Dan Markel (Florida State University Law School) has been asking me for years to guest blog on the always-interesting law professor blog, PrawfsBlawg. Knowing that I’ll never have the time until I make the time, I finally agreed to join in the conversation this month. If you’re not familiar with the blog and have an interest in a variety of legal issues, please check it out.
My first post is inspired by my 2012 article on the concept of “delinquent by reason of poverty.” Here’s how it begins:
Many thanks to Dan et al. for welcoming me into the fold. By way of introduction, I’ve had a somewhat unorthodox route to legal academia, having practiced as a public defender for a decade (on both the state and federal levels), then starting on the clinical track here at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004, only to switch to tenure track and (gratefully) receive tenure last year. I’m currently serving as interim director of clinical programs, adding a variety of administrative duties to my plate. As a result, my perspectives on legal education, scholarship, and related matters may be different than some. I hope to touch on these topics during the month, but mostly I’ll be exploring the issues that I’m particularly passionate about — juvenile justice policy and reform, indigent criminal defense, and the criminalization of poverty. About a year ago I started my own blog focusing on these areas, which you may check out here.
For now, I’ll introduce a question that I’ve been struggling with ever since I first started practicing in juvenile delinquency court nearly ten years ago — why is it that most of the children in the juvenile justice system are poor? Why are they nearly all from families that are living at or below the poverty level? As a parent of adolescents, I know that it is surely not because kids from low-income families are the only ones who violate the law, as my own (relatively well-behaved) daughters have committed many of the same types of very minor assaults, larcenies, and disorderly conduct offenses that have led to my young clients being criminally charged, ending up with delinquency records and (sometimes) detained. I also have come to conclude, based both on my own practice experiences as well as longitudinal studies of children exposed to juvenile court, that when kids are processed through the system, the impact is not benign — even when the disposition is arguably beneficial. Instead, the research shows that these children have higher rates of recidivism and are stigmatized in the process. In addition, potential negative consequences of juvenile delinquency adjudications may be seen in such areas as housing, employment, immigration and higher education as well as enhanced penalties for future offenses.
You may read the rest here.