Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Abstract

This study examines how peer court jurors make meaning out of the sanctioning trials of youth offenders. In particular, it focuses on how peer court jurors understand juvenile delinquency, deterrence and punishment. Data was collected utilizing ethnographic field observation methods while attending a Midwestern County's peer court program between the end of the 2011-2012 school year and the 2012-2013 school year. Thirteen interviews were conducted after the sessions with willing peer court jurors in order to supplement the field work data.

During the peer court sessions the youth jurors tried to understand the nature of the offenses and how to deter future delinquent behaviors. The observations and interview data illustrates how the youth jurors were working together in the deliberation room to give sanctions, which they hoped would provide the informal social control needed to prevent recidivism. Through questioning both offenders and their accompanying parent, we see that these youth were looking to provide sanctions that acted as the missing informal social control agents in the offender's life. When the youth jurors saw the parents of the offender as being lax on the punishment or rules at home, the jurors provided sanctions that would do this for them. Alternatively, when parents of the offender or even the youth themselves were seen as providing adequate punishments the youth jurors went lighter on the sanctioning. Peer jurors also understood some of the reasoning behind youth crime from their own perspective as a teen and drew upon these experiences when trying to understand the nature of the offense and punishment. Since they are also youth, they understand that some behavior drew from boredom or peer influence and in these cases the youth jurors provide sanctions that fit the missing informal social control in their lives. Sanctions such as curfews, community service, no association with particular peers, mandatory participation in an after school activity and attendance in a future peer court session, were all utilized as informal social control agents for offending youth. Lastly, youth jurors understood impression management and had the tough job making sure the self-presentations of the offenders were authentic when deciding upon sanctions. In all, these youth jurors took their roles seriously and really provided a space where the offender was not seen as a delinquent teen, but instead "a good kid," who like many teenagers, failed to think through their offense or see the consequences involved prior to committing their act or acts.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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