The Penal Matrix

Special Report: Youth Government
Becoming an Adult under Judicial Protection
By Sébastien Roux

In France, the Protection judiciaire de la jeunesse (PJJ) is a public administration in charge of educating minors under penal surveillance. Juvenile offenders are monitored by judges specialized in children issues whom decisions are implemented by civil servants of the PJJ (educators mostly, but also psychologists and social workers). Drawing on a fieldwork conducted in a local Youth Bureau of the PJJ in 2010, this article examines the practices and discourses of professionals who consider both autonomy and responsibility as matrix and justificatory values of their action. Their work is analyzed as a process which aims at producing autonomous selves and future responsible adults – that is to say people able to exist as independent and distinct subjects of value as normalized ones. Thus, this article questions rehabilitative and life-saving components of control, in order to problematize social work as a binding pedagogy that corrects and transforms selves, and aims at turning minors into subjects of superior capabilities by modifying their wills and desires.

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