By Leah RobertsonThe growing research on adolescent development, mounting evidence against eye witness testimony, and the exposure of numerous cases of false confessions make Kids, Cops, and Confessions: Inside the Interrogation Room by University of Minnesota Professor Barry C.Feld an intriguing and incredibly useful body of research for anyone involved in the juvenile justice system. Feld uses data from Minnesota to delve into the factors surrounding the interrogations of youth to determine some of the factors that impact case outcomes. In particular, he focuses on how Interrogators utilize the same techniques they would adults despite the incredible developmental differences between the two and the strong likelihood that youth will confess to a delinquent act almost immediately.
Feld set about this task because “despite the crucial role of interrogation in criminal and juvenile justice, we know remarkably little about what happens when police question suspects, what the outcomes of interviews are, or how they affect justice administration” (Feld Page 2). This data could not have been collected nearly anywhere else because Minnesota is one of very few areas that record all interrogations. In an interview with the Campaign, Feld expressed his surprise that more states have not followed Minnesota’s lead, and he asserted that he believes all interrogations should be recorded everywhere to eliminate much of the mystery and potential manipulation around interrogation.
This book comes at a particularly momentous time when “Central Park 5,” a documentary about five kids who falsely confessed to a horrific crime after hours of interrogation in New York City, has brought popular attention to the issue. Feld addresses this point in his book, when he says that most kids confess to their crimes rather quickly, especially if a parent or authority figure is present. Interrogations that last hours should be a huge red flag to any judge or jury. Most kids, just like those in the Central Park Jogger case, just want to go home, and after hours of interrogation, they do not have the developmental capacity to understand the implications of their actions.
Additionally, Feld focuses on the differences between youth and adults, particularly when it comes to juvenile crime and interrogation. He notes that youths “risk perception actually declinesduring mid-adolescence and then increases gradually in the early twenties.”(Page 8) This can be seen in his extensive study of Miranda Rights, and the fact that the “vast majority (92.8%) of all the juveniles in this study waived their Mirandarights” (Page 206) despite the fact that “young and mid-adolescents do not possess the competence of adults to exercise Miranda” (Page 8).
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in ways to reform the juvenile justice system, particularly family members and juvenile justice system stakeholders. While reforming and “right-sizing” the juvenile justice system, it is important that we also make sure the contact youth do have with law enforcement is fair and developmentally-appropriate to help our youth and make our communities safer.