Saturday, January 19, 2008

Violent German youth sent to Siberia in reform effort

FRANKFURT, Germany — A troubled German teen is spending nine months in remote Siberia as part of efforts to turn him away from violence, officials said today.

The 16-year-old had been diagnosed as "pathologically aggressive" for behaving violently in school and attacking his mother, said Stefan Becker, head of the youth and social affairs department in the central German town of Giessen.

The teen agreed to take part in a program to send troubled youth to Siberia to reform in "a somewhat unusual measure, even for us," Becker said.

Youth services are experimenting with so-called "intensive educational experiences abroad" amid bad-tempered debate in Germany over how to tackle youth crime.

Roland Koch, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats who is the governor of the state of Hesse, has seized on youth crime in his bid to win re-election in state elections coming up Jan. 27.

Earlier this month, Merkel's party called for tougher action against young criminals. It has challenged the center-left Social Democrats — a coalition partner in the federal government but an opponent in the upcoming state elections — to consider tougher laws that would range from higher sentences to easier expulsion of immigrant offenders.

The Social Democrats have rejected that demand, arguing that it would make more sense to speed up criminal proceedings.

The German teen sent to Siberia has been living in the village of Sedelnikovo, some 190 miles from Omsk, for six months, accompanied by a Russian-speaking supervisor. He is now attending classes at a nearby school, Becker said.

An official who visited the teen last month to check on his progress reported back that "it seems as if (the plan) is working," he said.

"Siberia is very low on excitement and contacts," Becker said. "If he doesn't hack wood, his place is cold. If he doesn't get water, he can't wash."

Becker said he could recall only two similar cases over recent years but an organization representing youth help groups, AGJ, said some 600 serial offenders from Germany are currently taking part in programs outside the country.

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