The Evolution of the Juvenile Court

Race, Politics, and the Criminalizing of Juvenile Justice

392 pages

18 b/w figures and 2 tables

September, 2017

ISBN: 9781479895694



Add to Cart Available: 8/25/2017

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Barry C. Feld is Centennial Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Minnesota and author or editor of many books, including Kids, Cops, and Confessions and Bad Kids: Race and the Transformation of the Juvenile Court.

All books by Barry C. Feld

A major statement on the juvenile justice system by one of America’s leading experts
The juvenile court lies at the intersection of youth policy and crime policy. Its institutional practices reflect our changing ideas about children and crime control.  The Evolution of the Juvenile Court provides a sweeping overview of the American juvenile justice system’s development and change over the past century. Noted law professor and criminologist Barry C. Feld places special emphasis on changes over the last 25 years—the ascendance of get tough crime policies and the more recent Supreme Court recognition that “children are different.”
Feld’s comprehensive historical analyses trace juvenile courts’ evolution though four periods—the original Progressive Era, the Due Process Revolution in the 1960s, the Get Tough Era of the 1980s and 1990s, and today’s Kids Are Different era. In each period, changes in the economy, cities, families, race and ethnicity, and politics have shaped juvenile courts’ policies and practices.  Changes in juvenile courts’ ends and means—substance and procedure—reflect shifting notions of children’s culpability and competence.
The Evolution of the Juvenile Court examines how conservative politicians used coded racial appeals to advocate get tough policies that equated children with adults and more recent Supreme Court decisions that draw on developmental psychology and neuroscience research to bolster its conclusions about youths’ reduced criminal responsibility and diminished competence. Feld draws on lessons from the past to envision a new, developmentally appropriate justice system for children. Ultimately, providing justice for children requires structural changes to reduce social and economic inequality—concentrated poverty in segregated urban areas—that disproportionately expose children of color to juvenile courts’ punitive policies.
Historical, prescriptive, and analytical, The Evolution of the Juvenile Court evaluates the author’s past recommendations to abolish juvenile courts in light of this new evidence, and concludes that separate, but reformed, juvenile courts are necessary to protect children who commit crimes and facilitate their successful transition to adulthood. 


  • "Feld is the preeminent expert in the field of juvenile justice. If that wasn't already clear, it is with the publishing of this important book. Politicians, policymakers, and citizens: Heed his call."

    New York Journal of Books

  • “No one understands the creation, evolution, and transformation of the juvenile court more than Barry Feld. In The Evolution of the Juvenile Court, Feld reveals the recurring exploitation of delinquency as a politically-contested notion throughout the court’s first century. Feld applies his vast knowledge of youth crime and juvenile justice to explain how enlightenment science has launched a new era to advance child development within the law. This book shows a path forward to realize the twin ideals of the juvenile court and the foundational rights of adolescents.”

    —Jeffrey Fagan, Co-editor of The Changing Borders of Juvenile Justice: Transfer of Adolescents to the Criminal Co

  • “Provides a comprehensive history of juvenile justice, from the creation of the first juvenile court to the current era. Feld applies his deep reading of legal, social, economic, demographic, and crime trends throughout the past century to help us understand how and why we punish children as we do, and what we should do better. Feld weaves together his background as legal scholar, historian, and sociologist to produce this extraordinary analysis - it is the most thorough and important treatment of juvenile justice I have read.”

    —Aaron Kupchik, Author of Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear

  • “Students of juvenile justice, youth advocates, and policymakers need to read this book. They will undoubtedly learn the sad reality of late twentieth-century juvenile justice reforms, and why current policies disproportionately punish impoverished minority youth. No scholar has written more persuasively and boldly about the legal, sociological, and developmental reasons to pursue justice for all juveniles than Barry Feld.”

    —Simon I. Singer, Author of America's Safest City: Delinquency and Modernity in Suburbia