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Italy: A Lesson in Tolerance?

Nelken, David
June 4, 2015

Source: (2006) In, John Muncie and Barry Goldson, eds., Comparative Youth Justice, London: Sage Publications. PP 159-176.

This chapter examines the tradition of tolerance that characterizes the Italian juvenile justice system. The current analysis focuses on the tolerance of the juvenile justice system in Italy against the back-drop of increasingly punitive juvenile justice policies that have evolved in many Anglo-American societies. Throughout the discussion of tolerance in the Italian juvenile justice system, the author notes the difficulties inherent in international comparative research on justice models. Much of the penal policy governing juveniles in Italy was established by the juvenile justice procedural reform act of 1988, which addresses the delinquency of youths between the ages of 14 and 18 years. The procedures require that prison be avoided and that the legal process not interrupt the normal process of education and growing up. For the most part, juvenile offenders are disposed of informally and never progress on to the trial process; the rate of juvenile incarceration is exceedingly low compared to other Anglo-American societies. In attempting to explain the tolerance toward young offenders exhibited in Italy, the author notes the utter lack of public concern and fear for both youth crime and street crime in general. Most of the concern for crime in Italy rests with crimes that threaten the state, such as corruption, political terrorism, and organized crime. Additionally, the cultural significance of the family is much more prominent than in other Anglo-American cultures, illustrated by the low rate of “broken families” in the country, and family is largely regarded as the natural and proper place for discipline and socialization. The prominence of the Catholic Church in guiding Italian criminal and juvenile policies is also noted as a contributing factor to the tolerance displayed toward juvenile offenders in this country. Finally, the author notes the lack of scientific evaluation and criminology within Italian society as well as a lack of recidivism data on young offenders. (Abstract courtesy of the National Criminal Justice System,


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