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“Youthfulness, responsibility and punishment”

Kupchik, Aaron
June 4, 2015

Source: (2004) Punishment & Society. 6(2): 149–173.

This article describes interaction in a criminal (adult) court in which adolescents are
punished. As a result of the particular set of courtroom dynamics and the youthfulness
of the defendants in this court, two potentially conflicting ideas about punishment are
expressed concurrently: (1) proportionality, and (2) reduced culpability among youth.
I demonstrate how judges talk to adolescent defendants during sentencing in ways that
simultaneously communicate the defendants’ criminal responsibility and their youthfulness.
In doing so, judges admonish the adolescents. The delivery of this admonishment
is a ceremonial event that bears some similarities to the degradation rituals
described by Harold Garfinkel, and also to the reintegration ceremonies described by
John Braithwaite. Yet the admonishment varies from both of these events in that it is
a more practical adaptation to the particular constraints of punishing adolescents in a
criminal court. Thus I illustrate how judges strategically use admonishing discourse to
solve intractable problems that arise from the circumstances of this court.


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