A funny thing happened on the way to the centenary: Social structure, race and the transformation of the juvenile court

Barry Feld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Scopus citations

Abstract

Within the past three decades, legal changes have transformed the juvenile court from a nominally rehabilitative social welfare agency into a second-class criminal court for young offenders. The migration of blacks from the rural south to the urban north that began more than three-quarters of a century ago, the structural transformation of cities and the economy over the past quarter of a century, and the current public and political linkages between race and serious youth crime provided the impetus for recent punitive juvenile justice policies. Two competing conceptions of young people - innocence and responsibility - have facilitated the juvenile court's metamorphosis from a welfare into a penal organization as policy makers selectively manipulate these competing social constructs to conduct a form of 'criminological triage'. At the 'soft end', states have shifted non-criminal status offenders out of the juvenile system into a 'hidden system' in the private-sector mental health and chemical dependency industries. At the 'hard end', states transfer increasing numbers of youths, disproportionately minority, into the criminal justice system. In the 'middle', states' sentencing policies escalate the punishments imposed on those delinquents, again disproportionately minority, who remain in an increasingly criminalized juvenile justice system. These changes in youth sentencing policy reflect both a change in the social construction of adolescence and in strategies of social control. As a result, very little remains of the Progressives' idea of a rehabilitative juvenile court.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-214
Number of pages28
JournalPunishment and Society
Volume1
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 1999

Keywords

  • Juvenile Court
  • Juvenile Justice Administration
  • Race
  • Sentencing

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