Prosecuting Juveniles as Adults | Book Review

Book Review: Aaron Kupcik. Judging Juveniles: Prosecuting Adolescents in Adult and Juvenile Courts


The book review considers a work by the Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Delaware University Aaron Kupcik. Judging Juveniles: Prosecuting Adolescents in Adult and Juvenile Courts is a continuation of the author’s research started in his dissertation. The theme discussed in the writing is the necessity of changes in juvenile-criminal correlation system of justice through comparison of these courts. The scholar challenges the existing law and policies towards young offenders in terms of treatment to those as adults when they have committed severe crimes rather than adolescents by applying “sequential model of justice.” He provides a detailed description of the “court kitchen” from the inside, which is supported by evidence concentrated in rich qualitative and quantitative data. However, his study is conducted in the cultural aspect mostly whereas public attitude for this issue is not highlighted. The latter makes the limitation of the research. Nevertheless, the book is informative, extremely nice written, with a simple language. That feature makes it readable and interesting for both an ordinary newcomer in this field of science and a qualified specialist.

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Book Review: Judging Juveniles: Prosecuting 

Adolescents in Adult and Juvenile Courts

Judging Juveniles: Prosecuting Adolescents in Adult and Juvenile Courts by Aaron Kupchik is a book that researches a controversial issue of the modern society, which is the correlation between juveniles and adolescents in terms of juvenile and criminal courts as components of the justice system. The comparative study conducted by the Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Delaware University is a solid contribution to the exploration of the U.S. system of justice, specifically its attitude toward young offenders. This research is a result of the scholar’s long and thorough studying of the indicated issue since it is a continuation of his dissertation titled Children in an Adult World Prosecuting Adolescents in Criminal and Juvenile Jurisdictions (2003). In the seven chapters, the author traces the history and development, considers structure and staged interaction of integral parts of the court process concerning this group of delinquents, and defines the model of the latter that functions in the contemporary American society. Furthermore, in Appendices, Kupchik provides readers with quantitative and qualitative data and methods used regarding the issue that illustrate his major points and evidence topicality of his research. With his writing, the scholar tries to debunk the existing policy and law flaws concerning juvenile and adolescents’ punishment and, by confronting two structures operating in the system of justice, demonstrates the necessity for its improvement. He supports his main objective with numerous arguments that seem to be relevant and convincing. As a consequence, the author concludes that “the prosecution of adolescents in criminal court fails to resonate with culturally inscribed understanding of youthfulness” (Kupchik, 2006, p. 55).

The book is not overloaded by judicial terms or written too scientifically. On the contrary, the author uses simple language to explain complicated things, and makes it easy to read not only to persons qualified in the area, but also to the “newcomers” in this scientific branch.

From the first pages of the monograph

From the first pages of the monograph, the professor emphasizes the necessity to distinguish juvenile and adolescent offenders and take into consideration all inclusive aspects of the case proceeding. Such circumstances enable the judges to make the right and fair decision on punishment of young delinquents. Tracing the history of juvenile court and comparing it with a criminal one, the author confidently suggests that today both these court systems operate as a mixed structure, which he calls “sequential model of justice” (Kupchik, 2006, p. 2). To be more exact, in different stages of the proceedings, juvenile and criminal court procedures replace each other. As Kupchik argues, when the proceeding just started, the court actors focus on proving offender’s innocence or guilt that is why they “rigid formal procedures” (2006, p. 68). Afterward, when the above step is taken, criminal court starts to show characteristics of the juvenile one.

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This is evident, as the researcher claims, whereas criminal court actors try to “filter case processing and circumvent the law to reintroduce notions of juvenile justice to criminal court case processing” (Kupchik, 2006, p. 119). Moreover, the existing legislative framework makes their operation limited and, in addition, requires that they should impose more severe punishments toward juvenile delinquents as they would like to. The scholar asserts that approach of policy-makers and scientists, such as “old enough to do the crime, old enough to do the time” (Kupchik, 2006, p. 1), enables courts treat adolescents who committed severe crimes like adults. Whereas ones ought to be treated as juveniles since they are not mature enough, therefore, “less culpable, or blameworthy,” and the existing “sequential model of justice” has to be rejected.

The above indicated author’s arguments concerning his subject of study are supported by numerous examples of real cases that have been considered in the courts of different states of the USA, including New York, New Jersey, Florida, among others. For instance, Kupchik offers to the reader the case of Lionele Tate – a 12-year-old boy from Florida who “repeatedly imitating professional wrestling moves” (Kupchik, 2006, p. 2) has killed a 6-year-old girl whom he was playing with. As a result, he was judged as an adult and sentenced to live in prison and became the youngest citizen of the USA who has gotten such an imprisonment. Consequently, the boy was treated as an adult rather than a juvenile in this case. Only the evidence on the case has been taken into consideration, but not the offender’s age, immatureness, or that girl’s death was an accident. Furthermore, data collected by the scholar presents a multisided picture of the courtroom processing. For example, he provides his readers with tables showing demographic comparison of studied counties, involving racial, socioeconomic, educational aspects among others.

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Additionally, Kupchik uses interviews of attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and other participants of the lawsuits to conduct his research from the inside of the system. Thus, this approach is extremely winning since it enables the audience to cognize the structure of justice in its inner sense and feel oneself a direct party of the process. Besides, the author uses a solid literature base to support his arguments. 

However, to my mind, even though the book is very informative and easy to read, and demonstrate the kind of new approach in studying the issue, the work has certain limitations. I believe, to make such a topical research a really valuable contribution into exploring and addressing the issue, conducting the study in terms of “cultural understandings of justice and youthful culpability” is not enough. Other aspects of the problem, for instance, public opinion toward the question analyzed, should be taken into account and used for the further study. Nevertheless, Kupchik gives readers a possibility to understand the system of juvenile and criminal courts in action, and this experience is extremely valuable.

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