Centennial Professor Of Law, University Of Minnesota Law School
- During the 1970s through 1990s, punishment outcomes for juveniles in the court system changed, focusing more on punishment over rehabilitation, especially for minority youth.
In the review, “Punishing Kids in Juvenile and Criminal Courts,” Feld examines the history of change in punishment outcomes for juveniles in the court system from the 1970s through the 1990s. The 1970s brought an increase in juvenile Black homicide rates, gun violence and drug use, and the new policies of the ‘80s and ‘90s attempted to use punitive measures to deter juveniles from crime. In state courts, these efforts included tactics such as pretrial detention and transfers to adult court for youth charged with violent and drug crimes. The focus changed from rehabilitation to punishment and often had racial overtones. Pretrial detention facilities lacked necessary care for a juvenile’s health and education. They also lacked adequate treatment services for mental health and relied excessively on physical punishment and solitary confinement. Experts in psychology and policy have agreed that these tough policies fail to accomplish their goals and impede on juveniles’ rights. The authors note that a youth should be factored into cases to lower sentencing, especially since legislators cannot define what adult culpability looks like and clinicians don’t have the tools to measure juvenile impulsivity, foresight, and preference for risk. Legislators will need to recognize that juveniles, especially minority youth, have been sentenced to harsher punishments without opportunities for rehabilitation and that policy changes are needed to correct the imbalance in the justice system.