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Sturm College of Law


Juvenile offender, Attention deficit disorder, Race, Juvenile justice system


William and Billy, 1 two boys, each 13 years old, appear in juvenile court. Neither has any criminal history. Both are doing poorly in school. Both have been cited for truancy in the past. Both are appearing on assault charges arising out of schoolyard fights. If we could peer into their brains, we would find that both have the same brain chemistry, characteristic of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 2 In the end, the court finds one delinquent, and the other merely distracted. The court finds one in need of confinement, and the other in need of care. Two different prescriptions, two different prognoses, but these boys are not really so different. In all material respects, these boys are the same, yet the juvenile justice system, well-intentioned and founded on the principle that every child is deserving of a chance, 3 treats them differently. 4 One, Billy, is Black and poor. The other, William, is White and financially secure. Given the purpose and promise of the juvenile justice system, 5 differences like these are a serious concern. The purpose of this Article is to expose and examine why juvenile courts treat these two youth differently based on a complex mix of race, class, and mental health assessments.

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Originally published as Rashmi Goel, Delinquent of Distracted - Attention Deficit Disorder and the Construction of the Juvenile Offender, 27 LAW & INEQ. 1 (2009).