Juvenile Crime and Justice


Edited by: William J. Chambliss

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    In this volume, authors address various topics pertaining to juvenile crime and justice. while varying in their specific discussion topics, many of the articles share common links, which typify the points of contention in the juvenile criminal justice system. Each author presents arguments in favor of various programs, treatments, and punishments, counterbalancing them with opposing arguments. Issues are raised along the lines of three loosely connected themes: prevention, prosecution, and corrections.

    Prevention policies range from youth curfews, as discussed by Yvonne Vissing, to alternative schools, as discussed by Anthony Petrosino and Claire Morgan. Proponents for prevention policies point to successful outcomes as examples of the positives of these programs. For example, a study of the 1997 juvenile curfew in Monrovia, California, claimed that there was a 32 percent drop in residential burglaries after the curfew went into effect. Prevention policies such as alternative schools, it is argued, can target youths who are considered “at risk” and give them individualized instruction to avoid later criminal offenses.

    Critics of prevention policies question their overall effectiveness, arguing that these policies inevitably result in the unfair targeting of some youths, and often lead to an escalation rather than a reduction in delinquency. Juvenile curfews, for example, lead to more youths who are arrested and incarcerated for curfew violations. Thus the law creates the crime rather than curtailing what would otherwise not be a crime. Furthermore, it is argued that juveniles arrested for curfew violations often are put into contact with more serious offenders that can lead to further delinquency. Youths involved in alternative schools are similarly stigmatized by being labeled as outcasts and are isolated with other students who may be more delinquent and aggressive, thus escalating potential problems.

    When confronting juveniles in the criminal justice system, there are a few factors that the authors take into account in regard to the prosecution of youths. For one, the legally responsible party must be confronted in relation to the dualism of mens rea (guilty mind) and actus reus (physical act). Susan Reid and Gilbert Geis examine these issues in their chapters Age Of Responsibility and Parental Responsibility Laws, respectively. Where and how juveniles go to trial are relevant to issues of juveniles in adult courts and legal representation for juveniles. Those in favor of legal representation of juveniles believe that it creates a fair environment that protects constitutional rights. And while those in favor of juveniles in adult courts use the idea of “adult crime, adult time” in their defense, opponents of legal representation cite this idea as problematic. “Youth are treated like adults,” Patricia Campie and Linda Szymanski write, “even though adolescent development research clearly indicates that youth decision making and subsequent delinquent behaviors require a much different response than what is needed to prevent or reduce adult re-offending.”

    There is a plethora of arguments on the positive and negative effects of different juvenile corrections policies. Arguments related to juvenile corrections range from sentencing options to where juvenile offenders should be housed to the death penalty for juvenile offenders. Arguments for boot camps, group homes, and out-of-home placement focus on the capacities of these programs to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and act as an intervention process to avoid further offenses. However, opponents of these programs highlight their cost, possibilities for abuse and neglect, and haphazard selection processes.

    Also important to discussions of juvenile crime and justice is the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 1974. The JJDPA has affected and helped mold many of the processes described above. Juveniles who are prosecuted in the juvenile court system, for example, are kept out of sight and earshot of adult offenders. This is done to prevent the victimization of the juvenile offender by adult offenders. Curfews, as Vissings points out, have roots in the JJDPA. When the JJDPA issued deinstitutionalization mandates in 1974, curfews helped keep those who had recently been incarcerated for infractions and mental health problems off of the streets. The JJDPA has also made strides to address the overrepresentation of minority youths in the juvenile justice system through various amendments.

    The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is an institution, established out of the JJDPA, that has had a large impact on the ways in which juvenile crime and justice is handled in the criminal justice system. The office is responsible for creating a model boot camp protocol; providing data and databases that are used in many of the chapters in this volume; and funding research on various topics related to the prevention, prosecution, and correction of juvenile crime. While the creation of boot camps is contentious, as is evidenced in Campie's discussion, the research brought forth by the OJJDP addresses many crucial issues in this field. The creation of a Disproportionate Minority Confinement (DMC) Best Practices Database provides states with a fully searchable Website that details models shown to be affective in curbing DMC, as noted in the chapter Racial Disparities by Tommy Curry. The OJJDP also began the Due Process Advocacy Project in 1993, which helps provide youths with legal representation in court.

    Juvenile crime and justice is a very sensitive subject with much to be discussed. These chapters sift through the leading arguments pertaining to important topics in this field. As with most issues in the study of criminal justice, the best response to the problem of juvenile delinquency and crime is a hot-button issue around which there is endless debate. Legislature like the JJDPA and institutions like the OJJDP are attempting to fashion a fair and just way to handle juvenile crime and justice, but as the authors point out, there is still much to be done. In the last analysis, the arguments will be settled by empirical research, but unfortunately there is a lack of sufficient research at present to allow for definitive conclusions on many of the most controversial issues in juvenile justice policy.

    William J.Chambliss General Editor
  • About the General Editor

    William J. Chambliss is professor of sociology at The George Washington University. He has written and edited more than 25 books and numerous articles for professional journals in sociology, criminology, and law. His work integrating the study of crime with the creation and implementation of criminal law has been a central theme in his writings and research. His articles on the historical development of vagrancy laws, the legal process as it affects different social classes and racial groups, and his attempt to introduce the study of state-organized crimes into the mainstream of social science research have punctuated his career.

    He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including a Doctorate of Laws Honoris Causa, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, 1999; the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award, Sociology of Law, American Sociological Association; the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award, Law and Society, Society for the Study of Social Problems; the 2001 Edwin H. Sutherland Award, American Society of Criminology; the 1995 Major Achievement Award, American Society of Criminology; the 1986. Distinguished Leadership in Criminal Justice, Bruce Smith, Sr. Award, Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences; and the 1985 Lifetime Achievement Award, Criminology, American Sociological Association.

    Professor Chambliss is a past president of the American Society of Criminology and past president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems. His current research covers a range of lifetime interests in international drug-control policy, class, race, gender and criminal justice and the history of piracy on the high seas.

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