Since the beginning of the last century, the American legal system has been extremely ambivalent about how to handle juvenile offenders. Should they be treated like adults, children, or some mixture of the two? Should they be punished severely, receive treatment, or be subjected to a hybrid approach? To what extent should the courts provide them with adult procedural protections?
Christopher Slobogin, who holds the Underwood Chair in Law at Vanderbilt, and Mark Fondacaro, who is a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, wrote this book because they believe the current approach to the juvenile crime problem is insufficiently conceptualized and too beholden to myths about youth, the crimes they commit, and effective means of responding to their problems. The currently dominant punitive approach to juvenile justice, modeled on the adult criminal justice system, either ignores or misapplies current knowledge about the causes of juvenile crime and the means of reducing it.
In their book, Professors Slobogin and Fondacaro argue that, with some significant adjustments that take this new knowledge into account, the legal system should continue to maintain a separate juvenile court, but one that is preventive in orientation, with a new emphasis on both rehabilitation and flexible procedures. The view that culpability should be the linchpin of juvenile justice (touted by liberals as well as conservatives) is misguided, they say, not only because it leads to unnecessarily harsh punishment but also because it de-emphasizes crime-reducing interventions and undermines the case for handling adolescent offenders through a system that is independent of the culpability-based adult system. The authors believe that the currently popular view that adult-type procedures should govern the juvenile process is also open to serious doubt, given social science research that questions the extent to which such procedures promote accuracy and fairness.
In addition to holding Vanderbilt's Underwood Chair in Law, Professor Slobogin is a Professor of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt Medical School and director of Vanderbilt's Criminal Justice Program. He has authored or coauthored more than 100 articles, books and chapters on topics relating to criminal procedure, mental health law and evidence. Professor Slobogin is one of the 10 most cited criminal law and procedure law professors in the nation, according to the Leiter Report. The book Psychological Evaluations for the Courts, which he co-authored with another lawyer and two psychologists, is considered the standard-bearer in forensic mental health; in recognition for his work in that field, he was named an Honorary Distinguished Member of the American Psychology-Law Society in 2008.