Sociological Due Process: Exploring Systemic Biases in the Michigan Family Juvenile Court

Wed, December 7, 2022 12:00 PM at 457 Berkey and Zoom

MSU Sociology PhD candidate Brittany Tucker will defend her dissertation.


Abstract: This dissertation incorporates the Community Capitals Framework (CCF) as a heuristic device within a broader Theory of Access to explore systematic and systemic biases in the Michigan Family Juvenile Court system. The dissertation explores, describes, and explains how the socio-legal structure and lack of access to justice interacts with parental and child neglect and abuse across the state of Michigan. Within Michigan’s Family Juvenile Courts, identity and social location influence court outcomes, despite foundational legal principles based on concepts of equal justice for all. First, a case study of Wayne County, facilitates an examination of how Michigan’s largest court judiciary compares to other regions in the state, especially important given that Wayne County contains Michigan’s largest African American and Muslim populations. Second, dividing the remaining Michigan counties into six regions, the dissertation examines how laws are unevenly applied within and across regions controlling for race, gender, and multiple forms of access to and deployment of “capital” broadly defined. Lastly, the dissertation reveals the unconstitutional practices of courtroom stakeholders despite formal law changes designed to prevent such practices. Both individual and community assets and deficits as well as the positionalities of courtroom stakeholders shape case outcomes creating differences among similarly situated families. Furthermore, the basis for child removal is sometimes differentially determined across regions. Sociologically extending the concept of access beyond the conventionally narrow use most commonly found in the legal and public policy literature, the dissertation addresses broad societal shortcomings that are reinforced through child neglect and abuse proceedings impacting litigant’s lives. In summary, this dissertation reveals how courts go beyond recognizable race, class, and gender disparities and shows how discrimination is covert and systemic across the Michigan Family Juvenile judiciary.

Committee:Brendan Mullan, Stephen Gasteyer, Steven Gold and Melanie Jacobs (Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville)