Decision-Making for Juvenile Offenders: The Tenacity of Parens Patriae

Jamie J. Fader, Temple University
Philip W. Harris, Temple University
Peter R. Jones, Temple University

Existing research in the area of juvenile court decisions tends to simplify the decision-making process by focusing on racial/gender bias or by developing standaradized decision-making models. This paper examines the complexity of these decisions by focusing on one stage of the process--the dispositional recommendation. Through data collected during interviews and focus groups with probation officers and supervisors in Philadelphia's Family Court, we explore the process of developing recommendations for specific program commitments. In particular, we focus on the manner in which BARJ (Balanced Approach/Restorative Justice) has been implemented by probation officers at various stages of the decision-making process and present some unintended consequences of the effort to incorporate a focus on victims. We discuss the court's philosophy in light of a changing national approach to juvenile justice, as well as differences in philosophy among probation officers based on tenure and educational training. Finally, we highlight the manner in which probation officers collect and utilize information about juveniles and program commitments to formulate decisions.

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Updated 05/20/2006