Thursday, November 13, 2014

What do we do with what we know about juvenile delinquency?

Now what?
There are complex issues involved with each of these belief statements. The results of this discussion create an image of a young, minority, gang-affiliated man who has a history and a future full of violent criminal activity, looking up to negative role models, suffering from low self-esteem, and burdened by an inability to change. If this is the image held by those with the ability to affect change and impact policy, it stands to reason little improvement in the treatment of these youth will occur. Also, if this is the image held by those who work with troubled or challenging youth on a regular basis, it further implies the interventions that could interrupt a negative trajectory will be less likely to take place.
Of the myths discussed in this blog, there are certainly incarcerated youth who fit the characteristics and demonstrate the true versions of each of these ideas. However, what is often believed to be the case for troubled youth, is frequently incorrect. It is through a deeper understanding of the real individuals involved in challenging life circumstances that an impact can be made. To help others see a more accurate view, one respondent in this discussion shared her inspirational personal story of redemption after contact with the juvenile justice system.
I was a child who was going down the wrong path. I was molested by my biological father and it took a psychotic toll on me. I hated the world. Myself. I fought because I wanted others to feel my pain. I stole because the adrenaline would be a fun high. I used drugs to forget the pain. I drank to just be. I was spinning out of control. I had a special person who believed I could be better. My probation officer didn't make me a statistic. He gave me HOPE. He gave me a father figure I never had. Today, I never forget him or the social worker who helped me see life better than being betrayed. Today, I help people. I love kids. I preach love, laugh, hope, live every moment with no regrets. My family is me. My hope and faith guide me. … I help people. My smile and laugh help people. My heart is on my sleeve and I love who I've become.

What does this mean going forward?
The implications of this discussion are broad ranging. They affect disability education, the educational system, the justice system, and future research.
Disability Education
It is necessary to identify which characteristics are the result of genuine delinquent tendencies or choices and which are a manifestation of an existing disability. The Differential Treatment Theory (Keilitz, Zaremba, & Broder, 1979) discussed previously brings light to the confusion that exists over the source or cause of undesirable behavior. It demonstrates the possibility that some incarcerated youth are detained for inappropriate reasons and fear of dangerousness or at risk behavior is actually a misinterpreted symptom of a disability. The misunderstanding represented through the Differential Treatment Theory is the result of commonly held beliefs, many of which are actually myths. Debunking these myths will lessen the frequency of these misunderstandings.
Educational System
By treating all students as criminals with the hopes of preventing criminal behavior, schools are instituting policies that lead to worsening behaviors instead of the intended results. The ACLU explains this phenomenon, referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline” as “the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This pipeline reflects the prioritization of incarceration over education” (n.d., para. 1). The factors leading to increased incarceration of youth include failing public schools, zero-tolerance and other school discipline policies, police on school campuses, alternative schools for disciplinary problems, and court involvement for violations that used to be handled by schools instead (ACLU, n.d.). New discipline policies in schools will have a significant impact on the number of youth inappropriately incarcerated and mistreated.
Justice System
Additionally, there are misunderstandings within the justice system itself. In the opening message to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s 2011 juvenile arrests report, Administrator Robert L. Listenbee discussed research prompting system improvement.
With time, the cumulative effects of these and other reform efforts … should result in a system where arrests are rare, all youth are treated fairly, and when a youth enters the system, he or she receives much-needed treatment and services. Such changes would undoubtedly provide positive and healthy outcomes for youth, families, and communities. (Puzzanchera, 2013, para. 3)
Future Research
Future research should be conducted on many of these belief statements, especially those about which there are conflicting reports, to clarify any confusion. A more thorough understanding of juvenile delinquents would enhance intervention efforts going forward.
Shifting the beliefs so common among educated adults will impact the experiences of these students with the possibility of interrupting a trajectory toward delinquency for many at risk youth. As one respondent states, “There are people that believe that kids are bad or that kids are not bad. If people believe that kids are ‘bad’ then they will treat them as such and never be able to see them as anything else.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Myth of Delinquency #9: All juvenile delinquents are affiliated with gangs.

            In my work with adjudicated youth, I have met only one young man who has claimed to be “loyal to the soil.” All the others talked about how they hate gangs in their neighborhoods and wish they could make it stop. Maybe these are the thoughts shared with a safe adult in vulnerable moments only. Maybe among peers, especially in a secure care setting, the story changes a lot because it is dangerous to seem vulnerable. That’s ok. What matters is that thinking they’re all just a bunch of gangbangers is far from true. This is a myth that is easy to dispel.
            To start from the beginning of this discussion, please read “Clarifying BeliefsAbout Juvenile Delinquency.”

Myth 9 – All juvenile delinquents are affiliated with gangs.
Although gang membership is a significant risk factor for eventual contact with the juvenile justice system, very few offenders have contact with gangs. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice reports, “Less than 5% of youth arrested have any gang [association]… Only 4% of youth arrested [between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2013] have any gang [association] with 1.4% of youth arrested being documented gang members” (FL-DJJ, 2014, para. 1).
 Conversely, it could be the contact with the justice system that leads to gang membership. Multiple studies have shown incarcerating youth actually makes their behavior worse, leading to increased criminal offending (Gatti, Tremblay, Vitaro, & McDuff, 2005; Azier & Doyle, 2013). While most incarcerated youth are detained for minor offenses, containing many of them in one location where they spend all day, every day together, leads to posturing, goading one another into escalated behaviors. Negative peer influences have an impact juvenile crime in general (Shader, 2003), so putting multiple troubled youth in one residential facility magnifies this effect.  Many of the characteristics described by Howell (2010) apply to this situation.
Youth are at a higher risk of joining a gang if they engage in delinquent behaviors, are aggressive or violent, experience multiple care-taker transitions, have many problems at school, associate with other gang-involved youth, or live in communities where they feel unsafe and where many youth are in trouble. (Howell, 2010, p. 1)
Therefore, the effort to scare the young offender straight by incarcerating him or her with like-minded teens, may be the very thing that makes their behavior worse (Gatti, Tremblay, Vitaro, & McDuff, 2005; Azier & Doyle, 2013) and sets them on a path toward gang participation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Myth of Delinquency #8: All juvenile delinquents are hopeless, cannot be helped, cannot change, and/or will not change.

            To be thought of as hopeless is heart breaking. To be looked at by much of society as lost cause must be debilitating. There are the schools of thought that support rehabilitation and those who support punishment. If the belief is that adjudicated youth cannot be helped or cannot/will not change, then punishment is the natural result. However, if there is a belief in rehabilitation, the entire approach is different.
            To catch up from the beginning, start with “Clarifying Beliefs About Juvenile Delinquency.”

Myth 8 – All juvenile delinquents are hopeless, cannot be helped, cannot change, and/or will not change.
There is research on both sides of the argument about punishment versus rehabilitation for juvenile offenders. The original goal of juvenile detention was to take a different approach to offenders who are believed to be “savable.” A small percentage of juveniles, however, have been sentenced for more violent crimes and are determined not to be redeemable. As a result, some juvenile detention centers have turned toward a more punitive stance, thereby focusing on punishment instead of rehabilitation (Chamberlin, 2001). Despite research to the contrary, some states have chosen to serve the public cry for retribution instead of the original intent of juvenile detention. “The juvenile housed in a facility that focuses on retribution is more likely to re-offend than one who is placed in a center with a goal of rehabilitation” (Hughes, 2001, p. 163).
Rehabilitation has been shown to be effective in Missouri, which uses a nationally recognized model of juvenile justice. “In 2009, Missouri’s recommitment rate (new juvenile offenses) was 8.4%. Long-term recidivism into the adult system (incarceration within 3 years) was 6.2% and two-thirds of youth remained law-abiding for 3 years or more” (Missouri Approach, 2010, para. 1).  This is compared to the national juvenile recidivism rate of “as high as 66% when measuring recidivism by rearrest and as high as 33% when measuring re-offending by reconvictions” (Harris, Lockwood, & Mengers, 2009, p. 1).
“Proper treatment and rehabilitation services can help many youth currently in the juvenile system become healthy and productive members of society” (Gottesman & Schwarz, 2011, p. 1). These data confirm, based on successful systems in Missouri, rehabilitation is indeed possible and is more economical (Gottesman & Schwarz, 2011).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Myth of Delinquency #7: All juvenile delinquents will stay criminals.

            What leads to the fist offense? After that, what leads to the next? For youth in extremely challenging circumstances, maybe home is not the best place to be. One adult inmate told me prison is the best place he’s ever lived – he gets a free studio apartment (sort of), three free meals a day for which he doesn’t have to do any work, and a free college education. He said he wants to make sure he can stay until he graduates from college because he likes having no distractions from that goal and knows he won’t finish school if he gets out too early. I bet you are as surprised by his perspective as I was.
            Of the incarcerated youth with whom we work, how many will come right back upon release? How many want to? How many can’t help it? What is the story behind their return?
            If you are just joining this conversation, please read the first blog post, “ClarifyingBeliefs About Juvenile Delinquency” to better understand where all this is coming from.

Myth 7 – All juvenile delinquents will stay criminals.
A common theme throughout the survey responses in this study was resignation. “They will all grow up to be criminals if there isn’t a drastic intervention.” “They are lost children who have been failed by society and their families.” “[They] end up in prison throughout their adulthood.”
Anecdotally, multiple educators in juvenile justice facilities have shared that juveniles reoffend because they do not want to go home. The facility may be safer for them than their home for a number of reasons. They may also only feel cared for and loved when they are in a secure care placement. This is not unusual, yet it is not empirically represented.
Recidivism rates and reasons were monitored by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services in a study of 9,477 youth who had been discharged from the Division for Youth in 1991 through 1995 (Frederick, 1999). Of those who reoffended, “over 95 percent had problems in four or more of the following areas: mental health, substance abuse, behavior at school, academic performance, handicapping conditions, household characteristics, criminal or abusive family environment, or personal relationships with other family members” (Frederick, 1999, p. 1). Looking at these characteristics, it is easy to support the anecdotal evidence provided by those in the field. As simply stated by a survey respondent, “…they are a product of their environment.”
Instead of assuming, however, the young offenders will be lifelong criminals, it is quite possibly the environment causing the repeated criminal offending is the juvenile system itself. Research shows any contact with the juvenile justice system drastically increases the likelihood of contact with the justice system as an adult (Petitclerc, Gatti, Vitaro, & Tremblay, 2013). In a 10-year study of 35,000 Chicago youth who had contact with the juvenile justice system, Aizer and Doyle (2013) found “those who were in juvenile detention are 41 percentage points more likely than other children residing in the same community to be found in an adult correctional facility by age 25” (p. 21).

Friday, November 7, 2014

Myth of Delinquency #6: All juvenile delinquents have low self-esteem.

            This is another one of those topics that could be argued either way and depends heavily on the source or the personal experiences of the person doing the arguing. I can tell you I have worked with adjudicated youth who are followers and those who are leaders. When we talk specifically about self-esteem, the results are very interesting and may or may not surprise you.
            To start from the beginning to understand why we are looking at these beliefs in the first place, please read the first post, “Clarifying Beliefs About JuvenileDelinquency.”

Myth 6 – All juvenile delinquents have low self-esteem.
"Low self-esteem is related to aggression, antisocial behavior, and delinquency" (Donnellan, Trzesniewski, Robins, Moffitt, & Caspi, 2005, p. 328). This statement is backed by empirical research and, quite possibly, common knowledge. Low-self esteem is the culprit for insecure youth committing acts with the motivation of potential friendship or popularity.
The other side of the story, however, is the adjudicated youth for whom self-esteem is a strengthening force, not a hindrance. Repeat offenders, or recidivists, are found to have high self-esteem. In a study of the psychological characteristics of juvenile offenders, Demuthova (2013) found, "recidivists … are more socially bold, venturesome, thick-skinned, uninhibited, open to change, experimental, liberal, critical, free-thinking … than non-recidivists...” (p. 182). She continues to say they are characterized by “extroversion...low warmth...exaggerated self-esteem" (Demuthova, 2013, p. 187).
While first time offenders with minor offenses may be characterized by low self-esteem and a “follower” mentality, the more serious and repeat offenders are more likely characterized by “exaggerated self-esteem.”