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…the “Super-Predator”, the Wolf-Man, Vampires, and the Juvenile-Justice-System

October 19, 2012
United States criminal justice system flowchart.

United States criminal justice system flowchart. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion or equity.  It is also the act of being just and/or fair”, (Konow, James. 2003).

The juvenile justice system was created as an attempt to address the unique differences between young persons and adults. Generally it is thought that young persons are less capable of taking care or responsibility for themselves than are adults.  The concept of in loco parentis, Latin for “in the place of a parent” came about as a response to the growing problem of displaced and abandoned children who joined together with other such children to survive.  Over time exploitive abusive practices such as the “binding-out” of children as unpaid-workers or their incarceration in “houses of correction” gave way parens patriae Latin for “parent of the nation” in which the state is seen as having responsibility to help in cases where the individual is unable to assist themselves.  The idea was rehabilitation vs. retribution. The juvenile system was designed to more flexibly and adequately deal with young offenders in the hopes of reintegrating them with society (Krisberg, 2005).  However, “Research shows that incarceration does not rehabilitate juvenile offenders” (the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).

What do the “Super-Predator”, the Wolf-Man, Vampires, and the Juvenile-Justice-System all have in common?  Answer none of them exist.  The first three are all the products of superstition, folklore, and mass-media driven hysteria, the last is another figment of our imaginings intended to help us sleep at night by at once by providing an illusion of protection from a fictitious colored boogeyman and further, emotional refuge from our proper accountability with regard to the inequities tolerated in these systems (Krisberg, 2005).   Still, the list remains somewhat descriptive of reality in that one of the mythical creatures above isn’t “white”.  On the other hand its DNA is “white” in that it is the spawn of many “white-persons” fear of racial minorities namely “colored-persons” whereas the other two are commonly considered simply to be irrational fears about other “white persons” with some kind of condition.

Let’s try them as adults, yeah that’ll work.

Criminal behavior is the product of a systematic process that involves complex interactions, between individual, societal, and ecological factors over the course of our lives”.  If this statement is accurate then it would follow that persons, especially young persons from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas would find themselves disproportionately involved in the CJS due to a particular culture’s social-structure and its dominant theory of crime.  In addition the more inequalities a society tolerates the more certain it is that some of the disadvantaged will commit crime. In other words doing better comes from knowing better and the definition of better depends on what its better than and that depends on who you are and where you are starting relative to others in that society.  Further still is that persons having little social and or cultural capital once involved in the CJS are less likely to effectively negotiate the system, constructively influence their own outcomes or obtain help from outside it, therefore they are more likely to be contemptuous and hostile to the system and those administering it.  Likewise those controlling and working within the system are more likely in turn to become biased and judgmental in regards to minorities, and as a result consider them less worthy of their efforts or compassion.

Similarly because they are perceived as threats by the dominant social order, minorities are arrested, convicted, and sentenced in an unequal lopsided manner. From street cops to youth tribunals to adult courtrooms, minorities (who make up the majority of the poor and underprivileged) remain the chief targets of social-control in America.

Ironically the idea of getting “tougher” on juveniles and children utterly fails to recognize a truth most “reasonable and rational” parents already know that is, most juveniles and children lack the capacity to fully comprehend the meaning and consequences of their actions consequently and due largely to this fact they are even less likely to be “deterred” than are adults by prospects of harsh punishment at some later date for their current actions in the here and now.  Does anyone really believe that juveniles and children calculate the expected utility of crime before they act?  Never mind that a majority of the data shows attempts to lower adult crime and reduce recidivism by means of deterrence (protection/avoidance strategies) [alone] haven’t/don’t/aren’t and won’t be effective in the long run despite an “adults” allegedly superior capacity to integrate future risks into their real-time decision-making, i.e. to calculate the expected utility of crime. In his essay on deterrence theory Daniel S. Nagin quotes Todd Clear (1994) as follows, “this ongoing attempt to use the correctional system as an instrument for inflicting pain [is in truth] a penal harm movement”, [vs. a penal anti-crime movement] (Daniel S. Nagin, Carnegie Mellon University, Deterrence, Scaring Offenders Straight).

To fix the problem of the disparate treatment of minority juveniles by the CJS it would first be necessary to resolve many of the underlying patterns and reasons motivating such criminal behaviors, a partial list of these incitements include, specific systemic institutional prejudices, in addition to the more generalized social, educational, economic, and environmental inequalities found to varying degrees in the prevailing culture. As well it would be essential to arrange for consistent effective outcome based long-term family and community support in these disadvantaged populations for the duration needed to achieve these goals.

Krisberg, K. B. K. (2005). Juvenile justice redeeming our children. California: Sage Publications.

Konow, James. 2003. “Which Is the Fairest One of All? A Positive Analysis of Justice Theories.” Journal of Economic Literature 41, no. 4: page 1188


One Comment leave one →
  1. October 19, 2012 1:42 pm

    I agree! Fix the system at its most basic level, BEFORE crime is the outcome. But, how do we do this? How do we move from a culture that wrings its hands, but continues to tax itself to fund more prisons rather than taxing itself to build more schools, more drug rehab programs, better low income housing and nutrition programs? It seems to me that these basics needs must be met if we are to reduce the bogeyman of crime.

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