No Refuge Under the Law: Racialized Foundations of Juvenile Justice Reform

Geoff K. Ward

in The Black Child-Savers

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780226873169
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226873190 | DOI:
No Refuge Under the Law: Racialized Foundations of Juvenile Justice Reform

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This chapter examines the nineteenth-century foundations of Jim Crow juvenile justice, including the racialized applications of common law protections, the racial politics of houses of refuge, and the often horrific ordeals of black youths in the antebellum South. This illustrates how white racial group prerogatives and privileges shaped the administration of these earliest institutional reforms. Throughout the United States, these racialized denials of protection under the law and of democratic participation undermined black youth and community claims to opportunity or representation in the emerging juvenile justice system. Ultimately, this new institution of racialized social control, the white-dominated parental state, was organized to underdevelop black citizens deemed delinquent and black civil society generally and, thus, to maintain the boundaries of a white democracy. For that reason, turn-of-the-century black civic leaders organized to improve the life chances of black youths, and prospects for racial equality in American democracy, through juvenile justice reform.

Keywords: American juvenile justice; Jim Crow; black youth; civil rights; rehabilitation; refuge; juvenile justice reform; American democracy

Chapter.  11980 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Race and Ethnicity

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