The Fall of Marital Stability and the Rise of Juvenile Delinquency

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In the Spring of 2007, Professor Barry Feld delivered the inaugural Distinguished Lecture of the new Utah Criminal Justice Center at the University of Utah (S.J. Quinney) Law School. In that lecture he suggested (in criticizing LWOP sentences for juveniles), inter alia, that perceptions of juvenile delinquency and of the reasonable of responses to it may be attributed in some part to other factors than the delinquent behavior of youths, and he focused specifically upon racism.

This article is one of the invited responses to that lecture. After some preliminary comments about Professor Feld's excellent paper, and noting that the aging of the baby-boom generation may influence social perception of the threat of juvenile crime, this article picks up one part of Professor Feld's theme and develops it in a new direction. It suggests that we may be punishing children for the failings and mistakes of their parents. It notes that fragile family structure and marital family instability are strongly associated with juvenile delinquency. It observes that most family law casebooks and juvenile justice casebooks entirely ignore (at least in their tables of contents andindices) the very powerful connection between juvenile delinquency and fragile family structure and marital disintegration. It presents some of the evidence of such connections, and reviews some of reasons for such connections and for the academic neglect of such connections, including the myth of the founding of the juvenile courts in America. It concludes with a suggestion that programs to promote and strengthen marriages might be a rational response to the problem of juvenile crime, and might be effective to reduce the incidence of juvenile delinquency.


10 J. L. & Fam. Stud.

Publication Title

Journal of Law & Family Studies

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