Book Review: Controversies in Juvenile Justice and Delinquency

Date01 September 2005
Published date01 September 2005
Subject MatterArticles
Controversies in Juvenile Justice and Delinquency, by Peter Benekos and Alida V. Merlo.
Cincinnati: LexisNexis, 2004. pp. xiv, 349.
DOI: 10.1177/0734016805284519
This book presents a comprehensive overview of current issues and controversies in juve-
nile justice and delinquency research and public policy. As part of a largerseries called Con-
troversies in Crime and Justice (edited by Victor Kappeler), it is organized as an edited vol-
ume of essays on specific substantive topics and would likely work well as a text in advanced
undergraduate courses. Each chapter uses the pedagogical strategy of presenting controver-
sies, misconceptions, and counterintuitive trends. Each concludes with keywords and ques-
tions for class discussion. The volume takes a multidisciplinary approach, with contributions
from biology, psychology, economics, sociology, and other social and behavioral perspec-
tives. Though focused on domestic policy, a concluding chapter provides contrasts to other
The introductory chapter, by Editors Peter Benekos and Alido Merlo, provides a nice his-
tory of the evolution of juvenile justice in the United States and helps to contextualize recent
trends such as “adultification” of youth, incarceration, zero tolerance, and other “get-tough”
strategies. Chapter 2, by Frank Hagan and Pamela Tontodonato, covers economic and socio-
logical theories of delinquency. The coverage of theoretical approaches is strong, including
both mainstream (i.e., social control, learning, subcultures, strain, and disorganization) and
critical perspectives, such as labeling and conflict theory. The only notable omissions are
life-course-based perspectives. Chapter 3, by Thomas Gamble and Amy Eisert, outlines
emerging biopsychological theories of delinquency. Noting that the nature versus nurture
dichotomy is no longer considered productive, they describe current research into the addi-
tive and interactive effects of biological and social factors, including behavioral genetics,
studies of attachment, and the relationship between mental disorder and crime.
In chapter 4, Frank Williams and Marilyn McShane discuss the complex relationship
between youth drug use and delinquency. Is one a gatewayto the other, or given the illegality
of drug use for minors, are they simply two different measures of delinquency? It poses as
controversy the necessity and effectiveness of the waron drugs, given preoccurring declines
in youth drug use. They also discuss current proposals, such as random drug testing of stu-
dents in schools. Chapter 5, by Richard Lawrence, discusses the issue of school violence and
(over)reactions of the media, politicians, and the public to recent school shootings in White,
suburban schools. The chapter also considers research on school bullying and prevention
programs schools are employing to improve safety.
Chapter 6, by John Lemmon, takes up the important problem of child maltreatment and
discusses linkages between the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. As noted, child
maltreatment is a strong risk factor for later violence, delinquency, and crime. The author
poses ethical dilemmas these create for the justice system. Noting that the child welfare sys-
tem is currently in crisis, the chapter concludes by describing several promising develop-
ments, such as the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, and effective interven-
tions, such as the Prenatal and Early Childhood Nurse Home Visitation Program. Chapter 7,
by Joseph Sanborn, considers legal issues presented by the “adultification” of youth. Much
of the chapter is devoted to describing state variations in mandatory and selective exclusions
of youth from the juvenile system. Rationales for exclusion are discussed, including the
antiexclusion argument that youth are not competent defendants. Chapter 12, by Alexis
250 Criminal Justice Review

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