Book Review: The criminalization of Black children: Race, gender, and delinquency in Chicago’s juvenile justice system, 1899–1945

Date01 March 2022
Published date01 March 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Agyepong, T. E. (2018).
The criminalization of Black children: Race, gender, and delinquency in Chicagos juvenile justice system, 18991945.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 197 pp. $24.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-3644-3.
Reviewed by: Adrian H. Huerta, Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA,
DOI: 10.1177/0734016819826633
Poor, broken, violent, and criminals. These are some of the adjectives used to describe Black boys
and girls in The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicagos
Juvenile Justice System 18991945. This is a timely and necessary read for emerging scholars
from various academic disciplines. Grounded in a historical text that weaves legal, ethnic studies,
and social work that can guide and inform students in education, public policy, and criminal
justice to gain a new perspective on the evolution of the juvenile justice system and its current inu-
ence in the lives of children throughout the United States. It is essential to understand the legacy of
policies and practices that lead to the disproportionate rates of Black youth involved in the criminal
justice system as some may believe that these efforts are a new phenomenon, but instead should
know how and why it is grounded in more substantial system-level decision-making that impacted
generations of people and communities throughout Chicago area. In each page and section of
Professor Tera Eva Agyepong book drew me deeper into the development, through vigennetes,
news paper articles, and legal decisions, of the juvenile justice system and provided the foundation
to understand current, and unfortunately, twisted and wrought dialogues about urban Black youth
today. After reading this text and others about Black boys and girls (Ferguson, 2000; Howard,
2014; Laura, 2014; Lopez-Aguado, 2018; Rios, 2011), I am left askingwhat has changed
between 18991945 and 2019, and honestly, I am not sure if anything has changed about the con-
dition for Black children regardless of their income bracket or geographic location. Black boys and
girls continue to be the victims of a ubiquitous system that aims to control and punish poor children
and shepherd them into the juvenile justice courts, foster systems, or the school-to-prison-pipeline
without little conscious about the long-term effects on their psychosocial development or educational
trajectories. Professor Agyepongs posits, Notions of juvenile justice, childhood innocence, and
rehabilitation have always been contested(p. 68), and these sentiments are very much true today
on who deserves benet of the doubt about their presumed innocence or deviance. The depth of
Professor Agyepongs detailed and analytic attention drawn to uncover copious notes, legislation,
newspaper articles, and public testimonies on how and why Black youth were constantly mislabeled
as delinquents and committed to juvenile facilities instead of centers for rehabilitation and needed
therapy, and often tried as adults stands to the testament of the value and impact of this book on
various social science elds. Agyepong provided heartbreaking examples of young Black boys
and girls who were victims of sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of family members and
others and then wrongly labeled as sexual deviants and delinquents, which removes any thought
of vulnerability or victimhood needed to provide support and healing instead of a heavy hand of
Book Reviews
Criminal Justice Review
2022, Vol. 47(1) 119128
© 2019 Georgia State University
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