REPORT: “Boys Will Be Boys” (Unless They’re Black, In Which Case Lock them Up)

In “Criminalizing Normal Adolescent Behavior in Communities of Color: The Role of Prosecutors in Juvenile Justice Reform,” Kristin N. Henning focuses on the disparity of treatment of youth when race is a factor.
Youth have long held special status in the justice system. Teens tend to make questionable decisions which can lead to very negative outcomes, due to their difficulty weighing both short and long-term consequences. But, via the report:

As youth mature, they age out of delinquent behavior and rarely persist in a life of crime. Because children and adolescents are more malleable and amenable to rehabilitation than adults, the Supreme Court has recognized youth as a mitigating factor in the disposition of even the most serious criminal behavior by adolescents.

However, Henning finds that today school officials are more likely to rely on the police to manage behavior that used to be considered typical adolescent misconduct. She writes, “a typical school-yard fight is labeled as felony assault and students who play ‘catch’ with a teacher’s hat are charged with robbery.”

Henning essentially argues that society and the justice system accepts the “boys will be boys” idiom unless those boys (or girls) happen to be minorities, in which case they should be locked up. I am, of course, over simplifying Henning’s thesis, but the basic concept remains. Via the report:

Although black youth comprised only sixteen percent of all youth in the United States from 2002 to 2004, they accounted for twenty-eight percent of all juvenile arrests, thirty- seven percent of detained youth, thirty-four percent of youth formally processed by the juvenile court, thirty-five percent of youth judicially waived to criminal court, and fifty-eight percent of youth sent to state adult prison. The persistent overrepresentation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system is consistent with empirical evidence that racial stereotypes negatively affect judgments about adolescent culpability, maturity, risk of recidivism, and deserved punishment for juvenile offenders.

The full paper--part of Georgetown’s Working Papers Series--is set to be finalized in 2013, but the working draft is available free in full online.

juvenile-justice-system_David-BackesDavid Backes writes the Friday news roundup for Reclaiming Futures and contributes articles about juvenile justice reform and adolescent substance abuse treatment to He has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Santa Clara University. David works as an account executive for Prichard Communications.
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Updated: February 08 2018