The Juvenile Court and the Progressives
University of Illinois Press, 2000 - 216 pages
Today's troubled juvenile court system has its roots in Progressive-era Chicago, a city one observer described as "first in violence" and "deepest in dirt." Examining the vision and methods of the original proponents of the Cook County Juvenile Court, Victoria Getis uncovers the court's intrinsic flaws as well as the sources of its debilitation in our own time.
Spearheaded by a group of Chicago women, including Jane Addams, Lucy Flower, and Julia Lathrop, the juvenile court bill was pushed through the legislature by an eclectic coalition of progressive reformers, both women and men. Like many progressive institutions, the court reflected an unswerving faith in the wisdom of the state and in the ability of science to resolve the problems brought on by industrial capitalism.
A hybrid institution combining legal and social welfare functions, the court was not intended to punish youthful lawbreakers but rather to provide guardianship for the vulnerable. In this role, the state was permitted great latitude to intervene in families where it detected a lack of adequate care for children. The court also became a living laboratory, as children in the court became the subjects of research by criminologists, statisticians, educators, state officials, economists, and, above all, practitioners of the new disciplines of sociology and psychology.
The Chicago reformers had worked for large-scale social change, but the means they adopted eventually gave rise to the social sciences, where objectivity was prized above concrete solutions to social problems, and to professional groups that abandoned goals of structural reform. The Juvenile Court and the Progressives argues persuasively that the current impotence of the juvenile court system stems from contradictions that lie at the very heart of progressivism.
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