Judicial censure and moral communication to youth sex offenders
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The philosophical underpinnings of youth courts rest on the notion that youths are less culpable and more reformable than adults. Some scholars argue that, ideally, when sentencing youth crime, judges should engage youthful offenders in moral communication to elicit change. But do they? What more generally do judges say to the youths? This paper analyzes the frequency and content of judicial censure and moral communication in the sentencing of youth sex offenders. Drawing on the sentencing remarks for 55 sexual violence cases, we examine the ways in which judges interact with youths and censure the offenses, and what, if any, normative guidance they give concerning gender, sexuality, and violence. We found that in most but not all cases, the judges censured the offending as both a moral and legal wrong. However, they spent more time discussing a youth's future than past behavior, as they sought to elicit change. The judges did not degrade or exclude the offenders; rather, they addressed them in a spirit of reintegration, as worthy individuals with future potential. Although the judges set norms of appropriate sexual behavior to the youths when the offense victims were children, they did not always do so when victims were female peers. In this Youth Court, "real rape" was sexual offending by a youth against a child under 12 years of age. By contrast, in about one-fifth of cases, all of which occurred against a female peer, the offending was censured only as a legal wrong (a "pseudo censure") and less likely subject to judicial norm setting.
© 2008 Taylor & Francis. This is the author-manuscript version of the paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal link for access to the definitive, published version