacts, the extent of these contacts does not lead to a decrease in criminal offenses. Rather, a delayed exclusion process takes place. That means that the young people isolate themselves more and more. And once these young people are in this cycle, they will not find their way out again, so to speak. One can see that judicial control procedures do not always have the desired effect. In this sense, you need less justice or you need justice in the right place and properly coordinated.

Coupon: But the fact that violence in Berlin's schools has declined is also related, in my firm belief, to the fact that, unlike in earlier times, the schools report cases. Educational measures - and this is what juvenile criminal law is all about - I don't want to see as an unimportant factor. What would the alternative be? We don't react at all? It takes a reaction. The first question is: How do we find the right educational measure? And the second question must be: Can we not influence the implementation of the educational measure better? This then again leads to the question of how much money is there for it. A sensible juvenile prison system can point in the right direction. Juvenile detention can also lead to isolation, to hardening.

Let's talk again about the young intensive offenders. Mr Kuperion, as a youth judge, do you have the feeling that you are facing a new challenge here? Or is it a phenomenon that has always existed and is simply reported more often today?

Coupon: I do believe that it is reported about it more often. It's a phenomenon that has always been around. It is now becoming more well-known because of the term “intensive offender”, because of the special handling by the police and the public prosecutor's office. I've been a criminal judge for 20 years, a youth judge for 15 years - and of course there were perpetrators 15 years ago who kept coming back. And one asked oneself: what is actually happening there? Why does nothing change in his life?

Intensive offenders are quickly equated with an existing migration background of the young people. Mr Reinecke, your study has shown that there is no close connection between juvenile delinquency and a migration background. Again about the background of the study: You did not specifically interview intensive offenders, but young people in general. Can your results from Duisburg also be transferred to other cities?

Reinecke: In my opinion, that can be transferred. As I said, we are talking about perpetrator rates in the dark field. So crime that wasn't reported. In the meantime, our and other studies show that the perpetrator rates among young people with a migration background - in Duisburg it is mainly young people of Turkish origin - are at a similar level to those of respondents of German origin. We also found that girls have a far lower proportion of violent offenders. Girls of Turkish origin are significantly less violent than those of German origin. Another result is that - in contrast - among young male ethnic repatriates, i.e. among Germans from Russia, an increased level of violent delinquency has been observed in recent years. So you have to approach it in a very differentiated way.


The Neukölln model

The "Neuköllner Modell" (NKM) started in Berlin in 2008, initially in a test run. It has been used across the city since 2010. It goes back to the initiative of the youth judge Kirsten Heisig and some of her colleagues. They developed the approach in the Berlin district of Neukölln together with the local police section, the juvenile justice department and other actors. The NKM provides for an accelerated youth procedure for suspect young people up to the age of 18, namely in the case of minor and medium-sized offenses (theft, simple bodily harm) and simple evidence. In 2013, a total of 236 procedures were carried out under the NKM; it peaked in 2011 with 358 cases. The proposals for an expedited procedure go from the police to the public prosecutor's office. Depending on the district, there are therefore differences in the number of accelerated procedures.
Mr Kuperion, you were a friend and colleague of the late juvenile judge Kerstin Heisig, who stands for the Neukölln model. Proceedings against young suspects are to be shortened so that there are only a few weeks between the offense and the trial. If you look at the Neukölln model again, what is left of it?

Coupon: We have an average of four to eight months between the act and the trial. Of course, this is far too long for an educational response. This means that an educational, consistent measure does not necessarily have to be tougher, but has to take place more quickly and promptly.That is why the demand must be: We need so many youth judges, the police and the public prosecutor's office so well equipped that we can basically deal with youth matters quickly. The speed we can achieve here is primarily a question of the resources we have.

And how is the Neukölln model currently being implemented?

Coupon: It is more difficult than initially thought. Berlin is a huge entity with a large number of police officers, a comparatively high number of juvenile criminal lawyers, juvenile judges and so on - albeit insufficient for a quick decision in all cases. We are still in the process of implementing the model and adapting it so that it works in the long term. What the Neukölln model has already achieved is a network between the four parties involved in juvenile criminal proceedings: juvenile court assistance, police, public prosecutor and juvenile court. We meet in regular working groups. In the last few years we have had 200 to 300 procedures based on the Neukölln model. In my opinion, this does not yet correspond to the number of cases for which the model is intended, suitable and educationally useful. And that's what it's about. I am not interested in the fact that we generate incredibly high case numbers. Even more about the fact that we are incredibly fast, just for the sake of speed. My aim is to be able to react quickly in cases where it seems particularly important to be able to implement it. We are working on that. But the Neukölln model is not a panacea. It is ONE component in the fight against crime.

The interview was conducted by Sonja Ernst.

Related Links

Duisburg progress study "Crime in the modern city"

Project overview "Crime in the modern city"

Press release on the current results of the long-term study in Duisburg, May 22, 2014 (PDF)

Print media coverage of the current results of the long-term study in Duisburg, May 22, 2014 (PDF) on the study results, "Juvenile delinquency - a problem solves itself?" (Audio contribution)ösungen-bei-jugendlichen

Neukölln model

DVJJ (German Association for Juvenile Courts and Youth Court Assistance), final report of the evaluation of the "Neukölln Model", November 25, 2014

Clemens Hoffmann, model Neukölln in the government trot, audio contribution on WDR 5, January 13, 2015

Kirsten Heisig, Fear is a bad advisor, Spiegel Magazin, July 19, 2010

Christian Denso and Heinrich Wefing, Youth Violence: The End of Impatience, Zeit Online, December 28, 2010