Source: (2006) In, John Muncie and Barry Goldson, eds., Comparative Youth Justice, London: Sage Publications. PP. 111-126.

This chapter traces the development and current trends of the Belgium juvenile justice system. Currently in Belgium, the juvenile justice system is in a period of flux, floundering between a restorative and protective approach on the one hand and a more punitive and repressive approach on the other hand. The authors argue that any new juvenile justice reforms that emerge in Belgium are likely to be based on restorative practices that encourage the accountability of the offender and the reparation of harm. The authors begin with a review of the history of juvenile justice in Belgium, which has been guided by the principle that juvenile offenders need protection and education. The juvenile justice system is governed by the Federal Government, which is responsible for establishing local youth courts and presenting them with a range of acceptable sanctioning options. Within this framework, the local youth courts are given wide latitude in determining the course of juvenile justice within their communities. Critics have argued that the current legislative framework in Belgium does not give local communities enough guidance on the provision of juvenile justice. Indeed, these critics charge that the current system of local youth courts appears to be operating successfully mainly due to the “creativity and goodwill” of local judges and practitioners who keep the system running in the absence of a coherent set of legal guidelines. The authors next consider the current situation in Belgium concerning growing public concern over juvenile crime, which is largely unsupported by available crime statistics. Most of the concern, it is argued, has been targeted at ethnic minority youth, primarily Moroccans and Eastern Europeans. Research has shown that the socioeconomic and education exclusion these groups face in Belgium society is mainly responsible for the disenfranchisement experienced by these youth. (Abstract courtesy of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, www.ncjrs.gov).