Children and young people in today’s society face complex challenges related to crime. The rapid development during adolescence increases the risk of antisocial behavior. For some children, mental disorders exacerbate risk of both perpetrating and being victims of crime. As a reaction, criminal justice policy and legal systems are changing all over the world, with an increasing emphasis on risk when children’s criminal acts are perceived as threats to public safety.
At the same time, children’s rights and in particular the principle of the best interest of the child, affect and limit the use of punishment of children. A premise in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is that children are developing and must be treated differently from adults. However, this child’s premise is in tension with the increasing pressure on risk-based penal reactions. How should concern for social safety be integrated with protection of children’s rights?
The legal doctrine of criminal insanity limits accountability for mentally disordered offenders. At the same time, mental disorders will be included in risk assessments, which may justify preventive reactions to prevent future (re)offending. The problem is that the child premise is to date not sufficiently integrated in insanity and risk assessments of children over the minimum age of criminal responsibility. As a result, children with serious mental disorders and functional disabilities are sentenced to indefinite preventive detention.
CHILDCRIM will study the child premise in legal and forensic assessments of mentally disordered children who have committed serious crime. The study is based on a unique data material of all Norwegian judgments and forensic reports about children from 2013-2024. By integrating research on child development, mental disorders and risk factors in children, CHILDCRIM will advance knowledge in this field and identify the need for changed legal practices.
An urgent challenge facing democratic societies is how to handle mentally disordered children who commit serious violent crimes, or even murder. How to integrate concern for social safety with concern for these children’s development and rights? The legal doctrine of criminal insanity limits accountability for mentally disordered offenders, while preventive reactions are risk-based reactions used to prevent future (re)offending. Insanity and risk assessments apply to both child and adult offenders. However, assessments of children must recognize the child premise, i.e., children are still developing and thus differ from adults, and require different treatment.
CHILDCRIM is the first comprehensive study of the child premise in legal and forensic assessments of mentally disordered children who have committed serious crimes. As the first researchers to have been granted access to all Norwegian judgments and forensic reports about children from 2013-2024, the project will build on unique data. Through multidisciplinary analysis of these data, CHILDCRIM will advance knowledge and understanding of the child premise in forensic and legal assessments of mentally disordered children. By fusing legal and mental health perspectives, also including comparative insights, CHILDCRIM will provide clarification of how forensic experts and legal decision-makers should consider the child premise. CHILDCRIM targets an international gold standard for legal and forensic practice, which can lead to improved legislation and practice that takes into account the vulnerability of children at risk.
CHILDCRIM is suitably located in Bergen, Norway, and is a collaboration between the University of Bergen and the Haukeland University Hospital. Together with world leading scholars and dedicated advisors, the solid interdisciplinary research team will advance the research field beyond the state of the art and produce knowledge with wide impact both in the scientific community and in society.