The sentences that are handed out by Spanish juvenile judge Emilio Calatayud would in many courtrooms sound like a joke.
But the 48-year-old magistrate has soared to national fame thanks to his eccentric sentences, which have reduced juvenile delinquency in the southern city of Granada.
Juveniles convicted of beating up a homeless man are ordered to distribute food aid to beggars. A suspect charged with setting a house on fire is instructed to assist a fire brigade.
A motorcyclist caught without compulsory insurance is told to draw a comic about the incident and visit victims of traffic accidents at a hospital.
Calatayud, the son of a judge, has not forgotten his restless youth, during which he nearly turned to crime himself, the daily El Mundo reported.
The popular magistrate now claims to have a good understanding of the causes of juvenile delinquency, and says almost 80 percent of the youths whose cases he handles are rehabilitated.
"People must pay for what they do, but that is not enough," says Calatayud, who deals with some 800 cases every year, from pickpockets to murderers.
A reckless driver, for instance, was ordered to patrol the streets with a traffic policeman for 100 hours. A Senegalese immigrant who sold pirated CDs was "sentenced" to learning Spanish.
A young computer hacker who saddled several companies with thousands of euros' worth of damage was ordered by the judge to give 100 classes to students of information technology.
Calatayud usually offers such possibilities as alternatives to internment and other punitive measures or as complementary to them.
"He opened my eyes," said Andres, 20, who is determined not to commit any more robberies after Calatayud "sentenced" him to finishing school and getting a driving license.
Justice should not be based on a spirit of vengeance or condescension, says Calatayud, who works in collaboration with psychologists and sociologists.
Spanish legislation on juvenile crime has been criticized as lax, but it has produced good results when applied by Calatayud, whose office is filled with gifts from grateful parents, El Mundo reported.
The likes of Calatayud are laughed at by champions of tough justice, but experts say such an approach often makes sense in the case of juvenile delinquents.
"There are many types of offences, such as thefts in supermarkets, which people stop committing as they grow older, but if you place those adolescents into the wrong system, you turn them into criminals," penal law professor Esther Gimenez-Salinas told the daily La Vanguardia.
She tells the story of a young man who was ordered to work in the garden of an old lady whom he had pushed on the street, breaking her leg.
"When the criminal gets to know the victim outside court, not as an enemy, he repents," Gimenez-Salinas added.
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