Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Political Science

First Advisor

Marie Gottschalk


At a moment when there is a great deal of enthusiasm for reforming the prison system in the United States, a number of states across the country have enacted legislation that aims to reduce the number of juveniles sent to state-run prisons. These new policies have focused on expanding community-based alternatives. The three state-level cases on Texas, California and Pennsylvania show that this strategy for reform entrenches punishment at the local level. As counties are given more responsibility to handle juvenile offenders they have contracted out services to the private-sector and invested in expanding jails and punitive conditions of probation. Overall, the reforms have done little to improve the treatment of juveniles caught up in the system. In these states hailed as juvenile justice “models for the nation,” youth continue to be incarcerated for minor offenses, subjected to abusive conditions of confinement, and stigmatized. The remarkable convergence of diverse states on this reform strategy can be traced back to past transformative eras of juvenile justice policy. Early developments in the juvenile justice system created the foundation for devolution, privatization, and the persistent belief that juvenile delinquency can be solved through individualized interventions. The development of the juvenile justice system connects to broader trends in social policy. This latest reconfiguration of the juvenile justice system reifies post-New Deal policy development where the state has shifted from providing basic public services to subsidizing the private-sector.

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