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Collateral Damage?: Juvenile Snitches in America's 'Wars' on Drugs, Crime, and Gangs

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 46 Issue: 3 Dated: Summer 2009 Pages: 1145-1190
Andrea L. Dennis
Date Published
46 pages
This study explored the use of children as informants.
This study is divided into three sections. Part I describes the current practice of using children as informants, defines "child informants," describes the government's recruitment techniques, and discusses the prevalence of child informants. Also discussed in this section is the de minimis level of regulation of child informants. Part II contends that the harm to child informants weighs in favor of law enforcement agents and prosecutors adopting conservative policies regarding their use of child informants. The tension between the governments' dual responsibilities to protect child informants and promote public safety is also discussed. Parens patriae doctrine and general police powers which have traditionally been used to protect children are explained, as well as the government's war-like approach to public safety challenges, exemplified by the wars on drugs, crime, and gangs. Also analyzed are the government-proffered justifications for using underage informants to reveal the tension between the use of child informants and the government's responsibility to protect children. Finally, it utilizes a child-centered perspective to posit harms to juveniles resulting from their use as informants. Part III offers several alternative measures to ensure that children are only used as informants in limited and reviewable circumstances. A categorical age-based restriction limiting the use of underage informants is proposed. Second, it suggests requiring judicial pre-approval before a child may act as an informant and outlines a procedural mechanism and alternative standards for approval. Ultimately, the study concludes that governments should adopt the best interests of the child standard and ends by positing some ramifications for the limited use of children as informants.