The Black Child-Savers: Racial Democracy and Juvenile Justice

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

During the Progressive Era, a rehabilitative agenda took hold of American juvenile justice, materializing as a citizen-and-state-building project and mirroring the unequal racial politics of American democracy itself. Alongside this liberal "manufactory of citizens,” a parallel structure was enacted: a Jim Crow juvenile justice system that endured across the nation for most of the twentieth century. In The Black Child Savers, the first study of the rise and fall of Jim Crow juvenile justice, Geoff Ward examines the origins and organization of this separate and unequal juvenile justice system. Ward explores how generations of “black child-savers” mobilized to challenge the threat to black youth and community interests and how this struggle grew aligned with a wider civil rights movement, eventually forcing the formal integration of American juvenile justice. Ward’s book reveals nearly a century of struggle to build a more democratic model of juvenile justice—an effort that succeeded in part, but ultimately failed to deliver black youth and community to liberal rehabilitative ideals.

At once an inspiring story about the shifting boundaries of race, citizenship, and democracy in America and a crucial look at the nature of racial inequality, The Black Child Savers is a stirring account of the stakes and meaning of social justice.

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About the author

Geoff Ward is assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Jun 29, 2012
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Pages
90
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ISBN
9780226873190
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Social Science / Ethnic Studies / African American Studies
Social Science / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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At fifteen, Victor Rios found himself a human target—flat on his ass amid a hail of shotgun fire, desperate for money and a place on the street. Faced with the choice of escalating a drug turf war or eking out a living elsewhere, he turned to a teacher, who mentored him and helped him find a job at an auto shop. That job would alter the course of his whole life—putting him on the road to college and eventually a PhD. Now, Rios is a rising star, hailed for his work studying the lives of African American and Latino youth.

In Human Targets, Rios takes us to the streets of California, where we encounter young men who find themselves in much the same situation as fifteen-year-old Victor. We follow young gang members into schools, homes, community organizations, and detention facilities, watch them interact with police, grow up to become fathers, get jobs, get rap sheets—and in some cases get killed. What is it that sets apart young people like Rios who succeed and survive from the ones who don’t? Rios makes a powerful case that the traditional good kid/bad kid, street kid/decent kid dichotomy is much too simplistic, arguing instead that authorities and institutions help create these identities—and that they can play an instrumental role in providing young people with the resources for shifting between roles. In Rios’s account, to be a poor Latino youth is to be a human target—victimized and considered an enemy by others, viewed as a threat to law enforcement and schools, and burdened by stigma, disrepute, and punishment. That has to change.

This is not another sensationalistic account of gang bangers. Instead, the book is a powerful look at how authority figures succeed—and fail—at seeing the multi-faceted identities of at-risk youths, youths who succeed—and fail—at demonstrating to the system that they are ready to change their lives. In our post-Ferguson era, Human Targets is essential reading.
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