Document Type

Article

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“Adolescence, Context, and Culpability: Some Thoughts on the Next Essay” 6 Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law 583 (1999)

Abstract

After reading "Context and Culpability in Adolescent Violence," it is extremely difficult to deny the case that Professor Jeffrey Fagan has made for the integral nature of violence in the lives of adolescents—especially young males—in the inner city. Professor Fagan makes clear that violence is not only a daily occurrence in the lives of these young people, but he also explains persuasively that participation in violence is practically unavoidable. Professor Fagan's work demonstrates that violence is "normative" in the lives of inner city adolescents in many contexts. This means that in many cases violence by inner city teens is typical.

Demonstrating the typicality of inner city teen violence is only the first part of Professor Fagan's thesis, as the demonstration inevitably leads to the next question. Once we are convinced that violence is normative for adolescents in many contexts, what do we do about it? Professor Fagan explores in part IV of his essay one potential answer: The possibility of excuse from criminal liability in cases where it can be shown that violence is a typical and predictable response for teens in certain contexts. He concludes that a case can be made for excusing these teens from criminal liability.

Excusing a criminal offender because of his "rotten social background" (RSB) is not a novel concept. The notion gained prominence about twenty-five years ago. Thus, in making his case, Professor Fagan covers some familiar ground. But, importantly, Professor Fagan adds something new to the argument that revives the debate surrounding the excuse. Specifically, he constructs an argument for the validity of considering an offender's background in detennining whether the offender should be excused.

Date of Authorship for this Version

1999

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