Book Review: American juvenile justice

Date01 April 2007
AuthorAngela Harvey
Publication Date01 April 2007
American juvenile justice, Franklin E. Zimring. New York: Oxford University Press,
2005. xii + 246 pp. $19.95. ISBN 0195181174.
In his latest book, Franklin E. Zimring integrates empirical and theoretical arguments
to justify the presence of a separate juvenile court. American juvenile justice is composed
of four interrelated parts that successfully capture the core thesis of the book: that one
must clearly articulate the juvenile court’s purpose in order to evaluate its effectiveness.
In the first part, Zimring argues that the modern definition of adolescence supports
a separate juvenile justice system. He utilizes his classic ‘learners’ permit’ thesis to argue
that youth deserve chances to learn from their mistakes and the juvenile court can best
respond to the developmental immaturity that precipitates their errors in thinking.
Since there is variation in adolescents’ competence to make good decisions, Zimring
reasons that juvenile court actors can utilize discretion to assess different punishments
for similar crimes. Given that the literature suggests court actors do mishandle case-
processing decisions by utilizing subjective characteristics of offenders, resulting in
disparate outcomes for youth of color, Zimring devotes an entire chapter to this
The second part of the text is devoted to articulating the legal theories that set the
stage for a separate juvenile court. Zimring classifies the guiding principles of the
juvenile court as interventionist and diversionary. Diversion is based on the idea that
the juvenile court does less harm than the criminal court, whereas intervention is based
on the principle that the juvenile court can produce positive outcomes by providing
youth with effective programs. Zimring suggests that those opposing the separate
juvenile court have utilized interventionist principles to articulate the court’s failures,
yet they have ignored the success of the court at fulfilling its diversionary goal. He
argues that there is no conflict for...

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