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Copyright (c) 2009 Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice
Law and Inequality

Article: Delinquent or Distracted? Attention Deficit Disorder and the Construction of the Juvenile Offender

Winter, 2009


27 Law & Ineq. 1


Rashmi Goel+


William and Billy, 1 two boys, each 13 years old, appear in juvenile court. Neither has any criminal history. Both are doing poorly in school. Both have been cited for truancy in the past. Both are appearing on assault charges arising out of schoolyard fights. If we could peer into their brains, we would find that both have the same brain chemistry, characteristic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 2 In the end, the court finds one delinquent, and the other merely distracted. The court finds one in need of confinement, and the other in need of care. One boy will be removed from his home and given a custodial disposition with close supervision. The other will return home, with the court satisfied that he is back on the path to becoming a responsible adult. Two different prescriptions, two different prognoses, but these boys are not really so different. In all material respects, these boys are the same, yet the juvenile justice system, well-intentioned and founded on the principle that every child is deserving of a chance, 3 treats them differently. 4 One, Billy, is Black and poor. The other, William, is White and financially secure.

Given the purpose and promise of the juvenile justice system, 5 differences like these are a serious concern. The purpose of this Article is to expose and examine why juvenile courts treat these two youth differently based on a complex mix of race, class, and mental ...
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