Virtual Shackles: Electronic Surveillance and the Adultification of Juvenile Courts

Chaz Arnett | January 1, 2018

In recent years, there has been a groundswell of attention directed at problems within the American criminal justice system, led in part by Michelle Alexander’s groundbreaking book, The New Jim Crow, and most recently through the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement. This increased focus on the harms of over-incarceration and net-widening, has had the benefit of introducing to the public other practices utilized in the criminal justice system, such as the widespread use of ankle monitors to track the location of defendants and released offenders. Yet, despite this greater attention, legal scholarship has only recently begun to grapple with many of the issues arising at the intersection of criminal justice and technology, and even more, how these issues affect the juvenile justice system. This paper seeks to draw attention to and generate greater discussion on the ways in which advancing surveillance technologies are deployed in the criminal justice system and the reciprocal impact it has on the development of juvenile justice policies and practices. Specifically, it examines the use of electronic surveillance technology by juvenile courts as a manifestation of adultification, where juvenile courts adopt a “one size fits all” approach and implement tools and practices from the adult criminal justice system, despite having great discretion to explore alternatives. This paper analyzes these connections and argues that correctional practices, adopted from the adult criminal justice system for implementation with youth, should be validated for effectiveness by social science evidence and community-informed policymaking. This form of accountability is crucial not only for garnering critical reflection on the use of electronic surveillance, but also for positioning juvenile courts to make better decisions in the future when contemplating adoption of even more advanced and powerful surveillance technologies.