If the three countries all provide for specific measures regarding young offenders. Only France and the UK use criminal sanctions against minors, including their incarceration. Unless extraordinary exceptions such as divestiture, Belgium only provides custodial, preventional and educational sanctions for children.
A consequence of the suppression of ‘doli incapax’ in 1998 is the increase in incarcerated children. «Youth Justice Board figures show that in 1992, 100 children under 15 were sentenced to penal custody, with all those sentences awarded under the ‘grave crimes’ provision (section 53 of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act). In 2005-06, 824 under-15s were jailed, but only 48 of those came under the grave crimes provision» (Allison, 2009). Sanctions provided for children include prison as well as alternative measures. But in spite of that, the number of incarcerated children in the UK keeps increasing (Bowcott, 2008 ; Delsaux, 2016).
Incarcerating children, especially young children has a huge impact on recidivism (McGuinness, 2016). A study conducted by the Howard League for Penal Reform showed that approximately 70% of youths who had been incarcerated, were convicted again within 2 years after their release (Weaver, 2006).
In Scotland, although children under 12 years old cannot be prosecuted in Criminal Courts, a child can still appear before a Children’s Hearing if he is believed to have committed an offence. When this happens and the child is proven to have committed that offence or admits to it, they acquire a criminal record (McGuinness, 2016). Meaning that an act, committed even under the age of 12, will follow the person throughout their life and can have a negative impact on University applications or on the professional life of an individual. A similar situation can be observed in France, where a child can have a criminal record at 10 years old. Genetical imprints are taken at 13 years old even if the child is released or cleared of all accusations.
A study on juveniles in adult prisons also showed that minors in adult prisons are more likely to be depressed than other young offenders (Ng et. al., 2011). In addition, a report, released by the Ministry of Justice in the UK, stated that the government observed a 21% increase in incarcerated children harming themselves between 2010 and 2012 (O’Hara, 2013).
When a criminal sanction is given to a young offender, it is to prevent them from offending again and to make them understand that what they did was wrong and that there is always consequences for our actions. But in reality, incarcerating children increases recidivism rates, self-harming rates and depression, to name a few. As such, we should ask ourselves if placing children in prison really helps them and society at large ?