Issue 2 - February 2011

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Louk Hulsman (1923-2009)


                                                                                                   Ioanna    Gouseti,
                                                                PhD Student, Sociologist,MA Criminology,
                                                                                      Panteion University, Athens

Louk (Lodewijk, Henri, Christiaan) Hulsman was born on March 8th, 1923 in the town of Kerkrade in the Netherlands. He spent his student years in various boarding schools, undergoing a classical education based on Catholic teachings. He has described his experience in the boarding school as virtually "traumatic".

During World War II, he joins a resistance group (1943). He is arrested and detained in a concentration camp in Amersfoort (May 1944), from which he manages to escape in September of that year.

In 1945 he embarks his studies  at the Law School of the University of Leyden, which he completes three years later. After completing his studies, he works for three years in the juridical department of the Ministry of Defence of the Netherlands (1949-1952) and he is sent to Paris as a member of the  Committee of the European Defence Community, from which he derives a sound knowledge of international relations. He is subsequently appointed to the Ministry of Justice (1955), where he remains until 1980, holding various positions including: counsil adviser of the department of legislation, representative of the Committee of Penal affairs of the Council of Europe,etc. In 1964 he becomes the first Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Rotterdam. During his academic career, some of his main objectives concern the development of a program of legal studies, based on interdisciplinarity, through the integration of sciences such as Sociology, Psychology and Economics in Legal studies, as well as on research, promoting equality in the collaboration of  Professors and students.

Throughout his life, Louk Hulsman was an active member, indeed often presiding over, numerous international and national organizations and committees including: the International Association of Penal Law (Association International de Droit Pénal), the International Society for Criminology,the  World Society of Victimology (Société International de Victimologie), the European Committee on Crime Problems of the Council of Europe, the Committee on the role of rehabilitation, etc.

His scientific interests were focused on issues related to penal abolitionism, victimology, drugs and critical Criminology.

Professor Emeritus Louk Hulsman died on January 28, 2009 at the age of 86. Until the last months of his life he was an active member of the international academic community, remaining faithful to his often controversial scientific positions which were a source of inspiration, dialogue and dissent, and for many signified the rise of a new criminological ΄paradigm΄. His boundless energy is reflected in the numerous "stations" he held even during the last years of his life; participating in scientific conferences and events. One of these stations comprised Greece, which he last visited a few months prior to his death, participating in the “Common Studies Session” organized in October 2008 by Prof. B. Karidis at the University of Peloponnese in Corinth, on "Punitiveness and crime policies in Europe".

Penal Abolitionism

Louk Hulsman was one of the founders of the movement of the penal abolitionism, both on european and on international level, together with Nils Christie and Thomas Mathiesen.

Undoubtedly,one of his major works is the Peines perdues. Le système pénal en question (together with Jacqueline Bernat de Celis, Paris: Editions du Centurion, 1982.), in which he develops a comprehensive critical analysis of the penal system in order to support the need for its abolition.

This work is structured in two parts. The first part contains the presentation of Louk Hulsman’s interview to Jacqueline Bernat de Celis, which gives to the reader the opportunity of observing Louk Hulsman΄s personality, as well as of understanding his scientific views. Indeed, he himself notes that one’s personality is defined by a combination of experiences (personal, social, scientific), than the traits of his/her character . In the second part of his work, he develops in detail the idea of penal abolitionism. He begins from an in-depth critical review of the criminal justice system, in which he highlights the contradiction between its function in theory (reformation) and given by the criminal justice system (reformation) and in practice (retribution), which he attributes mainly to its anachronistic nature and bureaucratic structure.

For Louk Hulsman, the solution to the aforementioned "problem" lies in the abolition of penal system, an endeavor which requires changes at both verbal and institutional level. According to him, the words ΄crime΄, ΄criminals΄, ΄criminality΄, etc. belong to the vocabulary of the penal system, which reflects its punitive epistemological background. Hulsman argues that an alternative ΄language΄ could highlight opportunities in addressing the "problematic situations", which override the logic of the existing criminal justice system. At institutional level, the abolition of the penal system requires,according to him, the use of civil, labor, administrative law for the settlement of ΄problematic situations΄, the promotion of systematic preventive policies, tolerance towards "non-traditional attitudes”, the ‘de-dramatization’ of conflict situations. In documenting his positions, the author cites both examples drawn from various sources across time and place, and "controls" the applicability of his views based on various forms of crime or "problematic situations", such as violent, ΄white collar΄ crimes, etc., although he notes that his arguments apply mainly to so-called "traditional crime”.

From this perspective, the importance of perceptions and attitudes towards the criminal justice system are highlighted as a means of identification and control of its mechanisms, and consequently of its reversal. However, this requires a deeper understanding of the system’s operation, a recognition of the internal-epistemological approach of its ΄subjects΄ and ΄objects΄, as well as the emergence of its "methodology". All this constitute the core elements of the criminologcal views of Louk Hulsman,the main goal of which concern acccording to him the development of a "new justice".

A few words about Louk Hulsman΄s contribution

The central theme of Louk Hulsman’s work regards the humanization of the criminal law, through a change in perceptions and attitudes towards the criminal justice system, crime and criminology. His attempts are reflected in his work and his role as an active member of several organizations including the European Group for the Study of Deviance and Social Control, as a Dutch representative at the International Conference on Penal Abolitionism (ICOPA), as a chairman of the Coornhert League for penal reform.

In the Netherlands, Louk Hulsman was an influential legal scholar and activist in the domain of liberal policies regarding drugs, contributing to the amendment of the Opium Act of 1976. His most famous works include the Report on Decrimilisation (Council of Europe, 1980), the aforementioned Peines perdues. Le système penal en question (with Jacqueline Bernat de Celis, 1982), and his English-language article of Critical criminology and the concept of crime (1986).

In addition, Louk Hulsman’s contribution in shaping European study programs focusing on drug related issues and Critical Criminology was important, setting the foundation for the development of Erasmus and Socrates exchange programs in Europe.

The significance of his overall scientific work is reflected, among others, in his recognition as one of fifty major thinkers in the scientific field of Criminology (Routledge, 2009).

In conclusion, Louk Hulsman’s contribution was marked by efforts to promote alternative practices of social regulation, based on equality, solidarity and change, while having as its cornerstone the penal abolitionism.
Mazor works

1. "The Penal System as a social problem", in Issues and Answers, The Rural Crime and Justice Institute, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1974.

2. Violence as a Challenge to Modern Society, Institut universitaire international, Luxembourg, 1977.

3. "Critical Criminology and the Concept of Crime", in Contemporary Crisis, 10, 1986, pp 63-80.

4. "The Abolitionist Case: Alternative Crime Policies", in Israel Law Review, 25, 3-4, 1991, pp 681-709.

5. "Le choix de la sanction pénale", in Revue de science criminelle et de droit pénal comparé, 25, 3, 1970, pp 497-545.

6. "Un paradigm criminologique abolitionist et la recherche sur la catégorie du crime", in Le fonctionnement de la justice pénale, Paris, Éditions du C. N. RS, 1979.

7. With Bern
at de Celis, J., Peines perdues. Le système pénal en question, Paris, Le Centurion, 1982.

8. With Faugeron, C., "Le développement de la criminologie au sein du Conceil de l΄Europe: état et perspectives", in Tulkens, F. & Bosley, H. (Eds), La justice pénale en Europe, Bruxelles, 1996.


Further Reading

• Hulsman, L. & Bernat de Celis, J.; “Penas Perdidas-O Sistema Penal Em Questão”, Trans. G. Nikolopoulos; 1997 Athens: Nomiki Bibliothiki Publications- in Greek.¨

• Farsedakis, J.;“Elements of Criminology”. 1996 Athens: Nomiki Bibliothiki Publications - in Greek.


Χριστίνα Ζαραφωνίτου
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