Juvenile Justice Systems around the Globe: Alternative Ways to Address Youth (“AWAY”) Project

The “AWAY” Project analyzed changes implemented in the various juvenile justice systems of several European countries over the course of two years- from 2017 to 2018. [1] The countries included in the analysis were Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Belgium. The project’s main research questions were: (1) What are the existing measures and processes for diversion that exist in the countries, and in what percentage of cases of children in conflict with the law are they used?; (2) What factors (existing needs, gaps and pitfalls) hinder better and more frequent use of diversion and child-friendly justice practices?; and (3) what needs to be improved in the juvenile justice system to promote diversion and restorative justice using a child friendly approach? [2] Over the course of several blogs, I will discuss the findings of the “AWAY” project as it relates to the specific countries, and what the United States can take away and implement in our own system.

Juvenile Justice System: Belgium

Throughout Europe, national and European legislation (along with the ratification of the CRC) establishes that individuals under the age of 18 are considered children with limited legal capacity. [3] In Belgium, the juvenile justice system is called “protective justice” and the term “act deemed to constitute an offence (ADCO)” is used in place of “crime” or “offence” to enforce the view that children are not fully capable of understanding the nature of their criminal actions. [4] If a child is suspected of an “ADCO,” they will first meet with the police and be informed of their rights. [5]A prosecutor then has the choice to refer the case to the juvenile court or use a diversion method. These methods include taking no action, issuing a warning, or suggesting mediation with the victim. If a case is referred to a juvenile court, the judge has the option to issue several measures aimed at allowing the child to remain with their family or legal guardian. These options include issuing a warning, an order to take on a written project, outpatient therapy, community or educational services, restorative options, or for the child to go under supervision. In rare circumstances, the judge may place the child with a temporary guardian, or in an institution for psychiatric, therapeutic, or education services. [6]

Belgium’s system focuses on restorative justice and aims to repair the damage done by an ADCO and restore the bond between the perpetrator and the victim. If a victim has been identified the prosecutor must consider mediation, and if they choose against it, they must issue a written document stating that they have considered it but concluded that other measures are needed. All parties must agree on the mediation. The goal of the system is to keep the child with their families or legal guardian and always consider a restorative measure first. [7]

In comparison to the U.S. juvenile justice system, the “protective justice” system of Belgium gives police, prosecutors, judges, victims, children, and their parents/guardians far more options. Institutionalization is viewed as a last resort and there are multiple safeguards put in place to ensure it stays that way. Additionally, I think the language that the Belgium system uses is something the U.S. system could borrow from. It enforces the fact that that children’s brains are still developing, and as a result they are not able to fully comprehend the criminality of their actions in the way most fully developed adult brains could.

[1] Éva Kerpel et al., Alternative Ways to Address Youth (AWAY) Project Research Synthesis Report 5 (Viktória Sebhelyi et al. eds., 2018).

[2] Id. at 6.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 22.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 23.