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THE FEDERAL YOUTH PROTECTION ACT OF 2006 AND THE GROWING “HYBRIDISATION” OF JUVENILE JUSTICE

After almost four decades of discussions on the juvenile justice system and the reform of the Juvenile Protection Act of 1965, a reform was passed through parliament in 2006. This Federal Act of 2006 considers the definition of the measures that Youth Courts can impose on minors who have committed offences (measures on minors “in danger” or who behave badly must be defined by the communities due to the State Reform of the 1970s and 1980s, see above). Key features of this 2006 reform can be synthesised as follows: (1) the model of a welfare system remains the stated characteristic of Belgian juvenile justice; (2) parents should be held responsible for their problematic or delinquent offspring; (3) the practice of alternative sanctioning acquires a formal and legal status within the juvenile justice system; (4) the reinforcement of the waiver or transfer mechanism for serious young offenders; and (5) the implementation of a restorative answer to young delinquents complementary to the classical welfare sanctions of the Juvenile Court.

It is important to stress that this reform took place within the legal framework of the 1965 Youth Protection Act. The basic principles of the welfare model remain at the core of the Belgian juvenile justice system. However, we can notice the infiltration of a penal and a restorative logic within the reformed Belgian welfare model. For example, from now on, juvenile justice judges will have to give full reasons for their decisions in a more objective way. Therefore a list of criteria guiding the decision of the Juvenile Court was introduced (Article 37). It is relevant that the seriousness of the crime is formally recognised as an element in the “sentencing” or decision-making process. Another example is, of course, the formal implementation of restorative justice procedures in the Belgian juvenile justice system. These procedures, mediation and family group conferencing, are introduced as a complementary possibility of societal reaction to an offence committed. As we will elaborate below, we can point out that the actual juvenile justice system in Belgium draws on a hybrid model rather than a “pure” welfare model (Christiaens and Dumortier 2006; Christiaens and Cartuyvels 2007; Cartuyvels et al. 2010; Christiaens et al. 2010).

 
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