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Social Institutions as Norms

There are several terms that will assist us in arriving at a rather crude defi nition of woman as it is used in today’s society. While we use the terms sex (gender) and class quite often, do you ever stop to think about the meaning of the words? Probably not, but in some instances these meanings change over time, since they are socially constructed. For the purposes of this essay, these terms will be defi ned as follows. Sex is commonly referred to as one’s biological designation based on his/her genitalia and reproductive functions. One can postulate that this is the beginning of sex/gender role assignments. Next, we turn our attention to the term gender , which is often used interchangeably with sex. Lorber (1994) and Denny (2011) note that gender is not only socially constructed but also socially rein- forced. The reinforcements are so subtle that we often fail to notice. It is only when someone exhibits a behavior that does not fi t the expected behavior that we take notice. When this occurs we try to place the individual in his/her societal assigned gender role. Because this action occurs, it creates the idea of oneness between the terms sex and gender, so therefore, we interchange the two. As sex is used herewithin, it will encompass all the attributes of gender as well.

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Class for this chapter will be defi ned as a division of society based upon wealth, thereby creating social classes (i.e., upper class, middle class, and lower class) (Mantsios, 2013). Each class impacts and is impacted upon in society in different ways, as we will discuss in more detail later. Finally, age is merely defi ned as one’s position on a chronological life span. Sex, class, and age are factors that infl uence many areas in our lives, such as family, socialization, education, careers, and the law. Sex, class, and age are also some extralegal factors that have a great impact on the administration of justice and most importantly in the application of the death penalty in America.

Age Disparities

Historically, juveniles have received a certain degree of protection from harsh sentences because it was believed that these youths were mainly wayward and in need of positive role models and supervision. In order to keep them from being treated as adults, reformers worked to establish a separate system for juveniles. With the passage of the Juvenile Court Act of 1899, the juvenile court was established, supposedly with the focus on the treatment of juveniles rather than punishment. Although at the time of its inception it was believed that juveniles would receive adequate protection of their basic rights, this was not the case, as evidenced in Kent v. United States (1966); In re Gault (1967); and In re Winship (1970). While McKeiver v. Pennsylvania (1971) requested a jury trial as part of his due process rights, the Supreme Court ruled that a jury was not needed specifi cally to ensure due process protections related to fact fi nding because judges could make that determination. In essence, the court found that a jury would not assist in any manner the issue of fact fi nding. It also noted that having a jury might change the protective nature of the process intended by juvenile court.

Over the years many methods have been devised to control, rehabilitate, educate, and provide positive role models for the youths of this country in hopes of deterring their criminal tendencies. However, it appears that instead of fostering respect for the laws of society and the criminal justice system, youths have become less respectful of authority fi gures and the laws which govern our society. As a result, we had an increase in juvenile delinquency and violent crimes committed by juveniles. Because of the increase in violent juvenile crime, society’s attitude changed from one of tolerance to intolerance, and we moved toward a more punitive approach for violent juvenile offenders.

With the “get tough” policy on crime, those who oppose juvenile courts believed that as a sepa- rate court, juvenile court was too lenient on juvenile offenders and that these juveniles needed to be

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