Academic journal article Theory in Action

The Evolution of the Juvenile Court: Race, Politics, and the Criminalizing of Juvenile Justice

Academic journal article Theory in Action

The Evolution of the Juvenile Court: Race, Politics, and the Criminalizing of Juvenile Justice

Article excerpt

Book Review: Barry C. Feld, The Evolution of the Juvenile Court: Race, Politics, and the Criminalizing of Juvenile Justice. New York University Press, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-4798-9569-4 (Hardcover). 392 Pages. $35.

Reviewed by David L. Myers1

[Article copies available for a fee from The Transformative Studies Institute. E-mail address: journal@transformativestudies.org Website: http://www.transformativestudies.org ©2018 by The Transformative Studies Institute. All rights reserved.]

In the mid-1990s, when I was a developing doctoral student and chose to specialize in juvenile justice and delinquency, I started reading the work of Professor Barry C. Feld. At the time, it was the height of the youth violence epidemic, with a variety of juvenile justice reforms being proposed and implemented. These reforms typically had a "get tough" orientation, focusing on such policies and procedures as fingerprinting juveniles, opening juvenile courts to the public, mandatory sentencing, and transferring larger numbers of adolescent offenders to adult court. Professor Feld researched and critiqued many of these topics, and he generated a great deal of discussion and debate with his views on the "criminalization" of juvenile justice, "justice by geography," the right to effective defense counsel, race effects in juvenile justice, and even abolishing the juvenile court altogether (see, e.g., Feld 1991, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999).

Professor Feld wrote (and continues to write) in a unique way, integrating legal and social science research, with an underlying passion for doing right by children and youth in our society. During the past 45 years, he has produced an impressive number of publications, including several award-winning books (see, e.g., Feld 1999, 2013). Most recently, The Evolution of the Juvenile Court: Race, Politics, and the Criminalizing of Juvenile Justice provides an up-to-date, thorough, critical, and evidence-based assessment of past and current juvenile justice philosophy and system operations in our country. It is a book that should be read and considered by policy-makers, researchers, practitioners, and students, and it concludes with an epilogue that should make all of us with an interest in juvenile justice think about the importance of our work in this field.

The book is divided into four parts, corresponding with four distinct eras of juvenile justice, as identified by Feld: the Progressive Era, the Due Process Era, the Get Tough Era, and the Kids Are Different Era. In covering these stages of evolution, Feld examines the relationship between social structural factors and changes in juvenile justice policy, particularly those occurring during the past 50 years. He discusses how the social structural factors of economy, urbanization, family, race/ethnicity, and politics shape society's views about juvenile justice and delinquency. In doing so, Feld focuses primarily on the experience of African American children and adolescents, as these youth have experienced a distinct history of inequality and injustice, revealed through decades of research.

The Progressive Era of juvenile justice is covered in Chapter 1. Feld first examines the movement to control and administer social change, which included efforts to distinguish "our children" from "other people's children." Moreover, although progressive reformers recognized social structural features as contributing to delinquency, they focused on changing individuals through focusing on their character. Feld concludes that early juvenile courts seldom achieved their rehabilitative goals, but they did keep the vast majority of youths out of the more damaging criminal justice system, which the later Get Tough Era sought to reverse.

Part II, the Due Process Era, is presented in Chapter 2. Here, Feld traces the social and legal context within which the due process revolution occurred, including African American migration from the rural South to the North and West in the decades surrounding World War II. …

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