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The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago's Juvenile Justice System, 1899-1945

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In the late nineteenth century, progressive reformers recoiled at the prospect of the justice system punishing children as adults. Advocating that children's inherent innocence warranted fundamentally different treatment, reformers founded the nation's first juvenile court in Chicago in 1899. Yet amid an influx of new African American arrivals to the city during the Great In the late nineteenth century, progressive reformers recoiled at the prospect of the justice system punishing children as adults. Advocating that children's inherent innocence warranted fundamentally different treatment, reformers founded the nation's first juvenile court in Chicago in 1899. Yet amid an influx of new African American arrivals to the city during the Great Migration, notions of inherent childhood innocence and juvenile justice were circumscribed by race. In documenting how blackness became a marker of criminality that overrode the potential protections the status of child could have bestowed, Tera Eva Agyepong shows the entanglements between race and the state's transition to a more punitive form of juvenile justice. In this important study, Agyepong expands the narrative of racialized criminalization in America, revealing that these patterns became embedded in a justice system originally intended to protect children. In doing so, she also complicates our understanding of the nature of migration and what it meant to be black and living in Chicago in the early twentieth century.


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In the late nineteenth century, progressive reformers recoiled at the prospect of the justice system punishing children as adults. Advocating that children's inherent innocence warranted fundamentally different treatment, reformers founded the nation's first juvenile court in Chicago in 1899. Yet amid an influx of new African American arrivals to the city during the Great In the late nineteenth century, progressive reformers recoiled at the prospect of the justice system punishing children as adults. Advocating that children's inherent innocence warranted fundamentally different treatment, reformers founded the nation's first juvenile court in Chicago in 1899. Yet amid an influx of new African American arrivals to the city during the Great Migration, notions of inherent childhood innocence and juvenile justice were circumscribed by race. In documenting how blackness became a marker of criminality that overrode the potential protections the status of child could have bestowed, Tera Eva Agyepong shows the entanglements between race and the state's transition to a more punitive form of juvenile justice. In this important study, Agyepong expands the narrative of racialized criminalization in America, revealing that these patterns became embedded in a justice system originally intended to protect children. In doing so, she also complicates our understanding of the nature of migration and what it meant to be black and living in Chicago in the early twentieth century.

38 review for The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago's Juvenile Justice System, 1899-1945

  1. 5 out of 5

    Teri

    In the Criminalization of Black Children, Tera Eva Agyepong discusses the formation and historical development of a juvenile justice system in Chicago, Illinois from 1899 through 1945. It would be the first juvenile justice system in the United States. Young African-American youth were picked up as delinquents and dependents thrown into an emergent juvenile justice system. These were children that were poor, abused, neglected, and abandoned. Many were youth newly arrived in Chicago during the Gr In the Criminalization of Black Children, Tera Eva Agyepong discusses the formation and historical development of a juvenile justice system in Chicago, Illinois from 1899 through 1945. It would be the first juvenile justice system in the United States. Young African-American youth were picked up as delinquents and dependents thrown into an emergent juvenile justice system. These were children that were poor, abused, neglected, and abandoned. Many were youth newly arrived in Chicago during the Great Migration. The African-American community began their own child-saving movement to help shape the new juvenile justice system for these children. Agyepong delves into the court system and the institutions that housed African-American youth in Chicago including the Institute for Juvenile Research, the Juvenile Detention Center, and the Chicago Parental School. Young girls were submitted to the Illinois Training School and young boys sent to the Illinois Training School for Boys at St. Charles. The treatment they endured was harsh and at times horrific. Agyepong also highlights the extreme racial disparity and discrimination within the system. “The juvenile court consequently played an active role in constructing the image of a “delinquent” child by disproportionately applying the label to black children and inflating the actual number of black children who committed crimes. Over time, this led to a racialized process of criminalization as the image of a delinquent child became conflated with the image of a black child.” (p 40) These were children who came from broken circumstanced and placed in an even worse circumstance in an unfair and unbalanced system. This is the story of lost innocence and a system that caused African-American youth to be equated as criminals.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Abby Suzanne

    The Criminalization of Black Children, by Tera Eva Agyepong, gets all the stars from me. One billion stars. I loved this book. It took me to church, spoke to my soul, inspired me, and basically every line felt like a mic drop moment. Read it. Please and thank you. See this excerpt for inspiration: "... many African American children's experiences in the juvenile court were shaped by a relationship... between the state's compulsory education laws, schools, the juvenile court, and Chicago Parental The Criminalization of Black Children, by Tera Eva Agyepong, gets all the stars from me. One billion stars. I loved this book. It took me to church, spoke to my soul, inspired me, and basically every line felt like a mic drop moment. Read it. Please and thank you. See this excerpt for inspiration: "... many African American children's experiences in the juvenile court were shaped by a relationship... between the state's compulsory education laws, schools, the juvenile court, and Chicago Parental School. Black children and their families.... were vulnerable to being caught in the institutional web of the Board of Education and juvenile court. The increasing mismatch between the cultural construct of the vulnerable, malleable, poor, and immigrant white child that had inspired the city's child-saving movement and the rising number of black children- who were constructed as insensate, un-malleable, and threatening beings prone to criminality- led to the unraveling of the legal principles on which the Cook County Juvenile Court had been predicated." Preach.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jamee Pritchard

    Ayyepong makes a convincing case for the criminalization of black children through quantitative data and primary research of court and institutional records. Although Agyepong is thorough in her research, the organization of her themes is extremely repetitive. The historical narratives of children going through the juvenile system add to the storytelling aspect of the book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Troy Mattila

    Very well researched, lots of interesting information. Oddly repetitive, in the sense that it repeats facts and statistics verbatim as if they were not mentioned earlier in the book. In the first 50 pages or so, it sometimes seems as if the author is simply listing facts, names and dates; the narrative is lacking. I particularly don't understand the inclusion of so many names of people who are never discussed in any substantive way. That being said, the writing gets smoother later on in the disc Very well researched, lots of interesting information. Oddly repetitive, in the sense that it repeats facts and statistics verbatim as if they were not mentioned earlier in the book. In the first 50 pages or so, it sometimes seems as if the author is simply listing facts, names and dates; the narrative is lacking. I particularly don't understand the inclusion of so many names of people who are never discussed in any substantive way. That being said, the writing gets smoother later on in the discussion of the training schools at Geneva and St. Charles. There are also some interesting legal snippets about jurisdiction that I found interesting. Worth reading if the subject matter is of interest to you.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jill

  6. 4 out of 5

    Will

  7. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

  8. 4 out of 5

    Meghan McCarthy

  9. 4 out of 5

    Oenone Kubie

  10. 4 out of 5

    musicologyduck

  11. 5 out of 5

    Addie Redrick

  12. 4 out of 5

    Reggie

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aesha

  14. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte Mokdessi

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cherisse

  16. 4 out of 5

    Waz

  17. 5 out of 5

    BMR, LCSW

  18. 5 out of 5

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  19. 4 out of 5

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  20. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

  21. 4 out of 5

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  22. 4 out of 5

    Shakema

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Leftwich

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tanya

  25. 4 out of 5

    Emily Jane

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tasasha

  27. 4 out of 5

    Susan “Sam”

  28. 4 out of 5

    Wonderwoman

  29. 5 out of 5

    Bethany Smith

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cherisse

  31. 5 out of 5

    Steven Coco

  32. 5 out of 5

    Megan Hoyer

  33. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Pratcher,

  34. 4 out of 5

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  35. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  36. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  37. 5 out of 5

    Aisling

  38. 5 out of 5

    Heather Brown

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