University of Illinois at Chicago

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A Changing Carceral Landscape: Juvenile Justice Reform in Cook County

posted on 2024-05-01, 00:00 authored by Kayla Martensen
The United States has shown interest in moving away from mass incarceration. Nationwide, large youth prisons and juvenile detention centers have closed, with a growing interest in community-based alternatives. This dissertation explores community-based reforms in Cook County’s (Illinois) Juvenile Justice Division. This study uses critical carceral studies and abolition feminist perspectives to argue these reforms signify a carceral expansion, where “the community” has taken on features of carcerality, which can be understood as a reformist reform that makes incremental changes without fundamentally challenging the core principles of juvenile justice. This study is situated in juvenile justice literature that documents a cyclical reform history between punishment and treatment while exploring a theoretical construct, the web of detainment, developed during preliminary research. The web of detainment represents a symbolic network of punitive and service agencies that work together to mitigate juvenile justice. Data in this study include qualitative interviews (n=51) with people who work in or with the juvenile justice division. The interviews were triangulated with public and noncirculating document analysis. Findings demonstrate a culture shift away from harsh punishment and toward trauma-informed practices. Participants described a strategic effort to cultivate a range of services in the community as alternatives to incarceration, resulting in the buildup of a carceral service industry. The carceral service industry is orchestrated by the courts, overseen by probation, and situated in the community. Findings examine the consequential changes in operation within juvenile probation and the community-based service sector. The expanding carceral service industry remains homogenous because carceral and community arbiters control access to the industry. Service providers maintain various comfort levels in their proximity to the carceral state, yet they must comply with court orders. The collusion between juvenile justice and the community-based service sector has resulted in emerging formations strategically developed to mitigate juvenile justice inside the community. Care coordination programs and reporting centers are examined. This dissertation concludes with an analysis of the web of detainment framework that represents a labyrinth of carceral and service agencies working together to maintain the operation of the juvenile justice system.



Beth E. Richie


Criminology, Law and Justice

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

David Stovall Lorena Garcia Laurie Schaffner Juanita Diaz-Cotto Vera Lopez

Thesis type


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