Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Youth's Perceptions of Race, Class, and Language Bias in the Courts

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Youth's Perceptions of Race, Class, and Language Bias in the Courts

Article excerpt

The number of young people who have experience with the court system has increased significantly over the last few years. There is, however, a scarcity of research on young people's attitudes toward the court system. The purpose of this research, therefore, was to examine young people's perception of race, class, and language bias in the court system. One hundred thirty-nine young people from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds who were detained at either the training school or enrolled in a community program completed a survey booklet containing questions about the court system. Minority youth were more negative in their perceptions of judges and court workers than nonminority youth. In addition, training school youth were more negative than community teens. Educational implications of the research findings are discussed.

In our society, youth is present only when its presence is a problem, or is regarded as a problem-- disinterested tracts emanating from the social sciences at those times when young people make their presence felt by going "out of bounds," by resisting through rituals, dressing strangely, striking bizarre attitudes, breaking rules, breaking bottles, windows, heads, issuing rhetorical challenges to the law. (Hebdige, 1988)

Over the past few years, a great deal of media attention has focused on the legal system in the United States. This attention has ranged from increased public reporting of trials by the media to an increase in the number of national and state surveys on the topic. This was especially evident in the 1990s during the wave of lethal school shootings like the one at Columbine High School. The public outcry over these incidents suggested that the presence of youth and their juvenile delinquent activities had indeed become a problem. Consequently, a widespread overhaul of the juvenile justice system occurred in the United States. This led to an increase in the number of youth who were transferred from juvenile court and sentenced in adult courts and, if convicted, sent to adult prisons. In addition, the number of young people sentenced to prison for life (juvenile lifers) increased. These changes support Hebdige's (1988) contention that youth are perceived as a problem when they make their presence known. Although a great deal of research on juvenile crime statistics has been done, there is a paucity of research on youth's perception of the court system. This is important in light of youth's increasing participation in the court system for such things as rape, murder, armed robbery, and assault. The increased media attention has also focused attention, in part, on controversial issues like racial profiling, and the disproportionate number of minority adult and juvenile detainees currently in the system. Taken together, these incidents have raised several questions as to the fairness and effectiveness of the criminal justice system and have thus resulted in a change in the American public's perception of the courts (Rottman & Tomkins, 1999). More specifically, these perceptions appear to have separated along racial lines.

Political Involvement and Attitudes of Youth

Research suggests that members of Generation X and Generation Y are less engaged politically than any other previous generation (Soule, 2001).1 This disengagement might be due to relative disinterest in social and political issues. It might also be indicative of a certain degree of confidence in how the political and social systems operate. According to data compiled by the Department of Justice (Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 2000), 28% of 18-29 year olds have a great deal of confidence in the criminal justice system in the United States while 32% report that they have little to no confidence. These findings are supported by a poll (cited in Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, 2000) taken of high school seniors in the graduating class of 2000. It was found that while 29.5% of Whites in this age group express positive attitudes towards the courts, only 22. …

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