The End of Family Court: How Abolishing the Court Brings Justice to Children and Families

NYU. Aug. 2023. 384p. ISBN 9781479814084. $35. LAW
Spinak (emerita, Columbia Law Sch.) argues in favor of dramatically reducing juvenile courts. The book’s first part, titled “The Great Idea,” shows that these courts were supposed to do good but instead caused harm, especially to children of color. The author argues that child abuse and status offenses, such as truancy, often stem from poverty, racism, and other social inequities. The book describes the rise of the family-court industry, in which courts consolidated their power until the U.S. Supreme Court imposed due-process restrictions in the 1960s and 1970s. Spinak believes the courts themselves should be drastically reduced in scope, there should be no status offenses, the minimum age of legal responsibility should be 14, and people up to age 21 should receive special judicial consideration. Deeming foster care a failure, the author wants communities to offer more after-school programs and to intervene in family problems via social workers in schools, libraries, and community centers. While academic in tone, this well-written book is accessible.
VERDICT Professionals and general readers will appreciate this incisive review by a juvenile-court expert. Readers wanting to hear from the system’s victims can pair it with Rikers: An Oral History by Graham Rayman and Reuven Blau.
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