Academic journal article Social Justice

Crime, Governance, and Knowledge Production: The "Two-Track Common-Sense Approach" to Juvenile Criminality in the United States

Academic journal article Social Justice

Crime, Governance, and Knowledge Production: The "Two-Track Common-Sense Approach" to Juvenile Criminality in the United States

Article excerpt

Introduction

SINCE THE DAWN OF THE MODERN IDEAL OF "CHILDHOOD," TWO CONCEPTION S OF YOUTH have prevailed--that of the innocent child unmarred by social history and that of the unruly child whose proximity to nature necessitates training in the refined sensibilities of modern society (Aries, 1962). These two historical conceptions often map onto racialized conceptions of childhood that in the juvenile court resulted in a preoccupation with "other people's children" (Platt, 1977; Rothman, 1980). Social geographers, however, argue that social hegemonies are geographically bounded and that processes of racialization often work through conceptions of space (e.g., Anderson, 1991; Delaney, 1998). In this article, I trace how recent federal juvenile justice legislation is situated within a racialized spatial conception of juvenile crime that draws on racialized ideas of why juveniles commit violent acts and spatial assumptions about where--and among whom--violence is normal.

In the most recent reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA, 2001), the United States Congress legislated what the bill termed a "two-track common sense approach" to youth crime. According to the bill, "although the juvenile violent crime arrest rate in 1999 was the lowest in the decade, there remains a consensus that the number of crimes and the rate of offending by juveniles nationwide is still too high" (H.R. Committee on Education and the Workforce, 2001:2). (1) To address this concern, the JJDPA 2001 "reformed" juvenile justice by promoting "quality prevention programs" that addressed the therapeutic needs of juveniles amenable to treatment, as well as programs that increased "juvenile accountability" for their crimes (Ibid.: 2-3).

This two-track approach is situated among broader changes in U.S. judicial systems, and, more specifically, in the definition of juvenile culpability and services. In a massive political transformation since the 1960s, the criminal justice system has gone from an agency that promoted rehabilitation and prevention to a system focused primarily on punishment and incapacitation (Garland, 2001; O'Malley, 1992, 2002). Instead of indeterminate sentencing and job training, the U.S. criminal justice system is now oriented toward a war on drugs, stiffer sentences, mandatory minimums, and an overall punitive orientation (Baum, 1996; Beckett, 1997; Parenti, 1999/2000). Similar trends have been observed within juvenile justice as "get-tough," "zero-tolerance," and "accountability" policies and programs permeate juvenile institutions (Dohrn, 2000; Feld, 1999; Frazier et al., 1999; Polakow, 2000; Polakow-Suransky, 2000; Zimring, 1998). This emphasis on punishment within juvenile institutions marks a significant reappraisal of the juvenile justice system (Bishop et al., 1989; Kempf-Leonard and Peterson, 2000), and has "transformed the juvenile court from a nominally rehabilitative social welfare agency into a scaled-down, second-class criminal court for young people" (Feld, 1999: 3).

Additionally, criminologists note that this transformation has fallen disproportionately on youth of color, with Latino and black youth often incarcerated at rates vastly disproportionate to that of similarly situated white counterparts (Bridges and Steen, 1998). Despite this transformation of the juvenile court, its original rehabilitative mandate has yet to entirely fade, remaining in part the "common sense" about adolescent crime and juvenile justice. As the name evinces, this approach does not "retreat from rehabilitation" entirely, but rather couples the punitive transformations observed in adult court with an ongoing concern for the prevention of juvenile delinquency. In this article, I argue that this two-track approach is emblematic of the ways in which policy decisions become aligned, both socially and spatially, with discrete populations, thus leaving open the possibility for racially differential application and racially disproportionate juvenile justice dispositions. …

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