"Punishment today is a deeply problematic and barely understood aspect of social /ife, the rationale for which is by no means clear (Garland, 1990: 3) Crime and punishment raise important social and political questions. In Westem societies at the end of the 20th century, they are at the centre of fundamental discussions, both at the social-political and at the theoretical-scientific level. In the process of globalisation, local crime-incidents have international repercussions on public opinion and policy-making. Most recently, the Bulger-case and the Dutroux-case have altered the view on and approach to juvenile delinquents in England and sexual offenders in Belgiurn and the way they should be handled. However, it remains unclear on the one hand how these events and altered discourses are greeted and received by the actors of the penal institutions and networks and on the other how they have concretely influenced legal and penal practices.At a more theoretical level, we have now reached a point where all official justifications to legitimate punishment, which have been developed over the last two centuries, seem to coexist. They fail however to stem the increasing crisis of legitimacy for State authorities facing a growing public concern for (in)security. '`New" penal paradigms are developed, both towards juveniles and adults, such as "restorative justice" or "actuarial justice", which may strengthen this Dail legitimacy. Their basic values and attitudes towards human and social problems not only mutually differ, but also happen to derogate from the classical foundations and basic ideas of the (criminal) legal system. Indeed, they raise fundamental questions about the future developments of punishment. These trends and discussions can be witnessed internationally, and are also at the centre of actual debates in Belgium, both in theory and practice, in research and policy. Parts of these problems of punishment have been studied for several years now by the researchers of the different departments involved in the research proposal. Their expertise has gained national and international scientific recognition (cf. infra overview of research and curricula vitae). The actual research proposal aims to confront and integrate these individual and diverse expertises gained through the years: theoretical, legal and criminal policy approaches; juvenile delinquents versus adults; jurisprudential, penological, historical, socio-legal and socio-cultural approaches. This should allow for a more thorough discussion of the basic characteristics of "contemporary punishment this contributing to a better understanding of this "deeply problematic aspect of social life" .