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Reviewed by:
  • Juvenile Justice in the Making
  • Jennifer Trost
Juvenile Justice in the Making. By David S. Tanenhaus ( New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. xxx plus 231 pp.).

For decades juvenile justice historians have searched for the long-lost case files of the Cook County Juvenile Court in Chicago, hoping the confidential records would reveal some of the secrets of this complex institution. Scholars have been able to examine America's first juvenile court from most every angle except that of the clients, the putative subject of social and legal historians. Now David Tanenhaus has completed the history of Chicago juvenile justice. In addition to explaining the motives of reformers, the drafting of the law, and the jostling among city agencies, Tanenhaus uses case file information to show the innovative nature of the juvenile court in order to take us back to a time when the court's future was uncertain.

In Juvenile Justice in the Making, David Tanenhaus argues that, although the problems of the juvenile justice system may look entrenched now, the reforms at the turn of the last century resulted from a series of compromises between many organizations. He counters the belief that inherent contradictions between the social justice and coercive goals of juvenile court advocates doomed this (or indeed, any) attempt at doing good for kids through the justice system. Instead, says Tanenhaus, reformers were aware of these contradictions at the inception of their project, but were forced to make compromises within existing social networks and institutions, thereby diluting their original intent.

He begins his story in the late 19th century with the emergence of the work of philanthropists and child welfare experts as they grappled with a legal system designed for adults. He moves next to the founding of the juvenile court in 1899 and then its first few years of operations. Tanenhaus shows how the Cook County Juvenile Court set national standards for other juvenile courts even though the conditions in Chicago were somewhat atypical. Medical treatment based on modern notions of personality, environmental factors and individualized treatment plans began in 1909. Although not terribly successful, the medical model represented innovation, and other juvenile courts adopted the [End Page 768] approach to yield a remarkably consistent American juvenile justice system despite geographic diversity. Next he looks at the relationship of the new juvenile court to the rest of the existing welfare state in the 1910s. Problems of jurisdiction and turf emerged quickly, and critics of the juvenile court affected its functions and duties in the 1920s. By the 1930s other organizations and academic disciplines including the Juvenile Psychopathic Institute (psychology) and the Chicago Area Project (sociology) began working with the juvenile court to offer solutions to delinquency. The Chicago Area Project was based on community-run social programs with the goal of helping young delinquents reorganize and mobilize their own communities. He concludes with a reminder that juvenile justice, as always, continues to evolve. The juvenile court's duties and jurisdiction emerged through compromises and the process of hearing cases and interacting with other components of the welfare state, the community, and the court system.

Juvenile Justice in the Making relies on both well-known sources and some new ones. Public sources include reports from the Illinois Board of State Commissioners of Public Charities, the vast social science research from the early twentieth century, many local newspapers, legal cases, and laws. He also uses archival papers from the Children's Home and Aid Society of Illinois and local philanthropists such as Julius Rosenwald. Most importantly he uses case files from the juvenile court. Although the case files are of uneven quality, Tanenhaus finds patterns in the adjudication of dependent children based on the parental status of single motherhood or single fatherhood. These sources allow the author to show the competing agendas of the many different child savers. Managers of industrial schools, members of the Chicago Woman's Club, the Chicago Bar Association, the Chicago Visitation and Aid Society, as well as directors of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish charities all sought to shape the juvenile justice system in ways they thought best protected their interests.

Tanenhaus makes two important arguments about the history of the...


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pp. 768-770
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