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Judging Children as Children rails sharply against perceived flaws in the policy of judging children as adults. The author, Michael A. Corriero, is the Presiding Judge of a court for juvenile offenders called Manhattan's Youth Part. Adeptly wielding a sharp cutting legal scalpel, Corriero cuts deeply into the flesh of the policy of judging children as adults, and expertly describes diseased parts of its corpus.
As examined critically by Corriero, the policy of judging children as adults is wrong because it ignores important differences separating children from adults; wrong, also, because, in real life terms, it neither deters juvenile crime nor results in adequate public protection; and, not least, wrong because it unnecessarily criminalizes children. Fueled mightily by these convictions, Corriero gamely takes on the daunting, if not Sisyphean, task of rebuilding the part of America's legal edifice entrusted with supporting the adjudication of juvenile offender cases. As rebuilt by Corriero, the cornerstone of a proposed model juvenile justice system is the policy of judging children as children.
The intellectually game efforts of Corriero to tackle the contentious issue of juvenile justice policy reform are presented, structurally, in the form of eleven chapters. There is an additional chapter penned by Dr. Caroline Joy DeBrovner (an Assistant Professor at Pace University, in the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology). A "Preface" and a "Prologue" comprise further structural appendages. There are, as well, a plethora of "Notes" attached to the text's far end. These oft annotated Notes embellish the text's intellectual substance, and provide multitudinous citations to legal research materials forming a bridge to further study of juvenile justice.
The textual contents, in substantial measure, are composed of relatively abstruse legal matter. Indeed, the textual discourse of Corriero may be described aptly as law centric musings, styled in the manner of a book length, law review article. At times, these musings are somewhat rambling in nature. Quite a bit of the textual discourse relates also to facts and details of the particular professional experiences of Corriero. Because of the rather esoteric, law focused nature of the text, and adjoining Notes, the book, as written, is molded to most closely fit readers versed in law.
The thinking of Corriero regarding justice for children resounds through the corridors of the book. A key lesson sounded loudly by Corriero is that it is wise to probe diligently beneath the surface of alleged juvenile offenses, in careful search of factors which may help explain a particular child's offending behavior, including the individual circumstances and social history of an alleged juvenile offender. Corriero is especially sensitive to social circumstances affecting criminally behaving children who have been disadvantaged by society.
Corriero, in Chapter 2, particularly draws readers' attention to the psychologic turbulence of adolescence. In consonance with this concern, Corriero spells out his belief that individualized assessment of the maturity of children accused of criminal acts should be sewn into the fabric of the law.
Sharp focus is directed by Corriero, in Chapter 4, on the importance of rehabilitation of juvenile offenders. In Corriero's judgment, there is an important need for the legal system to attempt as much as possible to rehabilitate juvenile offenders into responsible members of society, and to balance judiciously this rehabilitative need with the concomitant need to protect the public adequately from criminally behaving juveniles.
As a way to enhance rehabilitative prospects for children accused of crimes, Corriero, in Chapter 6, fleshes out some details of a conceptualized view of interactive communications between judges and juvenile defendants conducive to rehabilitation enhancing personal rapport.
In Chapter 7 (contributed by DeBrovner), the interactive methods of Corriero are evaluated critically. Interestingly using snippets of real life conversations, DeBrovner shows instructively at a micro level how Corriero has pursued interactive justice in his courtroom.
Critics may opine, however, that the interactive style of Corriero is reliant heavily on communications skills; that other judges trying cases involving juveniles may have lesser communications skills; and that lack of requisite communications skills may jeopardize seriously efforts by other judges to replicate the interactive methods of Corriero.
The creation of Manhattan's Youth Part as a special court for juvenile offenders, including historic aspects of policy and law relevant to its creation, garners Corriero's centerstage attention in Chapter 9.
And then, in Chapter 10, Corriero expresses his firm belief that there is an evident need for "Youth Parts" in jurisdictions that prosecute children as adults. Some details of a Youth Part model are given.
In penultimate Chapter 11, Corriero etches the lineaments of a model juvenile justice system. As outlined by Corriero, a model system for juvenile justice is supported solidly by a foundation of judging children as children. In Corriero's view, his proposed model, if enacted, will result in a relatively more just system for juvenile justice which respects the individuality of children accused of crimes.
But critics may caution that what Corriero is proposing is not a proven solution to the law and policy puzzle of reshaping a square (of rehabilitation of youthful offenders) and a circle (of protecting society sufficiently against crimes by youths) so that the two pieces fit together in a just manner.
To the extent that the views embraced by Corriero, regarding juvenile justice policy reform, have been influenced by his particular professional experiences, further cautionary notes may be sounded. A critical concern, in this regard, is that Corriero's professional experiences involve a relatively limited sample population of children entangled in a web of legal problems. And, in significant ways, this sub cohort of children may be unrepresentative of the full cohort of children in trouble with the law.
Across the length and breadth of the text, Corriero, with determined zeal, crusades to reform a system unjustly (in his view) prosecuting children as adults. But it is no small task to disentangle the knot of law and policy issues tied to juvenile justice reform. And other persons with expert knowledge of America's juvenile justice system may have ideas about untying the knot that differ sharply from those advocated by Corriero.
With due regard for the foregoing admonitions, Corriero deserves much praise for his thoughtfully critical challenge to the policy of prosecuting children as adults. At the least, Corriero's strong embrace of a revised legal structure for juvenile justice, planted firmly in the soil of judging children as children, should foment interest in further exploration of this thorny legal terrain.
Criminologists, child advocates, criminal justice experts, child development specialists, judges, lawyers, public policy makers, legislators, social workers, behavioral scientists, psychologists and psychiatrists are among those who professionally may benefit greatly from scrutiny of the information and ideas put forth by Corriero.
© 2009 Leo Uzych
Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University. His area of special professional interest is healthcare.