Juvenile Courts in the United States

By Herbert H. Lou | Go to book overview

Chapter I
PHILOSOPHY OF THE JUVENILE COURT

1. THE SPIRIT OF SOCIAL JUSTICE

THE traditional administration of criminal justice is characterized by the theories of retribution, of determent, and of law as an inflexible body of rules. This attitude of hostility toward the lawbreaker and this supposedly impartial and impersonal character of justice, as Professor George H. Mead has said, provide no principles for the eradication of crime, for returning the delinquent to normal social relations, or for stating the transgressed rights and institutions in terms of their positive social functions.1 They are the causes of many absurdities and distortions in the criminal law. They accomplish neither legal justice nor social good. This is why the traditional administration of criminal justice--police organization, prosecuting machinery, courts, bar, and penal treatment--spectacularly fails in the repression and suppression of crime.

Law is a living social institution, and there is no reason why it should not keep pace with the progress of the modern social sciences and incorporate and utilize the ideas, the methods, and the morals developed therein. It would seem strange if our criminal law, our law courts, and court procedure were still clinging to the medieval sentiments of vengeance despite the tremendous advances that have been made in these sciences. With the advent of the sociological school of jurisprudence of the present century, which advocates the unification of all social sciences, of which law is but one, law is no longer regarded as a self-centered, self-sufficing science, isolated from the other social sciences. We are realizing more and more that law should be conceived as a means toward social ends. This new conception of law compels us to take account of social causes and social effects in relation to social conditions and social progress. This is sometimes called social justice.2

____________________
1
G. H. Mead, "The Psychology of Punitive Justice," Amer. Jour. Sociol., 23:590, March, 1918.
2
Cf. Roscoe Pound, "The Scope and Purpose of Sociological Jurisprudence," Harvard Law Rev., 25:140-168, December, 1911; 25:489-516, April, 1912.

-1-

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