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Helsinki directs offences committed by minors to mediation and young people to work compensation

In Helsinki, criminal offences committed by young people are systematically reconciled through work compensations as this has been found to be an excellent way of preventing future crime. As a rule, when the City of Helsinki is the injured party, all criminal offences committed by minors are directed to mediation.

“Through mediation, the City of Helsinki wants to give young people the opportunity to compensate for the damage they have done by working. Monetary compensation would not necessarily have the same effect as it is often paid by the minor’s guardians,” says mediation advisor Robert Willadsen.

Compensating for the damage through their own work also gives the young person the opportunity to gain a new, healthier direction in life.

Early intervention

Mediation can be initiated through various routes. Willadsen says that it is most commonly initiated by the police, prosecutor or social services. Mediation can also be requested by a party involved in the case or, for example, the young person’s school.

Both parties need to give their consent to mediation before it can be launched. If the offender is under the age of 15, their guardian’s consent is also required.

The city has been involved in mediation cases with young people for a long time, but in recent years, the structure of mediation has been clarified. The goal is to accelerate the processing of mediation decisions and agreements in the large city organisation.

During the mediation process, the parties come together and review the damages caused. The goal is to find a solution to compensate for the damages that it acceptable to both parties.

Young people do not necessarily understand the consequences or gravity of their actions. Willadsen points out that work compensations agreed in mediation also have a social and educational function.

In addition to work compensation, the damages can be also compensated for with a combination of work and money.

Willadsen feels it is important to intervene in violations committed by young people at an early stage. Thanks to mediation, the young offenders will have to assume responsibility for their actions in a concrete way.

A glimpse into working life

Willadsen gives as an example a situation in which a young person has damaged a city-owned property.

Once the damage has been discovered and the person responsible is known, the parties may agree to settle compensation for the damages together. After they reach an agreement on the appropriate amount of work compensation, say three working days, the young person is directed to a suitable job.

The Urban Environment Division has an agreement on young people’s work compensations with Stara. Stara then directs the young person to complete their work compensation, for example, in park maintenance.

The city pays Stara, a public utility, a compensation for this service as the young person requires a full-time supervisor for the duration of their work compensation period.

“The city operates this way, because we want to consider the situation from the perspective of the young person’s future,” Willadsen says.

He points out that strict punishments would be unlikely to yield similar results. Work compensation also gives the young person a glimpse into working life. Some young people have even managed to turn their work compensation periods into summer jobs.

Approximately twenty work compensation agreements for young people are signed annually.

Preventing social exclusion

Production Manager Tero Koppinen from Stara says that Stara often has a double role in young people’s mediation cases. If the damage has been directed to Stara’s property, Stara is the injured party at the mediation negotiations.

In its second role, Stara offers young offenders involved in the mediation process work compensation jobs as agreed with the Urban Environment Division.

“According to the city’s principle, whenever possible, work compensation jobs are connected to the damage caused,” Koppinen says.

This is not always possible. In practice, young people often clean up messed up walls or vehicles. Work compensation jobs are also available in parks and warehouses, among other places. Young offenders have also cleared branches, weeded, set up rabbit fences, carried out light snow removal work and taken care of domestic animals at Haltiala.

For work compensation periods, Stara employs supervisors who are willing and able to work with young people. A young person completing their work compensation period will not be left alone at any point.

Koppinen thinks it is great that Stara is able to offer work compensation jobs and, at the same time, possibly prevent social exclusion.

“People make mistakes. Even our top management has stated that this is an important and valuable service and we want to continue to provide it in the future.”

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6 am

Work planner Veikko Kärnä from Stara says that young people’s work compensation periods typically last for 2–5 days.

“They do real work that is, of course, tailored to suit them.”

The supervisor is closely involved in the work, in other words, they do the work together. Kärnä estimates that about half of a supervisor’s working hours are spent guiding the young person. Regardless of this, they consider mediation a successful process. The supervisors are acutely aware of its significance.

They never ask the young people what kind of damage they are compensating for. However, some of the young people choose to talk about their history themselves.

During their work compensation periods, the young people are an integral part of the work group and take part in normal lunch and coffee break chitchat.

“Once they get over their early nerves, they usually become a part of the group. We often start work at 6 or 7 am. With a few exceptions, they usually show up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”

Young people usually complete their work compensation during school holidays to avoid disruption to their school attendance.

Kärnä says that when a young person shows they are able to work and have the right attitude, they are told about upcoming summer job opportunities and encouraged to apply.

At the end of their work compensation periods, young people are asked to fill in a feedback form. Responses show that for the most part, young people have been very satisfied with the work compensation arrangement.

Text: Kirsi Riipinen
Image: Patrik Lindström

Read more about the promotion of social sustainability on the Sustainable Helsinki website.