Skip to main content

The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago’s Juvenile Justice System, 1899–1945

4/9/2018, Tera Agyepong

Cover of The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago’s Juvenile Justice System, 1899–1945

The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender and the Construction of Delinquency in Chicago’s Juvenile Justice System, 1899-1945 (April 2018). 

2018 Grace Abbott Book Prize, Society for the History of Children and Youth

In the late nineteenth century, progressive reformers recoiled at the prospect of the justice system punishing children as adults. Advocating that children's inherent innocence warranted fundamentally different treatment, reformers founded the nation's first juvenile court in Chicago in 1899. Yet amid an influx of new African American arrivals to the city during the Great Migration, notions of inherent childhood innocence and juvenile justice were circumscribed by race. In documenting how blackness became a marker of criminality that overrode the potential protections the status of "child" could have bestowed, Tera Eva Agyepong shows the entanglements between race and the state's transition to a more punitive form of juvenile justice.

In this important study, Agyepong expands the narrative of racialized criminalization in America, revealing that these patterns became embedded in a justice system originally intended to protect children. In doing so, she also complicates our understanding of the nature of migration and what it meant to be black and living in Chicago in the early twentieth century.

Site design by Webitects

© 2022 American Bar Foundation (AmericanBarFoundation.org)
750 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611-4403
(312) 988-6500
Contact Us
Contact the Fellows
Media Contacts
Privacy policy
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in ABF publications are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Bar Foundation or the American Bar Association. The AMERICAN BAR FOUNDATION, ABF and related seal trademarks as used by the American Bar Foundation are owned by the American Bar Association and used under license.