Adolescents (aged 14 to 17) are deemed criminally responsible and are subject to juvenile criminal law; the same applies to young adults (aged 18 to 20) whose developmental status or crime is deemed juvenile in nature.
The duties of the youth courts assistance service or youth assistance in criminal proceedings are outlined in Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII) and in the Youth Courts Act (JGG):
Article 52 of SGB VIII:
Sections 38 and 50 JGG:
Under Article 52 of Book 8 of the Social Code (SGB VIII) the youth welfare office is involved in proceedings under the Youth Courts Act (Jugendgerichtsgesetz) against adolescents (aged 14 to 17) or young adults (aged 18 to 21 when the crime was committed). The youth courts assistance service (Jugendgerichtshilfe, JGH) or youth assistance in criminal proceedings (Jugendhilfe im Strafverfahren, JuHiS) becomes involved when the police notify the youth welfare office that they suspect an adolescent or young adult of having committed a crime and criminal proceedings are initiated. JGH/JuHiS assists delinquent adolescents and young adults throughout the entire criminal proceedings.
Data on involvement in juvenile court proceedings is listed in special statistics on criminal prosecutions and is thus separate from the statistics on youth support services. According to the German Youth Institute (Deutsches Jugendinstitut): In 2021 a total of 46,603 young people aged 14 to 17 years – or aged 18 to 20 years in the case of adolescents who were deemed by the court to be accountable under juvenile criminal law – at the time of the offence were tried in Germany under juvenile criminal law. 22,297 of these young people were given supervisory measures (instructions; orders to seek socio-educational support services), 32,225 were given corrective measures (cautions, obligations, or juvenile detention) and 7,293 were given juvenile sentences – the majority of which were suspended (4,547) (...). On 31 March 2022, 2,654 male and 106 female juvenile offenders were in youth detention centres in Germany. Of these, 245 male and 24 female detainees were between 14 and 17 years of age, 1,131 male and 37 female detainees were adolescents aged 18 to 20 years, and 1,278 male and 45 female detainees were aged 21 or over (Deutsches Jugendinstitut, 2023, p. 21).
While tasks performed by JGH/JuHiS are not noticeably different from those of child and youth services (Article 1 of Book 8 of the Social Code), it has additional rights and duties under the Youth Courts Act. For one, JGH/JuHiS assists the young accused to the extent deemed necessary under youth services legislation. Specifically, inter alia, it verifies whether any socio-educational support should be provided to the young person in a move to eliminate the need for criminal prosecution or lead to the discontinuation of proceedings already begun. The involvement of JGH/JuHiS ensures that socio-educational aspects are taken into account in juvenile court proceedings. For another, JGH/JuHiS also assists the juvenile court by researching the accused’s personality, development, and family, social and economic environment (Section 38 II 2). They attend the main hearing against the young accused and inform the court of their personal and living circumstances. Should a conviction be handed down, JGH/JuHiS ensures that the young offenders comply with any instructions and conditions (Section 38 V 1). Local JuHiS representatives must ensure that support is available to young offenders locally (e.g., care instructions, educational support in work contexts, social skills training). Some JuHiS also offer support for children under 14 (age of criminal responsibility) and their parents.
The applicability of two pieces of legislation (Book 8 of the Social Code and the Youth Courts Act) is occasionally said to be problematic because of the differing logics underlying these legal fields. Juvenile criminal law centres around (alleged) criminal acts, with juvenile court proceedings serving to uncover the “truth” about an incident and prevent further crimes. By contrast, child and youth services legislation focuses on the educational support provided to young people in line with their personal needs. This “misalignment” between the social work and (criminal) justice system is also apparent in the vocabulary used. The term Jugendgerichtshilfe (youth courts assistance service) has clear judicial overtones, whereas Jugendhilfe im Strafverfahren (youth assistance in criminal proceedings) signals an affiliation with the child and youth services system. JGH/JuHiS is not subject to any instructions by the court. Neither is there an obligation to engage in any criminal investigations.
In practice, the way in which JGH/JuHiS is organised locally varies greatly. Most youth welfare offices perform the tasks themselves; only rarely are they delegated wholly or partially to independent providers. That said, JGH/JuHiS tasks may be provided by an independent specialised department in the youth welfare office, or by its general social services department (Allgemeiner Sozialer Dienst, ASD). Depending on the size and availability of staff of a local authority and its youth welfare office, the work may be done by larger teams or a “one-person” department.