"We know from both research and empirical experience that if we can get them back in school, and get them to complete compulsory schooling and preferably even upper secondary, then in most cases things turn out well," says Otto Petersson, strategist at the Swedish Police Authority.
"However, we also know from experience that if you commit a serious crime while young and aren't helped, then it's often very difficult to get back on track."
Helping these young offenders does, however, require the involvement of several pillars of the community: the police, schools, social services and often even the county council, as many of the youngsters involved have some kind of diagnosis with which they need help.
"One major problem is that the obligation of non-disclosure among the authorities limits our ability to work effectively together, resulting in each organisation working in seclusion. At the same time, we know that if we could collaborate more, then we'd also be better positioned to help these youngsters."
In order to investigate how this could be achieved, the police have partnered with Vinnova to try working with innovative policy development. Fundamentally, what this requires is cooperation with citizens, delving into actual needs and quickly testing different hypotheses in the real world. The project began by focusing on the fictional young offender Charlie, aged 15. From there, the project group looked at which bodies needed to be involved to help Charlie to finish school with acceptable grades in all subjects, and a decision was made to conduct the first trial in Sundbyberg.
"This is a municipality with dedicated, progressive employees working at all the concerned authorities, and if there's anywhere we can test this approach it's here."
Assisted by Vinnova, work is now under way to help the participants to think outside the box and without constraints. Moreover, research support is being provided by the Delegation for Trust-Based Public Management, which was commissioned by the Swedish government to, among other things, promote idea development for more coordinated public services.
"This help is essential if the project is to succeed. It may well be a painful exercise, but if we keep doing things the same way, we'll most likely see the same results. If we want to see change, then we need to try a different approach."
As yet the project is still in its infancy, but Petersson hopes to be able to offer new insights by the end of 2020. One hypothesis to be tested is that it is especially important for young offenders to be speedily processed by the judicial system.
"Perhaps we'll find new, effective ways in which we can collaborate, or perhaps we'll discover that the legislator needs to implement changes to make this possible. Most important, however, is that together we look at how we can best help give these youngsters better lives."
Text: Karin Aase