The authors of BALANCING JUVENILE JUSTICE bring considerable expertise to their book about the goals, organizational structure, and services that juvenile justice agencies should pursue. The breadth and depth of their knowledge of local, state and federal laws and programs on delinquency prevention and intervention is impressive. Indeed, the book is an extensive resource for descriptions of programs and approaches to delinquency treatment being used throughout the country. References and examples of programs span the entire continuum of pro-active and re-active responses to juvenile crime. The authors describe services in urban as well as rural jurisdictions, and from the point of initial contact by law enforcement and school authorities, to and inclusive of aftercare and follow-up services for offenders upon release from confinement. The authors are also well informed of the evaluation literature on intervention strategies and provide useful reviews of this literature. In sum, there is much descriptive and informational content in BALANCING JUVENILE JUSTICE.
In addition, Guarino-Ghezzi and Loughran address problems worthy of analysis and discussion, namely how to reconcile and simultaneously pursue the legitimate, but ambiguous and often times conflicting, demands being made in the 1990s on public authorities for dealing with violent juvenile crime. An important starting point for the authors' discussion is their critique that the juvenile justice system is really a "nonsystem." Lacking in most states is a centralized or systematic function for classifying the service needs, legal and social problems, risk, and social and personal strengths of youthful offenders. Absent as well in most communities is a broad array of programs and strategies offered through both public and private sectors to respond to these needs, problems, and strengths so that accountability, treatment, public safety, and control can all be furthered.
The authors' argument that a vision of a functioning and effective juvenile justice system should include a continuum of services, controls, and consequences, applied to juveniles on an individualized basis, and delivered through coordinated efforts of local and state, public and private entities is a worthy vision. Highlighting where and how glimpses of this vision have been realized is also worthwhile. Guarino-Ghezzi and Loughran are successful in revealing the range of possibilities as well as examples of real life successes.
However, having said all of this, there is much in BALANCING JUVENILE JUSTICE that disappoints the reader. The authors' objective to identify the problem with juvenile justice--lack of balance--and solution--to achieve balance--sounds "substantive" to the newcomer to juvenile justice. However, to the academic, practitioner, or policymaker who has grappled with finding effective and acceptable responses to juvenile delinquency, achieving "balance" as the prescription comes across as a hollow and trite pronouncement.
That the juvenile justice system is and should be about many things for many people is as old as the idea of treating juvenile offenders separately from adult offenders. While the terminology to describe the purposes and mission of the juvenile system has changed over time, officials and staff in the field have long attempted to satisfy many interests. What the experience and literature on both adult and juvenile justice systems reveal (and indeed, even in the current era of punitive responses to crime, our continued use of the term "corrections" suggests) is not so much that one goal has characterized "justice," but that the relative weights assigned to the systems' multiple goals change. Trends in the 1990s favor placing increasing weight on concerns of public safety as defined through increased use or length of incarceration, consideration of the victim as defined by restitution, reconciliation, and accountability, and punishment as defined by harsh conditions or controls. However, even in the era of heightened concern for "public safety and control," efforts to provide treatment services for the most risky and threatening of offenders (e.g. sex offenders, drug offenders, and gang bangers) continue.
Thus, the authors' call for "balance" and the vision of balance they offer (punishment coexisting with processes and services to promote accountability, public safety, treatment, private-public partnerships, and respect for youth's constitutional and human rights) are, in this reviewer's opinion, neither new, enlightening, nor particularly helpful. The problem facing the juvenile justice system is not so much that the system is single minded, but that with its myriad goals, the system has difficulty translating and accomplishing these goals in some meaningful ways. While legislative bodies and the public call for "accountability," they have also not wanted to give up on the time honored goal of "rehabilitation"; as a result many state laws include both mandates. Yet, what has been left unaddressed in the literature is how the street level juvenile official or staff member should interpret, act on, and "properly" allocate weights to the respective concerns. Unfortunately, BALANCING misses the opportunity to provide practitioners and policymakers with help on these types of decisions and analyses. In addition, just why "balance" should be pursued and valued as highly as the authors advocate is far from clear in their discussion. As a goal, "balance" appears to be one more buzz word like "rehabilitation" and "accountability" that is part of the juvenile justice lexicon but is not particularly useful because it either means different things to different people or its meaning is so broad that it lacks distinguishing content.
Guarino-Ghezzi and Loughran offer numerous examples of innovative and diverse approaches that combine services to juvenile offenders while providing control, surveillance, and accountability. These strategies sound reasonable and conscientious. However, their examples and analyses constitute a tautology; they begin and end with the argument that what is needed is "balance." The authors fail to develop a clear and systematic analysis of how any particular program, service or intervention, or range of programs, reflects and embodies the "proper" equilibrium of various interests and considerations. Moreover, they do not spell out the connection and contribution that the programs and services they laud make to furthering "justice" for juveniles and the system's various publics. Guarino-Ghezzi and Loughran seem to gloss over the very points they need to unpack and critically examine. This aspect of the book can be likened to the trap a colleague told me he had fallen into notwithstanding his earnest intentions. He was trying to teach his son how to ride a bike and after several failed attempts the son wanted to know what he was doing wrong. His father offered the sage advice, "you need to balance." His son said "oh....what is that?" His father replied "...what you're not doing!"
While the comprehensive descriptions of programs contribute to the book's strength as a survey of successful and diverse approaches, the authors' thesis on balance gets lost in the myriad details. This information could more helpfully be presented in a directory-type publication that includes an annotated bibliography of program evaluations. Instead of numerous examples and descriptive detail, this reviewer would have liked to have seen more discussion of what made some of these programs "innovative" and "successful," what made reforms in some states or jurisdictions possible, and how such conditions might be replicated in areas otherwise lacking creative, diverse or effective programs.
Offering analyses of the conditions that make sustained institutional change and the diversification of services and control strategies possible would seem essential to Guarino-Ghezzi and Loughran's prescription for achieving balance and avoiding a "regression to the mean" (i.e., having one goal or cluster of goals or characteristic dominate a wide array of possible and actual goals and strategies). By addressing such problems as the forms and conditions that resistance and distortion to "balance" take, and how forms of resistance and distortion can be overcome or neutralized, the authors could have furthered understanding of what constitutes "success" and "failure" in a variety of enterprises that, like the juvenile justice system, entail multiple goals, publics, and structures.
Guarino-Ghezzi and Loughran do consider the context and conditions under which a juvenile system can successfully incorporate and produce the "balance" they advocate through their discussion of the Massachusetts experiment. However, while Massachusetts is a tangible example of the vision they promote, the authors merely restate information and analyses that have been covered elsewhere especially in the works published by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in recent years.
The beginnings of fresh analyses appear near the end of the book in Guarino-Ghezzi and Loughran's discussions of "how to tell when a system is out of balance" and the "possibility of a balanced juvenile justice system" (the title of the last chapter). They identify several useful criteria as telltale signs of imbalance. However, the authors once again do not go far enough in their discussion. Just how the problems and signs of imbalance they point out are to be avoided or minimized is not fully explained.
Their effort to provide concrete guidelines on programmatic content so that treatment means ..."care beyond the most rudimentary elements of nutrition, beds, and escape prevention" (Guarino-Ghezzi and Loughran 1996:171) also misses the potential of a new or inspired proposal to ensure that programs and services for juvenile offenders are effective or meaningful. The federal courts grappled with this problem in MARTARELLA v. KELLEY (349 F. Supp 575, 1972) and NELSEN v. HEYNES (492 F2d 352, 1974) twenty years ago. Unfortunately, while these two decisions produced cogent and clear guidelines for what constitutes "rehabilitation" and "treatment" services, the guidelines failed to produce significant reforms in the day-to-day operations of most state and local juvenile facilities. The inertia that has marked juvenile systems in many jurisdictions is a problem that Guarino-Ghezzi and Loughran need to address since it is one of the obstacles that undermines reform efforts in general, and the realization of their visions of balance and diversity in particular.
Lastly, what is most disappointing about the book (and what has been a common failing in many discussions of juvenile justice) is the failure to offer any linkage between what we know about child and adolescence development and the stages and processes that lead to the realization of a fully functioning, moral, productive and unique person, and what legal and social institutions (especially the entities that make up the juvenile justice system) expect and offer youths.
Like many policymakers, academics, and citizens in the 1990s, Guarino-Ghezzi and Loughran appear to be blinded by the very light they seek to shed on the problem and solution to violent juvenile crime. Making the agenda crime prevention, intervention, control, and humane and fair ways to deal with juvenile offenders means that crime is both the subject and object of our inquiry, beginning as well as ending point.
A broader perspective and different paradigm is to see the need to address juvenile crime as the means to an end, the end being promoting, protecting and enhancing human potential in the service of the general community as well as self-development. Victims of crime, as well as youthful offenders and juveniles at-risk, all have potential for productivity, service and self-realization worthy of our collective protection and promotion.
A discussion that examines and translates visions of the kind of citizens and adults we want at-risk youths, delinquent youths, as well as non-delinquent youths to become, and the conditions, strategies, and institutional arrangements that will promote the competencies and morality these citizens-of-the future needs would add novelty and depth to a subject that is sorely in need of new and inspiring directions of inquiry. A book that made these types of connections and problems its centerpiece would be an important contribution to the literature by offering a perspective on "juvenile justice" that was truly visionary and worthy of discussion.