Merkel urges custody for violent young offenders

4th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined in the debate on youth crime Friday by urging tougher measures for young offenders convicted of acts of violence.

4 January 2007

Berlin (dpa) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined in the debate on youth crime Friday by urging tougher measures for young offenders convicted of acts of violence.

The chancellor said in a newspaper interview that she was in favour of boot camps and courts handing brief custodial sentences designed to act as a deterrent to juveniles given probation.

Merkel's remarks, released in advance of publication by the Sunday edition of Bild am Sonntag, follow a much publicized attack by two immigrant youths that put a Munich pensioner in hospital.

"I believe that a brief spell in custody and boot camps are a meaningful addition to our criminal justice system. They can help young people change their way of thinking at an earlier stage so that they do not end up in prison," she said.

"A short custodial sentence in addition to probation is better than allowing a person to lapse into becoming a repeat offender and enduring long years in prison."

Under German law courts can place young offenders in special detention centres for up to four weeks followed by probation. In practice, such custodial sentences are rare and the youths are able to walk free on probation only.

After the attack in Munich, juvenile delinquency has shot to the top of the German political agenda, with some of Merkel's fellow Christian Democrats calling for a sharp clampdown.

Earlier in the week, Merkel's spokesman, Ulrich Wilhelm, said the government was considering if crime laws had to be toughened. But he said the issues also included improving education and the integration of minorities.

Munich police are holding a 17-year-old Greek national and a 20- year-old Turkish national on attempted-murder charges for kicking and punching a retired school principal, 76, who had asked them to obey a ban on smoking in an underground station on December 20.

A perception of widespread violence by youths, many of them born in Germany but descended from "gastarbeiter" migrants who settled in Germany in the 1960s, has triggered the debate about ethnic crime.

The most prominent voice was raised by Roland Koch, the Christian Democrat state premier of Hesse, which goes to the polls on January 27.

Koch said last week there were "too many criminal foreigners" in Germany and this week unveiled a six-point plan calling for a crackdown on delinquents, including more detention instead of fines.

Merkel's coalition partner, the Social Democrats, accused Koch of playing the race card in order to gain re-election and said existing laws were sufficient to punish violent offenders.

But the chancellor defended Koch, saying youth crime was a justified election issue because 43 per cent of all violent crimes in Germany are committed by people under 21, almost half of whom have immigrant backgrounds.

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