Post-Ferguson Social Engineering: Problem-Solving Justice or Just Posturing?

Mae C. Quinn, University of Florida Levin College of Law


This essay - published on the second anniversary of Mike Brown's shooting death in Ferguson and one year after the United States Department of Justice issued its shocking findings regarding St. Louis County’s juvenile court system - urges skepticism regarding claims of ongoing system reform in Missouri.

While there is some good work being done by committed reformers, it interrogates the intentions of emerging "change agents" who now purport to care about racial bias, youth justice, and criminal law – those who for years merely stepped over widespread injustices in their own community. It further challenges the legal theories such individuals and institutions now proffer as the answer, "feel good" fixes which fail to fully take account of ongoing systemic racism or take to task the many bad actors still in positions of power.

In the end it cautions against adoption of surface-level solutions like "problem solving courts." Such venues – which largely require relinquishment of legal rights and protections – simply paper over real problems. With their focus on "treating" the alleged "offender," these courts do nothing to take on race bias in policing or treating the underlying sicknesses of our justice system. Instead such venues simply perpetuate problematic policing and prosecution practices that have resulted in second-class citizenship for persons of color in this country.