A Belgian research explored good practices in the field of juvenile justice. Professionals interviewed were convinced of the validity of these approaches and have spoken about the difference these have made for children affected. Benefits are not only for the offending young people but also for society in general.
As part of the EU-funded AWAY project, a Belgian national report presents the diversion measures provided for in the Belgian juvenile justice system, the way in which restorative justice has been progressively implemented in Belgium, the good practices and the difficulties identified, and finally formulates recommendations. The document builds on a research conducted in 2017, combining documentary studies, analyzes and semi-structured interviews of professionals (five experts in the field of restorative justice and ten of the thirteen restorative and educational action services of the Federation Wallonie-Bruxelles).
Professionals responsible for the application of restorative justice measures are strongly convinced of the validity of this alternative method, that it is as beneficial for the young offenders as for the victims. They attest that it makes a great difference. They also recognize that failures may occur, but the successes are very convincing and bring a lot of benefits to the participants and society in general. They also underline however that some magistrates are not convinced of this type of measures whereas without them and their approval nothing can happen.
Most victims who agree to use this type of process are of good will and there is never any abuse (or exaggerated demand for repair for example) nor a desire to get a revenge. They feel that they are part of a real process that is both personal (answering questions, understanding, humanising their aggressor) but also societal (the victim is really involved in the process, has a place in society as a victim and is recognized as such).
Even in Belgium, restorative justice remains unknown to the general public. It is most often perceived as a "sweet utopia" that can not work. Most people still think that it is not a "real" justice and that the only effective response to delinquency is repression and detention. For this reason it is essential to inform and raise awareness among the population in order to change mentalities. Contrary to what most people think, restorative justice is not a sign of weakness on the part of justice. It is an innovative and educational way of doing justice, which allows the offender to think deeply about his or her actions.
The project AWAY is co-funded by the European Union.