Courting Kids

Inside an Experimental Youth Court

220 pages

13 tables

December, 2012

ISBN: 9780814709450



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Carla J. Barrett is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

All books by Carla J. Barrett

Despite being labeled as adults, the approximately 200,000 youth under the age of 18 who are now prosecuted as adults each year in criminal court are still adolescents, and the contradiction of their legal labeling creates numerous problems and challenges. In Courting Kids Carla Barrett takes us behind the scenes of a unique judicial experiment called the Manhattan Youth Part, a specialized criminal court set aside for youth prosecuted as adults in New York City. Focusing on the lives of those coming through and working in the courtroom, Barrett’s ethnography is a study of a microcosm that reflects the costs, challenges, and consequences the “tough on crime” age has had, especially for male youth of color. She demonstrates how the court, through creative use of judicial discretion and the cultivation of an innovative courtroom culture, developed a set of strategies for handling “adult-juvenile ” cases that embraced, rather than denied, defendants’ adolescence.


  • “This insightful ethnography tells a compelling story of injustice, humanity, and suffering—of a judge’s struggle to do right despite challenging circumstances—and in the process offers a powerful critique against transfer to criminal court.”

    —Aaron Kupchik, author of Homeroom Security

  • “An impressive and important book. Meticulously researched and well written the book offers an insightful account of the way one court adapted to the legal effort to try juvenile offenders as adults.”

    —Austin Sarat, author of Life without Parole

  • "An articulate and intelligent ethnographic study."

    —Sarah Ciftci, Current Issues in Criminal Justice

  • "Explores the experiment in child-saving undertaken by the Manhattan Youth Part of the New York criminal court system and considers the insights it offers about the persecution of youth offenders." 

    Journal of Economic Literature

  • “Readers will gain a sense of the history and initial purpose of the juvenile court, an understanding of the impact of accountability-based public policies, the tools used to facilitate accountability, such as legislative and judicial waivers, and the research that, to date, has found that these policies have not necessarily reduced recidivism or deterred criminal conduct. In the end, Courting Kids is not just about youth and a specialized court in New York; it is about all youth, everywhere.”

    Political Science Quarterly