A Case Study: A Juvenile offender’s Account of His Experiences at Home, the Streets, and at a Metro Atlanta High School in Georgia
In 2011, there were 34946 juvenile offenders in the state of Georgia (Department of Juvenile Justice, 2013). Of the 34946 offenders, 24319 were males and 10627 were females. The racial distribution of juvenile offenders in the state of Georgia in 2013 was 13434 whites, 18788 blacks, 1983 Hispanics, and 741 other races (Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, 2013). According to Simones and Stones (2012) the state of Georgia classifies juvenile offenses into two main categories: status offenders and juvenile delinquency (Simones & Stones, 2012). By definition, the term status offender refer to youth under the age of 18 engaged in actions that would not be considered crimes if they were perpetrated by adults (Simones & Stones, 2012). These actions includes truancy, curfew violations, running away from home, failure to obey parents, drinking, and smoking (Simones & Stones, 2012). Generally, status offenders poses no harm to others, but, themselves. Juvenile delinquent, however, are youth under the age of 18 engaged in deviant actions that would be considered crimes if committed by adults (Simones & Stones, 2012). Serious deviant acts include drugs use, drug possession, drug trafficking, and vandalism, destruction of property, violent sex and non-violent sex, weapon possession, distribution, and status offenses.
Three year data from the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) shows a significant decline on the rate of offenses perpetrated by youth in Georgia. There were 40226, 37099, and 34946 juvenile offenses in 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively (Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, 2013). In other words, in 2013 there were approximately 6000 less numbers of youth offenses in the state of Georgia than the number of youth offenses in 2011. The reasons for the downward trends are twofold 1) there has been a drop in youth arrest since the introduction of the Juvenile Justice Reform of 2009 that emphasizes only the most serious and violent offenders to be arrested and kept in custody. 2) the introduction of the Juvenile Reinvestment program whereby youth with misdemeanors and more minor offenses to be diverted into community-based programs aimed at managing and solving core youth problems from dysfunctional families, anger related issues, drug and alcohol abuse, to underdeveloped life skills. Furthermore, the Juvenile Reform Act of 2013 is hoped to strengthen further these core foundations for juvenile justice in Georgia by 1) offering help to youth who are neglected or abused, 2) providing troubled youth with community outreach and services they need, rather than detaining them, and 3) providing security to Georgia residents from high-risk youth offenders and a less tax burden to Georgia residents by detaining only serious and violent youth offenders. Thus, not paying high security costs for low-risk youth offenders (Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, 2013). The cost of housing one juvenile offender in Georgia is estimated to be an upward of $70,000 per year.
As mentioned earlier, the rate of juvenile offenses are falling each year. However, the difficulties that juvenile offenders face while transitioning from juvenile detentions to local school is still a huge obstacle to their learning. This research will identify personal experiences that juvenile offenders face when at home, in the streets, and when returning back to school after detention. In addition, the research will also find out the likelihood that a juvenile offender will commit the same or similar offenses in the future. The identified factors will help school administrators, teachers, and parents to create programs at the schools to easy and benefit juvenile offenders’ transition back to school for better learning outcomes.
Root Causes of Juvenile Crimes
Juvenile crime is not just a Georgia problem, it is a countrywide and worldwide problem. The main causes of juvenile crimes differ in different parts of the world (Theodore, 1966; Ruthshonle, 1970; Ragoli & Hewitt, 2006). Most sociologists regard poverty, family structure, family process, dysfunctional families, peer pressure, and substance abuse as the main causes of crime (Ruthshonle, 1970; Ragoli, Hewitt & John, 2006). In the developed world, poverty due to unemployment of the father and unemployed of the mother has being linked to juvenile crimes (Ragoli, Hewitt & John, 2006). However, Poverty does not cause crime. The resentment of poverty in rich society is directly associated with crimes (Ruthshonle, 1970). Resentment of poverty is more likely to develop among the deprived groups in rich societies than among the objectively deprived in poor society (Ragoli, Hewitt & John, 2006).
Several studies have shown there is a relationship between poverty and crime (Sutherland, Donald, & Cressey, 1955, Theodore, 1966, Shaffer & Knudten, 1970; Ragoli, Hewitt & John, 2006). Some studies on the economic status of the criminals have indicated that lower economic groups have more rates of crimes than high economic groups (Selling, 1937; Frank & Status, 1956; Theodore, 1966). In the case of juvenile crimes, poverty, family structure, family processes, dysfunctional families, peer pressure, and youth substance abuse problems are closely related to juvenile crimes (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, 2012)
There are many theories that attempt to explain juvenile crimes, however, for this study, two theories will be discussed. The two theories are: the broken home theory and the looking glass-self theory. In this section, I will briefly describe these two theories and criticisms or shortcomings of the theories.
The Broken Home Theory
Single family homes have been faulted by government and media as the main cause of juvenile crime in America (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, 2012). The term “broken home” has been operationalize to mean children living in single parents households or any other type of household other than a household in which both biological parents are present ( Ranking, 1983; Geismar & Woods, 1986). Conversely, an intact family refers to a nuclear family in which both biological parents resides in a households with their biological children (Kierkus & Baer, 2002).
Critics of the broken home theory argues that juvenile crime trends does support this theory. Recent juvenile crimes statistics shows that from 1997 to 2012, juvenile crime has declined 33% while single parent households have been increasing a steady rate (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, 2012). In addition, a classical study by Shaw and Mckay (1932) investigated the role of broken homes in juvenile crime and noted the importance of broken homes in juvenile crime has been overstated. Shaw and Mckay (1932) suggested that prior research regarding delinquents from intact families and delinquents from broken homes failed to control for factors such as age, race, and family situations. Over time, researchers have questioned the broken home theory and that intactness of the family explains all the variables related to juvenile crime. A more recent study by Demuth and Brown (2004) found out that broken homes are associated with juvenile crime, however, they found out also that broken homes are not the only issues related to juvenile crime. The researchers found out that teenagers living with their fathers had much higher rates of juvenile crime than teenagers living in both parent households. Demuth and Brown concluded that the lack of parental involvement and supervision between the parents and the teenager are factors that influence juvenile crime.
In summary, these two studies shows that family structure alone has little effect on juvenile crime. Family factors such as parental involvement, attachment, and supervision are better explanations of juvenile crime and juvenile deviant behavior. Now I turn to the looking glass-self theory and its influence on juvenile crime.
The Looking Glass-Self Theory
The looking glass-self theory was put forth by Charles Horton Cooley. Retzer defines the looking glass theory as:
The concept of looking glass-self can be broken down into three components: First, we imagine how we appear to others. Second, we imagine what their judgment of that appearance must be. Three, we develop some self-feeling, such as pride or mortification, as a result of our imagining others’ judgment (Ritzer, 2008).
The looking glass-self theory is similar to the labelling theory. However, the looking glass-self theory is an internalization of what we perceive others think of us. Our personal belief changes to match what others think or say. For example if someone sees you as a smart and intelligent person, you are likely to see yourself as smart and intelligent person. In the same token, if someone sees you as a delinquent person, you are more likely to see yourself as a delinquent. The internalization becomes more evident if it comes from someone of authority or power. Self-concept is shaped by these interactions. Thus, schools, homes, police officers, bosses at work plays a big role in shaping self-concepts (Ritzer, 2008).
In addition, when looking at juvenile delinquent, it is without a doubt that self-concepts are a result of how powerful others sees and think of them. They internalize formal opinions of being drug addicts and delinquents through formal opinions of friends and family. Furthermore, when their parents are disappointed and disgusted of them, they also feel disappointed and disgusted of themselves. Their self-concept is formed by what they think others will say or think about them. This is more predominant when the opinion comes from a person in a position of power (Ritzer, 2008).
The Current Case Study Focus
The current case study attempted to answer the question “How Juvenile delinquent students’ experiences back in schools after incarceration can help schools develop better mechanism to help them succeed in schools and home life?”. Specifically, this case study through a one-on-one interview collected information from a juvenile delinquent student regarding: 1) age, 2) Race, 3) Home Structure, 4) Experiences with Parents, 5) Street Life, 6) School experiences after Incarceration, and 7) The Chances for committing the same or similar crimes in the future.
While examining a possible method to capture juvenile delinquents’ experience returning back to school after incarceration, a single instrumental case study emerged slowly but surely as the best method for capturing an in-depth understanding of this experience. Specifically, the case study attempted to capture juvenile delinquents’ experience and their home structure, experiences with their parents, street life, school experiences after incarceration, and the likelihood that they will commit same or similar types of crimes in the future (Starke, 1995; Yin, 2009). In a single instrumental case study the researcher “focuses on an issue or concern and then, select one bounded case to illustrate the issue” (Creswell, 2007; p. 99). The current study is bounded within the same school environment and it provides an in-depth understanding of the issues impacting juvenile delinquent students at home, in the street, and in their schools after incarceration. The study also provide an understanding of the background information of the student participant in this study.
Consistent with the case study design, the researcher identified a juvenile participant who had recently been incarcerated for the interview. The researcher interviewed the juvenile participant using a semi-structured interview protocol that consisted of five areas and questions: Biographical information and Race–what is your date of birth? What is your race? What are your current charges? Home life: what type of household do you reside in? How well do you get along with your mother? How well do you get along with your father? How well do you do in school? Have you ever hold a job? Street life: Do you party a lot? Do you get high a lot? What kind of stuff do you take? Do you belong to any gang? School life after detention: How does the school help you to adjust back to school? Does the school give you a mentor to help you with the missed work? How difficulty was it for you to catch up back in your learning? What do you think the school should provide or do for student with similar circumstance as yours? Future crime self-prediction: Do you think you will commit same or similar crimes in the future? What are you doing to prevent future incarceration?
Permission was sought from the student participant participating in the study. Data collection took place in the researcher’s own lecture room. Name of the student participant was not disclosed. To further guarantee the privacy of the juvenile involved in this case study, the semi structure survey instrument and the recording of the interview was kept in a secure computer only accessible with a secret password protection that only the research of this study knew.
Data collection included basic biographic information of the juvenile participant (age, sex, and race). Other information included the home structure and whether the participant got along with their mother and father, the specific type of crimes they committed, street life, school experiences after returning from incarceration, and the possibility of committing crimes in the future.
The collected data in this case study was analyzed following Yin (2009) suggestions: 1) to focus on a few key issues and not to use those issues for generalizing beyond the case, but, for understanding of the complexity of the case. 2) to identify issues within the case and then looking for common themes within the case and the literature. The themes that emerged in this case study a presented below.
This section organizes the findings from the interview with a student juvenile offender into the five main question themes: Biographical information and race, home life, street life, school life after incarceration, and self-prediction for committing future crimes.
Biographical information and race
Mr. K.C. was born in October 7th, 1997. He of mixed races. His father is an African American and his mother is Mexican. His present charges includes concealing a weapon, distributing weapons, among many other serious charges. He just got back to the community school from incarceration in the last 6 weeks.
Mr. K.C. lives with him mom in an apartment complex. His mom has four other children. He does not really know his biological father. His biological father abandoned his mother when he was toddler. Thus, he does not have any recollection of his father. Mr. K.C. gets along well with his mother. They talk a lot. He feels like he has a very tight relationship and bond with his mother. He has lived without a “father figure” in his life until recently when his mother started dating another man. This man is now his step-father. He did not get along very with his step-father in the beginning of their relationship. However, now they do get along very well and he helps him understand the consequences of his choices. Mr. K.C. has never held a stable job. He has worked briefly in construction, landscaping, and under the counter jobs. Thus, he has worked shortly and mostly in manual labor type of jobs.
Mr. K.C. does not party a lot. He mostly hustles. According to Mr. K.C. hustling means “I sell something that people need or take what you got”. However, Mr. K.C. does get high a lot. He smokes weed, sometimes he takes pills, although, he is not a big fun of pills. He occasionally drinks and sometimes does cocaine. Mr. K.C. is affiliated with the bloods.
School life after incarceration
The local county school system tried to prevent Mr. K.C. from coming back into the school because of the serious nature of the charges he had and still has with the juvenile court. He hired a lawyer who advocated for him to come back to school. It took the lawyer about a month for that process to be completed. Now he is back in school like any other regular student. His grades are decent and he feels like he is doing well academically and socially. When he came back to school, he was just handed his missing work and told here is your work. He felt like the teachers throw the work on his face without any type of guidance or help for him to complete it. The school administration did not help either. There was no mentorship from the school to help him complete the missed assignments. He, however, was given a mentor with the state who helped him to deal with his anger, drug use, and other life related problems. The mentor was not academically qualified to help him with school work. She was there just to check on him on a weekly basis, to help him stay out of trouble that could land him back to juvenile detention.
Mr. K.C. accoutered a lot of difficulties when he came back to school after being incarcerated. He had a reputation of “he just is going to do bad”. He felt like the teachers looked down on him. He had to convince himself that he was capable of doing the school work. Even though he had a lot of negativity around him, it did not hold him back. His suggestion for people finding themselves in his shoes is to just keep themselves positive. The school could create a mentorship pool just targeting people like him to offer academic help and socialize with them to make them feel they are welcome at the school.
Self-prediction to commit future crimes
Mr. K.C. thought that the best way to avoid future incarceration is to try his best to stay out of trouble. He hoped he will be able to do just that. According to Mr. K.C. “it is kinda hard in todays’ society to stay out of trouble complete, you know”. He tried to find a job in various places, however, because of his type of charges he has not been called back for an interview or anything. Mr. K.C. also said “everybody needs to get money and without a job, I see myself getting in trouble again”.
Discussion and Conclusion
In this section, I first analyze the data, then, I present the conclusions of the study, and finally, I present my recommendations for future research.
Living in single family household
A number of research has been conducted to determine the relationship between single family homes and juvenile crime (Ranking, 1983; Geismar & Woods, 1986). Broken homes are associated with juvenile crime (Dethmuth & Brown, 2004), however, the broken homes theory alone does not explain juvenile crimes completely (Shaw & Mckay, 1932). In this case study lived for the past his life in broken home. This could partly explain the relationship between his engagements in juvenile crimes. However, there are myriads of other factors such as the lack of bonding between the participant in this study and his biological father, the ineffective or lack of supervision from the biological mother. The biological mother has five children and because of lack of proper education, she works many hours to provide for her children. Thus, she always not in the house and the juvenile in this case study had to learn to be a grown and supervise other kids in the house at an early age. All these factors combined could help explain the association between him and his tendency to commit juvenile crimes.
Smoking pot and Drug Use
The literature on juvenile crimes indicates that there is an association between smoking weed, doing heavy drugs, and committing juvenile crimes (Committee on Substance Abuse and Committee on Adolescence, 2004). In this case study the juvenile participant smokes weed and is engaged in drug abuse. He was introduced to marijuana and other heavy drugs such as pills, cocaine, and other forms of injectable substances from an early age. This exposure to drugs and marijuana could help explain the participant’s tendency to commit juvenile crimes. The use of marijuana and drugs causes juvenile and adults users to lose the ability to think clearly which then leads to poor decisions making (Committee on Substance Abuse and Committee on Adolescence, 2004). In addition, sustaining a drug abuse habit requires money. Since, many youth abusers do not have jobs and money, they tend to commit crimes to generate income to support their habits.
Back to school difficulties after incarceration
Based on my interview with the juvenile participant in this case study, there several problems or difficulties that juvenile offenders face when they return back to a community school after incarceration. I will discuss two major difficulties they face: first, lack of support and two, being looked down upon. Once juvenile offenders are cleared to come back to school there are no support systems within the school to help them with their transition. It is a common practice that once a juvenile offender reports back to class is given the work that he or she has missed for the time that he or she was incarcerated. However, there are no academic support groups to help them understand the information. The juvenile offender in this case study described this experience as “the teachers just throw the work on your face” and “you just have to do it with no help whatsoever”.
In addition, the juvenile offender in this case study expressed his frustrations with what he calls as “being looked down upon” phenomenon. Once a juvenile offender comes back to school he or she has to overcome the negativity related to being incarcerated. According to the juvenile offender is this case study, “teachers, administrators, and students looks down on you with the perception that you are just going to cause more problems to them”. The looking glass-self theory applies directly here. It is without a doubt that juvenile offenders’ self-concepts are a result of how powerful others sees and think of them. They internalize formal opinions of being drug addicts and delinquents through formal opinions of teachers, administrators, friends and family. The way we treat juvenile offenders once they come back to school could have a serious effect on their self-concept and how they see themselves.
The state does provide a mentor for the student, however. The state mentor is there just to help the juvenile offender to deal with their drug abuse problems and issues related to their incarceration. Often times, the state mentor does not know how to tutor juvenile offenders in subjects related matters. Thus, there is a great need for schools to develop plans to meet the needs of juvenile offenders (mentally, socially, and academically) for them to be successful with their learning.
The likelihood for committing future crimes
In this case study, the juvenile offender hoped that the incarceration incident that happened to him will be a thing of the past. He was hopeful for the future. However, he cautioned that because of his incarceration and the serious nature of the charges against him it may not be easy for him to find a job post high school and then lead to him committing crimes in the future. According to him “in today’s world everybody has to have money to survive, if I cannot find a job, I will have to do……you know what I mean, to make money”. Therefore, a future without crime, is not certain for him.
Recommendations for future research
This case study was centered on a single research participants’ personal experiences at home, the street, and the school after incarceration. Four themes emerged from the interview and discussions with research participants. The emerged themes include: (1) single family household, (2) smoking pot and drug use, (3) back to school difficulties after incarceration, (4) the likelihood for future crimes. As discussed in the study results and discussion, these themes have direct implications for the effectiveness of programs to help juvenile offenders transition back to school and learning. In order to validate the results from this study, additional research with juvenile offenders from different settings is needed. For example, studies with juvenile offenders from middle school or other high school setting or from urban high schools and suburban high schools would be desirable. In addition, the questions used to capture juvenile offenders’ personal experiences at home, in the streets, and at schools after incarceration in this study were not very focused. Therefore, studies with more focused questions on this matter are needed to capture the essence of these experiences. Finally, I realize that one’s cultural background influences one’s experiences. My background, cultural experiences, and world view may have affected the way I analyzed the data. Therefore, research done by people with different cultural and background experiences are warranted.
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