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Youth is Enmeshed in a Highly Dysfunctional Family System: Exploring the Relationship Among Dysfunctional Families, Parental Incarceration, and Juvenile Court Decision Making

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 47 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2009 Pages: 177-208
Nancy Rodriguez; Hilary Smith; Marjorie S. Zatz
Date Published
February 2009
32 pages
This study examined juvenile court decisionmaking and the collateral effects of parental imprisonment on juveniles.
Results revealed that juvenile court officials’ perceptions of good and bad families informed their decisionmaking. The need was emphasized to unravel the intricate effects of maternal and paternal incarceration and officials’ attributions about families and family structure on juvenile court decisionmaking. Today, juvenile court officials believe that in some cases the best option for a child is to be removed from the home and committed to a secure facility, with the determination based at least in part on family structures and dynamics that court officials deem to be dysfunctional. This study examined how family situational factors, as well as maternal and paternal incarceration affected juvenile court officials’ responses to troubled youth. The study used quantitative and qualitative juvenile court data from a large urban county in the southwest, and drew on attribution theory to examine how family structure, perceptions of family dysfunction, and parental incarceration influenced out-of-home placement decisions. Tables, references, and appendix