A Neo-Marxian Critique, Formulation and Test of Juvenile Dispositions as a Function of Social Class

Timothy J. Carter, Donald Clelland
1979 Social problems  
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more » ... ccess to Social Problems. First, this research challenges the methodological adequacy of previous juvenile disposition studies, particularly their conceptualization and measure of social class. Second, a neo-Marxian theory of juvenile court dispositions is presented. This theory distinguishes between two offense patterns (traditional crimes against person and property and crimes against the moral order, status and victimless offenses) in terms of their relative impact on the social relations of production, subsequently revealing distinct disposition trends. Finally, a multivariate test of two propositions derived from this neo-Marxian theory is provided. The findings support the present neo-Marxian theory of juvenile disposition sentencing concerning the strength of greater social class discriminatory tendencies in the disposition of moral as opposed to traditional offenses. Until recently, one of the most widely accepted empirical generalizations in the sociology of crime and juvenile delinquency was the proposition that severity of disposition is negatively related to social class (or socioeconomic status). This proposition appears in a host of criminological texts crossing otherwise competing paradigms. For example, class discrimination in the administration of justice is an essential proposition of the labeling perspective (cf. Wellford, 1975), modern conflict theory (Turk, 1969; Quinney, 1970; Chambliss and Seidman, 1971) and critical criminology (Taylor et al., 1973 (Taylor et al., , 1975 Quinney, 1975 Quinney, , 1977. Thus, it is with some alarm that advocates of these theories face an accumulated body of evidence which casts doubt on the validity of the claim of class biased dispositions. The narrow empirical base of this proposition has been reexamined by Hagan (1974a) and by Wellford (1975) , and neither found a strong relationship between severity of disposition and stratification variables. More recently, Lizotte (1978) found a weak indirect relationship (explaining less than one percent of the variance) between occupational prestige and length of prison sentence. Lizotte's analysis of a subsample of white "proprietors" suggests strongly favorable discrimination in length of sentence. However, most research on socioeconomic bias in the criminal justice system demonstrates no statistically significant relationship whatsoever (cf. Terry, 1967; Hagan, 1974b; Cohen, 1975; Chiricos and Waldo, 1975) . It would seem, then, that the labeling theorists, the conflict theorists, and the neo-Marxian critical theorists are faced with a significiant anomaly. What then is to be done in the face of this challenge? Rather than indulge in dialectical gamesmanship, such as disclaiming the very possibility of testing Marxian hypotheses with bourgeois methodology (cf. Reasons, 1977), we challenge the methodological adequacy of previous studies, present a neo-Marxian theory of juvenile dispositions and provide a multivariate test of two propositions derived from this theory. Among radical criminologists, only Schwendinger and Schwendinger (1976) and Greenberg (1977a) have attempted to provide a Marxist interpretation of juvenile delinquency in capitalist societies; and prior to this study the criminalization processes have been ignored.'
doi:10.1525/sp.1979.27.1.03a00080 fatcat:a3qyzxvjevhf3ld4cnzughycpa