Essay: Treating Juvenile Delinquency Juvenile Justice

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[. . .] The juveniles will hear lectures about programs and scholarships which they may be eligible for, as members of historically discriminated-against populations. The trajectory from high school or obtaining a GED to either a community college or a four-year institution will be broached with education and made to seem a realistic and feasible option for these teens. Additionally, their peer mentors, who will be either going through the college admissions progress or have gone through it themselves will also provide guidance and moral and emotional support regarding applying.

As well as social learning theory, another theory manifested in the program design is that of Howard Becker's labeling theory. According to Howard Becker's labeling theory, individuals who engaged in rule-breaking felt essentially 'different' from persons who considered themselves law-abiding (Howard Becker's labeling theory, 2013, FSU). Racism is one reason that a group may feel estranged from mainstream society; youth is another (Becker's theory was developed in part to explain the phenomenon of juvenile delinquency). The labeling precedes the deviant action and there is no essential difference between 'normal' and 'abnormal' members of society other than how they have been labeled, which affects both social perceptions and also self-perceptions.

For instance, an African-American male who is treated as potentially violent; who sees people cross the street when he passes; who is denied the same kind of prestigious jobs his white counterparts are able to obtain feels 'labeled' as deviant and denied other opportunities to break out of that labeling, There is also labeling within the justice itself, given that judges are not necessarily immune to racism and impoverished minority teens may have fewer resources for treatment. A white, suburban, middle-class teen with parents willing to pay for a private treatment program for his marijuana use is more likely to be given leniency by the justice system than an African-American team without such resources. Becker would argue that these sociological factors cause our society to label African-American delinquency more harshly than white delinquency.

The solution to social labeling is to create new labels. The mentors for the juvenile detainees will be drawn from a community that is recognizably their own, and will offer alternatives for the conventional labels applied to young, African-American males. Another component of labeling theory is the notion that the labeled individual is a kind of 'looking glass' or a 'shadow self' of mainstream society, embodying all of its fears. Individuals within this labeled category are the victims of social projection. However, with the support of mentors from the same community who do not label the teens as deviant, this can be overcome. Of course, the program cannot address all of the social racism that the African-American juveniles will experience, but through peer mentoring it will provide them with more proactive strategies to deal with racism and it will also arm them with literacy and other educational tools to enable them to surmount the challenges of a difficult job market.

Ethical, legal, and/or diversity considerations

One objection which might be raised to the program is that it is only encompassed of African-American males, both in terms of the demographics of the mentors and mentees. This might be construed as 'unfair' or 'reverse discrimination' in some quarters. However, not only are African-American males disproportionately represented in the incarcerated juvenile population relative to their representation in the general population: they are also far more likely to drop out of high school before completing a degree. A lack of vocational opportunity only compounds the risks that adolescent delinquency will translate into long-standing negative behaviors.

According to a 2013 report on the state of literacy in America, African-American males particularly suffer from a lack of literacy programs tailored to their needs, and some urban high schools have a dropout rate as high as 69% for African-American males (Literary practices for African-American adolescents, 2012, Students at the Center 3). The at-risk nature of this population demands action and addressing academic deficiencies is a critical component of reducing juvenile recidivism. Enhancing reading comprehension, a vital aspect of the proposed program, is particularly necessary given that basic literacy is a requirement for virtually all future learning, even learning in math and science (Literary practices for African-American adolescents, 2012, Students at the Center 4). Many African-American males lack a basic skills foundation. The school system perpetuates a cycle of apathy about education: African-Americans are more likely to be targeted for remedial reading programs, are less likely to be mainstreamed into the general population for reading, and thus a cycle of negative self-labeling is generated whereby the student sees him or herself as without a future and as innately broken. These unique social and logistical challenges can be more effectively met with an African-American mentoring program. The program will address skill gaps and also the subsequent psychological barriers that inhibit learning.

Having teachers with a positive view of the incarcerated juveniles is also important: research has shown that teacher expectations can result in negative outcomes and an estimated 1/4% of student variance in grades is associated with teachers (Literary practices for African-American adolescents, 2012, Students at the Center 13). The community engagement created by the program is also designed to foster literacy development given that school grades in language arts and vocabulary test scores are positively associated with proactive social engagement (Literary practices for African-American adolescents, 2012, Students at the Center 14). Peer teacher modeling will also demonstrate that fears that education means 'acting white' is unfounded.

How the program would interact with the juvenile justice system in the community

The proposed program would foster positive community ties, as well as help the juveniles in question. Not only are members of the juvenile justice system involved; other students from neighboring schools are called in to assist in the rehabilitative and reintegrating efforts. The students who act as mentors will be able to establish a social connection and to foster ties with persons they might not otherwise meet in their everyday lives. When they move into their professional lives they will hopefully remember the need to give everyone a 'second chance' and also to support members of their community.

By bringing members of the community into contact with juveniles, the negative effects of social labeling can be diffused because of the common humanity that is affirmed. Also, from a very practical level, by making the juveniles more marketable as employees, they will be better able to find jobs once they obtain their degrees, as well as move on to college. Over the long-term, this will hopefully encourage more volunteerism by other members of the community through other venues designed to improve the lives of juveniles.

Evaluation of the potential impact of the program on the juvenile justice system

Although officially the purpose of the juvenile justice system is primarily rehabilitative, growing concerns over the rise in drug crimes and related offenses mean that this emphasis can be lost, particularly with older juveniles accused of serious crimes. Also, strategies to prevent crimes do not always address juveniles' educational problems, including academic deficits. This program is pioneering because of its focus upon academics. Additionally, by uniting mentorship with tutoring it simultaneously addresses juveniles' emotional as well as their intellectual needs.

Challenges

One challenge the program may face is finding volunteers: parents may be reluctant to allow their children to volunteer to tutor incarcerated juveniles. Appropriate security measures must be instituted to minimize risk to participants. Hopefully, given the emphasis on volunteerism, particularly for students wishing to bolster college or job resumes, this can be overcome. Other obstacles are the training needed for the mentors in how to tutor students whose life experiences may be very different from their own. An effective orientation program is critical for the success of this enterprise.

References

Black male dropouts lead nation in incarceration. (2012). PR News wire. Retrieved:

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/black-male-dropouts-lead-nation-in-incarceration-63870242.html

Drakeford, Will & Garfinkle, Lili Frank. (2000). Differential treatment of African-American

The National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice. Retrieved:

http://www.edjj.org/Publications/pub_06_13_00_2.html

Gateway. (2011). Prison Studies Project. Retrieved:

http://prisonstudiesproject.org/2011/08/gateways-for-incarcerated-youth/

Howard Becker's labeling theory. (2013). FSU. Retrieved:

http://www.criminology.fsu.edu/crimtheory/becker.htm

Literary practices for African-American adolescents. (2012). Students at the Center. Retrieved:

http://www.studentsatthecenter.org/sites/scl.dl-dev.com/files/Literacy%20Practices.pdf

Morrison, H.R., & Epps, B.D. (2002). Warehousing or rehabilitation? Public schooling in the juvenile justice system. The Journal of Negro Education, 71(3), 218-232. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/222069361?accountid=14872

Social learning theory. (2013). Learning Theories. Retrieved:

http://www.learning-theories.com/social-learning-theory-bandura.html [END OF PREVIEW]

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