AT A TENDER AGE: Violent Youth and Juvenile Justice by Rita Kramer

AT A TENDER AGE: Violent Youth and Juvenile Justice

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A sharply critical, at times inflammatory challenge to the juvenile justice system from the author of the equally dogged In Defense of the Family (1982). Kramer contends that the present system, designed to rehabilitate hubcap thieves, is woefully inadequate for ""a new breed of cynical and remorseless delinquent,"" or what one probation officer calls ""the new barbarians."" Chronic violent offenders, on the increase primarily because of continuing stresses on family structure, have learned to use their youth to escape punishment--a consequence of the landmark Gault decision which ensures due process to juveniles. Such offenders are defended as adults, sentenced as children, and then returned to family situations which have already failed them. The system protects their legal rights but neglects their human needs and the needs of the community they oppress. After watching court cases and observing individuals at different stages in the system, Kramer concludes that we all lose out under the present process: victims who see their young assailants go free and the offenders themselves, for whom no currently available form of rehabilitation nor light punishment works. Although she has no dynamic solution to the socioeconomic conditions that spawn such criminals, she has firm recommendations for altering the system: focus on the rights of the victim and the community; emphasize the crime rather than the age of the criminal; and make the punishment swift and certain. As in In Defense of the Family, Kramer shoots at a variety of targets--Legal Aid lawyers most prominently--and argues for her frequently valid points in a tendentious, emotionally charged manner. But she won't rile more readers than she rouses: too many of her observations make sense.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Henry Holt