chapter  7
17 Pages

The ‘unchildlike child’: making and marking the child/adult divide in the juvenile court

ByElizabeth Brown

Modern childhood is a concept with centuries of history in the US and abroad, yet the premise

that the crimes of youth should be dealt with in a different institution than the adult criminal

court is only a little more than a century old. Juvenile courts came to prominence in the US

as a result of the Progressives, a political movement of middle-class white women seeking to

inculcate values of childhood and home in urban society from the 1890s to the 1930s

(Platt 1969 1977, Rothman 1980). Progressive reformers saw adult members of the criminal

class as inescapably deviant. The formation of the adult rationality – and the fixity this

implied – happened over the course of childhood, and once an individual reached adulthood,

a criminal disposition would be fully formed unless the juvenile court intervened. Progressives

reasoned that the juvenile court could protect the category of childhood, and prevent young

people from crossing the boundary, both physically and morally, into adult territory.