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Late-modern evolutions in juvenile delinquent behavior (Belgium 1980-2005): a qualitative research (EVODELJE)

Research project TA/00/04 (Research action TA)

Persons :

Description :

This research aims at a criminological analysis of the evolution(s) during the past 25 years of problematic and "delinquent" juvenile behaviour in Belgium. Obviously specific problematic juvenile behaviours, such as incivilities, antisocial behaviour or violence, became important focuses of concern in late modern (Belgian) criminal policy. Moreover, international and european research demonstrates dominant trends in European juvenile delinquency for this period (such as an increase of violent crimes). Ever since the nineties, European research has shown a changing morphology of juvenile delinquency cases. A vivid discussion is going on amongst scientists, practioners as well as policymakers on how this complex phenomenon can be understood. In Belgium however, there is no research thoroughly analysing and contextualizing these evolutions from a long-term perspective, neither from a quantitative point of view, nor from a qualitative one. Over the past few years, international and especially European research has seen an interesting change of course, from a more developmental psychological point of view (individualistic, offender-oriented) towards a more sociological approach, explicitly referring to the need of a (historic) long-term perspective.

Until today no research was carried out to confront the Belgian situation with these European changes in juvenile delinquency. This research proposal joins the abovementioned research issue, which especially in Belgium, has not yet been investigated scientifically. The main research question of this project is: How did Belgian juvenile delinquent and problematic behaviour change and how can these changes be criminologically and socially understood as part of underlying social mutations? Therefore, this research aims at providing a criminological analysis of the long-term evolutions (1980-2005) in the delinquent and problematic behaviour of youngsters in Belgium.

Research design and methodology

The first part of this research focuses on a study of the scientific literature (national and international) produced between 1980 and 2005, as well as on a analysis of available/existing (Belgian) quantitative sources (data files, etc.) with respect to problematic and delinquent juvenile behaviour for the period reviewed (1980-2005).

The second part of our research concerns a qualitative analysis of reported and prosecuted problematic or delinquent behaviour of minors and their socio-psycho-pedagogical situation in the period between 1980 and 2005. This qualitative approach, involving prosecution files, analyses the reported ‘facts’ of problematic or delinquent behaviour beyond the judicial qualification, while paying attention to more social-criminological dimensions of this problematic behaviour. Moreover this analysis will pay attention to the social and psycho-pedagogical situation of the minor by means of social and/or sociological investigations present in the prosecution file. The methodological scope of this empirical part of our research will be limited to: (1) the study of problematic and delinquent behaviour of minors (in Belgium up to 18 years of age); (2) the safeguarding of the long-term perspective by means of 4 randomly chosen sample years between 1980 and 2005; (3) a geographical dispersion by involving five judicial districts in the analysis; (3) the selection of a random check of prosecution files in the districts involved in the research.

The third part of our research aims at an interaction with key actors (round tables) from the broad field of (1) the youth protection sector, (2) the juvenile police, (3) youth work and (4) schools and education. These “round table” discussions strive to: (1) compare the professional insight vision (concerning the evolutions in delinquent juvenile behaviour) with the research results; (2) provide and compare social-criminological (qualitative) refinement of the judicial listing of delinquent juvenile behaviour with the professional insight knowledge in order to provide a possible analysis scheme.

Goals and relevance

The strategic relevance of this research proposal for policy making is to be situated on several levels:
1. The research tackles an obvious shortcoming in the Belgian scientific knowledge on and insights in the long-term evolutions of delinquent juvenile behaviour. That way, this research actively contributes to making these long-term analyses available for the Belgian policymakers.
2. The research aims at providing a qualitative criminological analysis of the evolutions of juvenile delinquent behaviour in the past 25 years, correlated to an insight in the social mutations making up the context thereof. These scientific insights will offer elements to support and allow for a more contextualized strategy for preventing and tackling problematic and delinquent juvenile behaviour. By organizing round-table discussions with the key actors, this research will result in a (verified) social-criminological (qualitative) refining of the judicial categorization of delinquent juvenile behaviour in view of offering the necessary elements for a potential analysis scheme or instrument.
3. This research will place the complexity of the social phenomenon of delinquent juvenile behaviour in a (historical-sociological) perspective. That way, this research can contribute to the thorough (mediatized) public and political debate on juvenile delinquency, which often deadlocks in stereotypical images. The policy communication on the social issue of problematic juvenile behaviour can benefit from this long-term perspective as well.
4. That way, this research will also result in scientific knowledge and insights meeting the needs of the many field workers. This means the relevance of this research has to be explicitly evaluated on this point. The research can be a valuable contribution to the specific training of several actors in the field of action of youngsters.

Cooperation and network

This research project is based on an integrated and transversal collaboration of the three partners and their researchers (two): Prof. J. Christiaens & S. Van der Burght (UGent), Prof. D.Defraene, C. Nagels & S. Van Praet (ULB) en Prof Ch. Eliaerts (VUB).

Documentation :

Jeugdcriminaliteit ontcijferd = La délinquance des mineurs déchiffrée  Cheval, Bruno - De Man,Caroline - Vander Steene, Ann ... et al  Gent : AcademiaPress, 2013 (PB6288)
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