In brief

30th January 2004 at 00:00
They Broke the Law: You be the Judge. True cases of teenage crime. By Thomas A Jacobs. Free Spirit Publishing. pound;9.95. Tel: 01908 526120. Email: Website:

If you apply to become a magistrate, at some point you may be given written examples of crimes - a shoplifting, perhaps, or a drink-driving episode - upon which you have to pronounce. This book treads similar ground, though the cases are all, in US terms, juvenile.

The stories are told, options set out, discussion encouraged, then we're told what actually happened. There's Erica, for example, who has a devastated family life and is raped and left pregnant at 13. She's charged with assault, then commits a drug offence while waiting to be sentenced.

Any young person's or family court in any western country will have met Erica. The dilemma is familiar too: "Even though personal and family problems are no excuse for breaking the law, they also cannot be ignored."

What would you do? The real judge gave her a custodial sentence, plus drug education, plus probation, with strict conditions about turning up at school.

Many of the punishment and treatment options aren't available here, and US laws are not the same as UK ones. A British equivalent to this book would be welcome, but the cases still make for fascinating discussion and would fit well in many PSHE and citizenship courses.

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