In Brief

Juvenile Justice & Youth Violence
James C. Howell. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997.
Across Our Desk

The scope of this book reflects the author's extensive background as a preeminent juvenile justice researcher. Author James C. Howell begins with a review of four reform movements that shaped juvenile justice in this country and then looks at the impact of the Federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Act.

After the establishment of the pre-cursors of reform schools in the 18th century, juvenile justice reform next surfaced strongly in the late 19th Book Juvenile Justice and Youth Violencecentury, when "charity workers" (social workers) rejected reformatories, and progressive reformers worked for the establishment of the juvenile court. In 1974, the JJDP Act brought fundamental change to the way this country deals with juvenile offenders. This change was predicated on the Act's core requirements: deinstitutionalization of status offenders and non-offenders, separation of juvenile offenders from adult criminals in correctional settings, removal of juvenile offenders from adult jails, and efforts to address the disproportionate confinement of minority juveniles. Today, advocates of reforming the juvenile justice system espouse philosophies that focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation.

Having provided this historical context, Howell moves on to analyze today's youth violence and society's responses to this behavior. Noting that "gang violence represents a major proportion of juvenile violence," the author discusses research on youth gang homicides and drug trafficking. In addition, he examines the risk factors for youth violence, grouping them in the major categories -- or domains -- of community, family, school, individual characteristics, and peer groups. Howell suggests that juvenile violence is rooted in cultural norms and social conditions and that adults bear responsibility for most of the risk factors for juvenile delinquency and violence.

The author makes the case for the use of developmental criminology, as opposed to more theoretical approaches. Developmental criminology allows identification of pathways to delinquency -- information that is valuable in designing program interventions.

Finally, Howell argues persuasively for implementation of a comprehensive approach, as set forth in the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders, which he coauthored with OJJDP Deputy Administrator John J. Wilson in 1993 and which is reprinted in the book's appendix. Howell describes the strategy as being comprehensive in five ways: its inclusion of prevention, early intervention, and graduated sanctions; its focus on serious, violent, and chronic offenders while providing a blueprint for dealing with all delinquents; its call for an integrated system response; its promise for savings in secure corrections that can be directed to prevention programs; and its expectation of reduced adult crime in the long run.

Juvenile Justice & Youth Violence gives the reader a good understanding of the roots of juvenile justice in the United States and of the challenges facing the system today. In his conclusion, Howell is critical of the current direction of U.S. juvenile crime policy and calls for a return to "those more enlightened policies" that led to the establishment of the juvenile justice system nearly 100 years ago. Buttressed with 32 pages of references, the book recommends ways in which the current juvenile justice system could be strengthened through the use of effective, research-based programs within a humane and comprehensive framework.

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