For minors in difficulty, the priority of justice is to avoid recidivism and to protect young people. For this, it can decide on support measures, in particular through the Judicial Protection of Youth.
In France, nearly one in ten criminal cases involves minors. So many difficult cases, where educational challenges are painfully mixed with legal imperatives. In these cases, the minors are entrusted to the Judicial Protection of Youth (PJJ). This branch of the Ministry of Justice is responsible for supporting young people and enforcing court decisions.
The PJJ supports minors over the age of thirteen, as soon as they are indicted. It accompanies them until their trial, and beyond, sometimes after their majority. It has a main mission: to support minors in order to make constructive court decisions, to include them in a support process. “Judicial protection of youth does not have a punitive aspect.
When a judge orders a measure against the young person, it is not to punish, it is to support him, to try that he does not reoffend“, estimates Maître Irène Durier, lawyer at the bar of Bobigny, specializing in children's issues.
To carry out its mission, the Judicial Protection of Youth must respect a delicate balance: to apply the decisions of the judge, which can be punitive, while working for the protection of minors. “They try to educate young people and support them in their professional and social integration projects, so that they can develop a project and get back on track. The punitive aspect is not up to them,” insists Maître Irène Durier.
With the family, in an open environment or isolated
In the cases which require it, the PJJ must make coincide the accompaniment of the young people with firmness; be careful not to fall into what its detractors would describe as permissive indulgence. This is a difficult requirement, all the more so when the young people in question are the victims of a dramatic personal history.
“The majority of cases are very complicated family situations, most often single-parent,” says Samir, educator for the PJJ in Île-de-France. “We have to give them a framework. I prefer to be the one who tells him that I am here to defend justice, rather than the one who allows everything. It drives me crazy complacency, ”he adds.
To carry out its mission, the PJJ has several mechanisms. It can set up support in an “open environment”.
More concretely, the minor is not separated from his family, and from his usual environment; he is entrusted to an educator who tries to extract him from the spiral of delinquency "I go to play sports with them, I meet their families, I make them pass the license, I encourage them to go see counselors orientation, to go to the local mission", explains Samir.
In cases where this support takes place between the indictment and the trial, the educators are asked by the judge to make his final decision. “According to the judges, we can really have an impact on their judgment,” considers Samir. “If we explain to him that the youngster has never come to the meetings and that he is indifferent, it can have a very bad effect”.
Sometimes incarceration is unavoidable
For minors in great difficulty, the PJJ can carry out placement measures. Depending on the seriousness of the offence, they are placed in homes, closed educational centers (CEF), or reinforced educational centers (CER). This is the final step to combine the application of justice with the protection of minors. This is the last solution to avoid incarceration, a decision taken according to the profile of the young person, in order to prevent them from recidivism. “The CERs and CEFs are to avoid putting them in detention when they need legal protection and stricter supervision than family supervision. It's a stricter framework,” explains Maître Irène Durier.
In some cases, the PJJ cannot prevent incarceration. It is a departure from its protective vocation, a dive into the prison world, with all the risks it entails. “These are young people whose lives are meaningless. Detention brings even more emptiness to emptiness,” Samir notes bitterly. In the event of incarceration, the challenges to be met to prevent minors from descending into delinquency and recidivism are immense. And the mission of the PJJ more delicate than ever. “A 14-year-old still has to build himself. There, it is built in prison, in the majority of cases, it aggravates the problem”, laments Samir.