Evaluation of Adolescent Criminal Law

Adolescent Criminal Law (ACL) was implemented on 1 April 2014 in the Netherlands. On behalf of the Ministry of Justice and Security (more specifically, the Directorate of Sanctions and Protection), the Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) initiated the research programme Monitoring and Evaluation of ACL (MEACL). The programme embodies various research projects and runs from 2014 through 2019.


ACL concerns juvenile suspects and offenders in the age range of 16 to 23 years old, which is the age range that is most overrepresented in crime (statistics). A key goal of ACL is the flexible application of juvenile and adult criminal law in criminal cases against individuals around 18 years old. ACL emphasizes that the developmental age of the suspect or offender should be key in deciding whether juvenile or adult criminal law should be applied, instead of chronological age. One of the primary changes that ACL brought is that the age under which young adults could be tried according to juvenile criminal law was extended up to 23 years old (as stipulated in article 77c of the Dutch Criminal Code). Though its name does suggest it, ACL is not a separate criminal law system. One of the intensions of ACL is to reduce recidivism in young adult offenders and to protect them from a life of crime.

ACL and the Criminal Justice Chain

Various parties and organizations in the criminal justice chain are involved in the practical application of ACL. In the pre-trial advisory phase, the Dutch Probation Service (DPS), the Council for Child Protection and the Dutch Institute of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology provide counsel on what criminal law system is best suited for a young suspect. The Public Prosecution Service can subsequently claim whether juvenile or adult criminal law should be followed in the proceedings of the criminal case. However, a judge will ultimately decide which of the two criminal law systems will be followed. Lastly, in the practical execution of a sentence, both the Custodial Institutions Agency and the DPS are tasked with ensuring that a young offender will receive the treatment and help he or she needs to stay out of a life of crime.

Monitoring and evaluation

To monitor and evaluate the practical application of ACL, the research programme MEACL was initiated. The research programme runs from 2014 through 2019, and the focus of the programme is the application of juvenile criminal law in criminal cases against young adults up to 23 years old. The primary purpose of the programme is to monitor developments in the application of juvenile and adult criminal law in cases against, respectively, young adults and minors.

Though the programme has its own publications, some aspects of ACL are also reported on in the Juvenile Crime Monitor (JCM) and the Recidivism Monitor (RM), both part of the WODC. The JCM is a biyearly report on developments in (registered) juvenile crime in the Netherlands, and examines trends in juvenile suspects, sentenced offenders and sanctions. The RM provides recidivism rates for various judicial populations, and will provide these rates for young adults with juvenile sanctions in the near future.

The (planned) reports of MEACL include (1) a RIPI-evaluation of ACL; (2) a study of the characteristics of the ACL target group; (3) an evaluation of the implementation process of ACL in practise; (4) an international comparison of how young adults are sentenced according to juvenile criminal law; and (5) an effect study of recidivism and resocialization in young adults after being sentenced with a juvenile sanction. Lastly, a synthesis report of the above mentioned reports is planned. These reports, together, will make clear whether or not the goals of implementing ACL are being met, both in output and outcomes.


This published report embodies two parts: (1) a reconstruction of the policy theory behind ACL; and (2) an empirical evaluation of developments in (characteristics of) criminal cases against 16- to 23-years olds, with a focus on criminal cases against young adults up to 23 years old being trialled under juvenile criminal law. One of the key findings is that prior to the implementation of ACL barely 1% of all cases against young adults followed juvenile criminal law, but afterwards this percentage rose to 4-5% (see als the Juvenile Crime Monitor 2017).

Study on characteristics of ACL target group

The goal of this study is twofold: (1) investigating how policy makers, the criminal justice chain and academics envision the ACL target group should look like, and (2) what characteristics young adults who have been sentenced with a juvenile sanction actually have, during the first year of the implementation of ACL. In other words, the first goal concerns the envisioned characteristics, while the second goal concerns the actual characteristics. Knowing whether there are discrepancies or similarities between the two is crucial in determining whether or not suitable interventions are available or have been provided. The expected publication date of this report is summer 2018.

Evaluation of the implementation process ACL

This evaluation describes how ACL is applied in practise regarding 16- to 23-year-old suspects and offenders. Different phases of the criminal process are distinguished: (early) advisory stage, prosecution, judgment, and execution. The emphasis of this study is on how ACL is implemented and why. Furthermore, it is examined whether or not practise professionals follow the stipulated legal guidelines, and what sort of issues they encounter doing so. The expected publication date of this report is halfway 2018.

International comparison and effect study

What sort of experiences do other countries have with trying young adults as juveniles (or trying them in a similar capacity)? Furthermore, how do recidivism rates and indicators of resocialization of young adults sentenced with a juvenile sanction differ from those with an adult sanction? These two studies aim to provide answers to these questions. The expected publication dates of these reports are 2019.

Research programme synthesis

Lastly, when all the subprojects have been finished, a research synthesis regarding these projects will start in 2019. The purpose of this synthesis is to provide an integrated overview of the MEACL research programme and its results, and focusses on successes of ACL regarding the application of juvenile criminal law in criminal cases against 18- to 23-year-olds, and also on what could be improved in the future.