Bad Kids: Race and the Transformation of the Juvenile Court

Paperback | February 1, 1999

byBarry C. Feld

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Within the past three decades, social and legal changes have transformed the juvenile court from a nominally rehabilitative welfare agency into a second-class criminal court for young offenders. Recent efforts to "toughen" juvenile justice policies have resulted in increasingly harshsanctions that fall disproportionately on minority youths. In this provocative new book, Barry Feld examines what went wrong with the juvenile court and proposes an alternative model for youth crime control and child welfare. The Progressive reformers who created the juvenile court a century ago saw children as relatively blameless and innocent. But recent decades of rising crime rates associated with urban decay have strained this tolerant view of young offenders. Feld relates the 1967 Supreme Court decision In reGault to the broader social and legal changes associated with the civil rights movement and the Warren Court's "Due Process Revolution." Although gault mandated more elaborate procedural safeguards in delinquency hearings, ironically, those protections legitimated the imposition of more punitivesanctions. Since Gault, Feld argues, three decades of judicial, legislative, and administrative reforms have conducted a form of "criminological triage." At the "soft end," reforms have shifted noncriminal status offenders, primarily female and white, out of the juvenile justice system into a "hidden system"made up of private sector mental health and chemical dependency facilities. At the "hard end," states transfer increasing numbers of young offenders, disproportionately minorities, to criminal court for prosecution as adults. Meanwhile, juvenile courts punish more severely those delinquents-againdisproportionately minorities-who remain within the increasingly criminalized juvenile justice system. Feld attributes the current state of affairs to a conceptual flaw inherent in the juvenile court. The juvenile justice system attempts to combine social welfare and social control functions in one organization, but inevitably fulfills both missions badly because of the inherent andirreconcilable contradictions between them. Progressive reformers situated the juvenile court on a number of cultural, legal, and criminological fault lines, where the ideas of child and adult, determinism and free will, immature and responsible, treatment and punishment collide. The past threedecades have witnessed a shift from the former to the latter of these binary pairs in response to the racial transformation of cities, the increase in serious youth crime, and the erosion of the rehabilitative assumptions of the juvenile court. The solution, Feld argues, is to uncouple social welfare from criminal social control. States could try all offenders in one integrated criminal justice system with appropriate modifications to accommodate the youthfulness of younger defendants: a graduated, age-culpability sentencingsystem, separate youth correctional facilities, and the like. Formally recognizing youthfulness as a mitigating factor would provide youths with greater protections and justice than they currently receive in either the juvenile or criminal justice systems. At the same time such a strategy wouldenable public policies to address directly the social welfare needs of all young people.

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Within the past three decades, social and legal changes have transformed the juvenile court from a nominally rehabilitative welfare agency into a second-class criminal court for young offenders. Recent efforts to "toughen" juvenile justice policies have resulted in increasingly harshsanctions that fall disproportionately on minority ...

Barry Feld is Centennial Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School. He has written five books and more than three dozen law review and criminology articles on juvenile justice administration with specil emphases on serious offenders, procedural justice, and youth sentencing policy.

other books by Barry C. Feld

Format:PaperbackDimensions:392 pages, 5.91 × 9.02 × 0.79 inPublished:February 1, 1999Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195097882

ISBN - 13:9780195097887

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"[Barry Feld is] one of the most eloquent, prolific, and influential critics of the America juvenile courts. His work exemplifies thorough socio-legal scholarship through his examinations of juvenile justice policies, juvenile court practices, and the social meanings surrounding the punishmentof juveniles... His ides are presented here with clarity and detail...the most coherent and thorough review and analysis of the literature on American juvenile justice- adding, or course, his trademark argument in favor of abolishing the juvenile court." Punishment and Society111