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In Poland, the juvenile justice system is significantly different from the adult criminal justice system. It may be said that the whole system of dealing with juvenile offenders is an alternative to the criminal process and aims at diverting juveniles from criminal proceedings provided for adults. Family courts which were entrusted with juvenile proceedings focus more on the needs of juvenile offenders than the nature and seriousness of acts committed by them. The catalog of measures applied to juveniles differs from penalties provided for adults. According to legal regulations, educational, medical, and correctional measures are imposed on juveniles not in order to punish, but to support, educate, and resocialize them. Family court judgments on the application of measures do not constitute a ‘conviction’ in the meaning of the criminal law and are registered in a record separate from the criminal record. As a result, the imposition of measures on juveniles has less stigmatizing effects than sentences given by criminal courts.

It does not mean, however, that the juvenile justice system is free from controversial issues. Currently, such matters give cause for concern as the legal status of a juvenile in juvenile proceedings and the growing number of juveniles adjudicated due to ‘signs of demoralization.’ In the light of international standards concerning rights of children in conflict with the law, the individualized approach to juvenile offenders dealt with by family courts under civil procedure do not seem to be properly balanced with procedural safeguards. A relatively large number of juveniles adjudicated due to ‘signs of demoralization’ leads to worrying conclusions, that in practice such proceedings may be used as a substitute for effective prevention programs which should be offered to families facing problems and children at risk. Additionally, among problematic issues there are the lack of coordination between different ministries dealing with juveniles and a very limited scope of research on the effectiveness of measures imposed on them.

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