Crimes of Youth: Juvenile Delinquency and the Carceral State in New York City, 1920-1978
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CitationAntell, Ella. 2020. Crimes of Youth: Juvenile Delinquency and the Carceral State in New York City, 1920-1978. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractCrimes of Youth traces the changing politics of delinquency and ideology of crime in twentieth-century New York City. Between 1920 and 1978, U.S. officials built a powerful and expansive carceral state focused on disciplining and controlling the behavior of children and youth in New York. This project was built on a rehabilitative myth, which ostensibly sought to rehabilitate delinquent children into future citizens, but created a two-tier system that provided social and material aid to white children and families while denying it to African Americans in the decades before World War II. Yet even for white families, the system of new juvenile police, courts, probation bureaus, juvenile laws, and penal institutions that was consolidated in the 1930s was deeply coercive in its ambitions to socially engineer a national body politic defined by Anglo-Protestant norms and ideals. As New York’s neighborhood demographics changed in the 1940s, city leaders’ anxieties about the racial and civic health of the city shifted from Americanizing European immigrants to viewing African American and Puerto Rican families as the primary origin points of crime. To this end, city officials developed new tools that targeted youth of color in the postwar years, including statistical measures that purported to be able to scientifically predict future delinquents, as well as gang control initiatives that brought youth of color in ever closer contact with state surveillance and law enforcement. The War on Poverty represented a culmination of the rehabilitative carceral model, even as the era revealed the limits of liberalism to reckon with poverty and inequality outside of the language and ideology of crime.
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