Kids, Cops, and Confessions: Inside the Interrogation Room

Kids, Cops, and Confessions: Inside the Interrogation Room

Kids, Cops, and Confessions: Inside the Interrogation Room

Kids, Cops, and Confessions: Inside the Interrogation Room


Juveniles possess less maturity, intelligence, and competence than adults, heightening their vulnerability in the justice system. For this reason, states try juveniles in separate courts and use different sentencing standards than for adults. Yet, when police bring kids in for questioning, they use the same interrogation tactics they use for adults, including trickery, deception, and lying to elicit confessions or to produce incriminating evidence against the defendants. In Kids, Cops, and Confessions, Barry Feld offers the first report of what actually happens when police question juveniles. Drawing on remarkable data, Feld analyzes interrogation tapes and transcripts, police reports, juvenile court filings and sentences, and probation and sentencing reports, describing in rich detail what actually happens in the interrogation room. Contrasting routine interrogation and false confessions enables police, lawyers, and judges to identify interrogations that require enhanced scrutiny, to adopt policies to protect citizens, and to assure reliability and integrity of the justice system. Feld has produced an invaluable look at how the justice system really works.


Much of what passes for knowledge about police interviewing
practices is no more than assumption and conjecture. Such
knowledge probably owes more to television, films, or novels than
to any informed understanding of what happens in police inter
view rooms. Because of the secrecy that has always surrounded
police-suspect interviews and the traditional reluctance of police
officers to allow outsiders access to the interview room, debates
on the crucial questions of interview procedures had to be con
ducted in something of an information vacuum.

Police interrogation raises complex legal, normative, and policy questions about justice administration and the relationship between the individual and the state. A fundamental tension exists between interests of law enforcement and protecting citizens. How should we structure the criminal process to maintain fair procedures, to process cases efficiently, to assure accurate fact-finding, to prevent police misconduct, and to protect the community from criminals? What practices should a democratic society allow police to use when they question citizens?

These questions become even more problematic when police question juveniles. For more than a century, juvenile and criminal justice policies have reflected two competing images of youth. On one hand, policymakers describe children as immature and vulnerable. On the other hand, they depict youths as mature, responsible, and adultlike. These competing constructs of youth implicate substantive policies (culpability and criminal responsibility) and procedural policies (competence to exercise legal rights) in the justice system.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Progressive Era reformers emphasized youths’ immaturity and vulnerability and created a separate juvenile court to shield children from criminal trials and punishment in adult prisons. They characterized children as irresponsible and incompetent, rejected claims for procedural protections, and created a civil, rehabilitative system for young people in lieu of punitive criminal justice. By the end of the twentieth century, lawmakers adopted harsh, get-tough policies that equated adolescents’ culpability with that of adults. In the 1980s and 1990s, states revised laws to prosecute more and younger juveniles in criminal court and to punish delinquents more severely. The . . .

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