Rationalizing Juvenile Justice

Few issues have occupied the public mind so much in recent years as the problem of youth violence. Due to sensational school shootings and public paranoia about the violence of youth gangs, America is concerned – very concerned – about the growing criminality of its children. In our concern, we find ourselves caught in the classic conundrum of criminal responsibility: reconciling the unavoidable knowledge that much of human behavior is determined with our strong instincts about free will. We blame violent television and video games, we blame single mothers, we blame low church attendance, but when all is said and done, we punish the child. The concrete response to our fears about increasing youth violence has been increased accountability for young offenders, and growing rhetoric about the genuine evil that exists even in seemingly innocent youth. Franklin Zimring confronts this trend of “getting tough” on young offenders in his most recent book, American Youth Violence. The basic aim of his project is to quell the storm of youth crime policy motivated by “fear and hostility” towards young offenders (p. xiii). Increased length of punishment, as well as abandonment of efforts at reform, have characterized the recent moves in juvenile justice. Zimring argues against these trends.