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Youth Sex Offenders in Court: An Analysis of Judicial Sentencing Remarks

NCJ Number
Punishment and Society Volume: 9 Issue: 4 Dated: October 2007 Pages: 371-394
Brigitte Bouhours; Kathleen Daly
Date Published
October 2007
24 pages
This article examines judges’ orientations and intentions when sentencing adolescent sex offenders.
The findings confirm other recent studies of youth courts in western nations; despite a political rhetoric of punitiveness, especially in responding to violent and sexual offenses, the actual practices towards youth continue to be rehabilitative and reform oriented (except in the United States); in the United Kingdom and the United States application of community notification and registration policies for youth sex offending might have more significant consequences than any of the direct sanctions imposed by the court. While youths might be perceived as future sexual offenders, because of their age and immaturity they are sometimes considered to have more reform potential than adults, and their behavior deemed more excusable. The analyses determined that the judges’ responses to youth sex offenders were influenced by the seriousness and context of the offense as well as the characteristics of victims and offenders. Youths who had offended against children created particular concern and were all referred to specialized programs. In the most serious cases of rape, in cases where judges perceived little potential for positive change in the offender, and in cases where the youths had persisted in offending, judges imposed detentions which were then typically suspended. For almost all of the youth sex offenders, the judges’ orientation in sentencing was rehabilitative in nature with a focus on reform, not punishment. Even when the judges used retributive justification, it was coupled with a forward-looking, rehabilitative stance, giving the youth room to reform by ordering them to attend counseling and treatment programs. The study examined 385 archived sexual offense cases which were disposed in court, by conference, and by formal caution in South Australia from 1995 to 2001; drawing from the transcripts of 55 cases sentenced by judges, discourses and outcomes using both the explicit and latent content of the sentencing remarks were analyzed. Tables, notes, references