In todays society, a troubled teenager or mischievous adolescent is labeled a
juvenile delinquent. Yet the current definition of a juvenile is based solely upon, most of
the times, on stereotypes. A delinquent may be a troublesome teenager with complicated
problems at home, school, or with friends. He may have extreme physical and/or
emotional needs, or he may just be a child who committed a simple mistake. “Was he
unlucky to get caught doing something foolish? Did he run away from home because of
family troubles or to demonstrate independence? What kind of help does he need and
exactly how much?” (Erickson 126-127). At this point, a probation officer helps in
making decisions that have an important and beneficial impact on the lives of those
called “delinquents” (Erickson 7). Probation can be defined in two different ways: as an
organization or a process. As an organization, probation is “a service agency designed to
assist the court and execute certain services in the administration of criminal justice.” As
a process, probation is “an investigation for the court and the supervision of persons in
the community” (Carter and Wilkins 77). Considering the diverse definitions on the
subject of probation, the myths and truths about the juvenile justice system can also be
Although juvenile crime is a serious national problem, Marcia Satterthwaite, a
social worker, criticizes the effectiveness of the legal system as a whole. She claims that
the system has been losing its confidentiality between the officer and the client, that it
does not discourage crime effectively, that punishment should be more stringent, and that
there is a “lack of focus” on the need to protect society from the juvenile (61-63).
According to Satterthwaite, dangerous children are released to commit even more acts of
crime. Ron Boostrom, a probation officer working for the city of Los Angeles, agrees
that in the end, “the delinquent is dumped back into the same family, the same
community, and the same problems that existed before the rehabilitation” (246).
Boostrom believes that the juvenile system teaches these youngsters the trade of crime, to
hate, and even become dedicated to getting even with the society that excluded them in
the first place (238).
The truth is that the major cause of low self-esteem is due to the juveniles
surroundings. In most cases, discipline, supervision, and affection tend to be missing in
the home itself (Satterthwaite 180). If probation officers would not be able to
communicate to others about the juvenile, the officer would have no sources of
information and would be left without an idea as to how to approach a goal for the child.
If punishment were to be harsher and juveniles were to be treated and sentenced as
adults, taxpayers expenses would increase. Longer sentences for juveniles cost
taxpayers more but do not necessarily give better results, while prevention programs
work more efficiently than imprisonment and cost much less. To keep a teenager locked
up for a year cost more than $30,000. According to Mike Males, this amount of money is
able to cover ten adolescents part-time jobs, a probation officer to work with twenty-five
juveniles, tutor one hundred children falling behind in their studies, or provide”recreational alternatives” for two hundred children with nothing to do after school (1).
Delinquents are children who “have been pushed beyond the limits of their abilities,
desires, and expectations” (Erickson 127-129). Usually, they seem to want and need
discipline and direction and commit the crime either for attention, curiosity, excitement,
revenge, or peer pressure and acceptance (137). Over time, these juveniles tend to
mature and grow out of their delinquent phase to be able to get away from a life of crime
Although probation can be exciting and fulfilling for the probation officer,
Erickson states that it can also be very frustrating and discouraging because of the clients
and the system (vii). At the beginning of the job, officers are committed and very
dedicated to helping troubled children become successful adults. They visit the
offenders family, they interview and communicate with school administrators, and they
become extremely involved in the everyday lives of those juveniles (Satterthwaite 53).
With one client, officers have a great amount of work to take care of, but when the
probation departments assign an average caseload of about forty juveniles per officer, it
becomes more difficult to devote a sufficient amount of attention to each individual
child. “While most probation officers have masters degrees and can provide both family
and group therapy… probation departments are grossly understaffed and underfunded”
(Satterthwaite 57). After contacting a client, speaking to individuals who know the
offender, making an outline as to how to go about in order to help the juvenile, preparing
reports on data of court, school, police arrest sheets, and previous probation reports,
making decisions as to whether the child should go to court or whether an agreement can
be reached between the probationer and probationee, visiting homes, making court
appearances and a great amount of telephone calls, a probation officer is often worn out
and disillusioned (Whitehead 37-39). In some cases, some probation officers become
convinced that social work is an occupation that has no reward or meaning, some return
to more traditional casework settings, and some remain in this field. Those who decide
that they will remain in the juvenile justice system, are most commonly criticized for
being ineffective. Three major stages describe the process of a probation officers job:
one, “toughening-up”, two, “mellowing”, and three, “burning-out”. Burn-out is one of
the most common problems of probation caused by “large caseloads, low pay, little
training, and inadequate community resources” (Whitehead 3-9). Though officers
attempt to give equal amounts of supervision to each child and provide beneficial impact
on a juvenile, the imbalance of too many clients and either too much or not enough
contact with them can cause stress for the officer and a lack of motivation for the client
(41). When an officer cannot seem to separate his or her personal problems from those
of a client, drinking addictions, stress, and other occupational hazards seem to result in
their lives (Erickson 33). Along with the probation officer losing control of his own life,
the delinquent, too, appears to commit more criminal acts because of the lack of attention
In order to eliminate the most common difficulties that exist in the probation
occupation, changes are necessary in not only the system itself, but also in the attitudes
and behaviors of the juvenile and officer. One of the most important goals is to prevent
children from violating any further so they can become responsible and successful adults.
The second most important goal is to protect society from the criminal acts of children.
Parents need to teach children self-control by monitoring the childs behavior,
recognizing the different behaviors when they occur, and punishing those which are
unacceptable (Boostrom 181). Through education, treatment, and affection, prevention
of criminal acts reaches juveniles and assists them into a healthier and better life. To be
able to use these components at the earliest stage possible, is to keep these teenagers
away from ever entering the juvenile justice system in the first place. With the help of
education, training, and support for the staff, probation officers can be better prepared to
take on diverse cases of all types (Anonymous 1-2). The juvenile justice system needs
improvement. Probation officers, judges, and family members need to make effective
decisions about who should really be incarcerated and/or receive probation. If an offense
made is not extremely serious and the client and officer can agree on a punishment, the
child does not need to present himself upon a judge. If either the client or officer want to
make an appearance in court, an agreement cannot be reached, or threats have been made
involving either parties or others, a court decision is most suggested (Carter and Wilkins
In addition, to making the correct choices, good community programs are also
necessary to place delinquents in a better environment to be able to succeed. Though
juveniles tend to steal, trespass, fight, drink, take drugs, use profanity, run away from
home, and miss school, many solutions were being thought about to prevent these flaws
(Erickson 125). The first has already been mentioned and deals with “toughening up”
and placing juveniles in adult courts. According to Satterthwaite, removing offenders
from society for longer periods of time will reduce crime. Those who have not
committed a serious crime will come to the realization of the possible punishments (such
as life in prison, the death penalty, etc.). Violent offenders would be less likely to repeat
their crimes by learning from their first lesson (64-65). Nationally, 38% of juveniles are
charged with a violent crime, 41% are charged with crime against property, and the
remaining 15% on drug charges. Fifty-seven percent of those arrested for the first time
did not repeat an act of crime, 27% got arrested once or twice more, and 16% went on to
become “chronic offenders” (See Appendix ). Though these number figures may show
a step to success, it is five times more likely for a juvenile to be sexually assaulted, two
times more likely to be beaten by staff, and a 50 percent chance that they will be attacked
with a weapon in an adult facility. When released, juveniles turn into violent criminals
because of the insensibility they suffered in prison (Satterthwaite 67-69).
A second solution was then proposed in which young offenders would be
rehabilitated, to place them in community organizations. Boot camps, for example, are
school-based atmospheres that teach youngsters self-discipline, increase self-esteem,
provide exercise and counseling opportunities, and help train them for a G.E.D. A
program called High Impact emphasizes teamwork, provides life and job skills, and
builds a sense of personal and community accomplishments (Satterthwaite 70-71). The
Girls and Boys Clubs of America help youth “participate in structured recreational and
education activities, focusing on personal development, communication enhancement,
problem solving, and decision making skills” (Thornberry 5). With this program, 1990
statistics prove that 90% of the youth attended once a week or more, 26% attended on a
daily basis, 48% showed improvement in the academic area, 33% showed improved
grades, and another 33% had much better attendance (6). Juvenile hall is also another
option. Although it includes school attendance during the day, educational programs,
and volunteer services, this method is too expensive. In 1996/97 alone, 5,967 minors had
been locked up, 5,024 were males and 943 were females (Anonymous 1-3). Costing an
average of $108 per day, per child, taxpayers are paying $644,436 everyday. Instead of
using so much money inefficiently, a bigger solution can be reached. A Youth Aid
Panels program helps to reach children before they commit crimes in the first place. This
specific program is made from a group of citizens who are trained to handle cases
involving first-time offenders or juveniles who have committed minor crimes. These
trainers act as probation officers when trying to work out resolutions with the offender,
but instead, they get the child involved with the community, and the community with the
child (Satterthwaite 73-74). The people of this organization not only look at the safety
of the public, but they attempt to help teenagers realize where they stand and what they
need to do to improve. When these juveniles are finally released from probation,
aftercare is needed. Still, more monitoring and support has to take place by working with
family, by keeping a better eye on the juvenile at school, and by preventing future
problems. Satterthwaite states, “Americas success… depends not so much on specific
problems for punishing… but on our overall willingness to invest in the nations youth”
In truth, the success or failure rate of the juvenile justice system depends solely
upon the effort put in by both the probation officer and client. The officer can tell the
offender what to wear, who he can and cannot talk to, what time he has to be home at,
and what rules he has to live under (Satterthwaite 57). If the offender decides to disobey,
discipline is required. In 1948-1950 a study was done on 5,020 juveniles who had been
placed on probation and had been previously convicted. The number of boys was more
than nine times that of girls, 4,586 males versus 434 females (See Appendix ). In the
process, studies proved that not only were the majority of juveniles convicted for
community offenses against property, but that towards the end of the trial and error
experiment, the success rates were generally higher for females than those for males, and
for those who were older rather than younger (Radzinowicz 4-5). Offenders were
released and usually tend to be released from probation in two ways. The first is early
termination based on good progress and the second is termination based on completion of
the full period of supervision originally given (Radzinowicz 44).
The second case study was performed in November of 1975 for a period of three
years. The study was used to compare the effectiveness of traditional probation
procedures and analyze the results. Often, results were encouraging, especially when
there was a good relationship between the caseworker and client. The Cooperative
Behavior Demonstration Project (CBDP) was designed for behavior modification and
transactional analysis (TA) treatment. It was used to analyze the amount of treatment
given to the client, compare the probation system to other methods of treatment, improve
the outcome of caseworker and client , and develop a way to help probation departments
help juveniles (Jesness 1-3). In order to be able to accomplish these goals, a great
amount of data was needed to be collected. The caseworker needed to be observed,
background, psychological, and behavioral data needed to be analyzed and carefully
evaluated. From the clients, there was a wide range of factors that influenced statistics of
the rates of success and the rates of failure. Although the model age for this experiment
was sixteen years of age, clients were as young as eight and as old as twenty-two.
Ethnicity also varied. Fifty-two percent were white, 30% were black, 13% were
Mexican-American, and the remaining 5% were other groups. Of all the juveniles, 81%
consisted of males while a very low 19% were females. Dealing with economy and
family status, 13% were found to receive assistance from the welfare program, 90% were
already living with a family of their own, 54% with both parents, and 36% with only
either the mother or father. The remainder either lived in foster homes or with a relative.
After much study, the group of officers found that 69% of the adolescents had a problem
with being truant from school, 84% were sent to the principals office for misbehavior,
73% were suspended, 50% had run away from home, 39% vandalized buildings, 45%
fought in gang related activities, and 60% were involved with drugs. Along with the
clients ranging in everything from age to education status, the officers involved in the
experiment also varied. Officers were anywhere between the ages of twenty-three to
twenty-five years old. Seventy-eight percent were male and 22% were female.
Eighty-seven percent were white, 7% were Mexican-American, 4% were black, and 2%
were Oriental. Education levels for these officers ranged from 16% having a masters
degree, 38% going beyond the bachelor level, 44% having a four-year degree, 2 people
with a two-year degree, and overall, the average length of experience was five and a half
years (Jesness 6-9). Out of 152 juveniles, 56.2% expressed a high positive regard by
having their problem behavior remitted and 36.5% expressed a low positive regard
without correcting their behaviors. After a six month follow-up, of 71 offenders, 11%
had failed with a high positive regard and of 60 offenders 33% failed with low positive
regard. In instances where there existed a mutual liking and high positive relation, only
19% of the officers cases failed. In instances where there existed a mutual dislike, 40%
of the cases failed (21-22). Data proved that it was not necessarily the caseworkers
personality or attitude that helped the clients, but the fact that he did or did not do”adequate contingency contracting” with a particular client that made the greatest
difference (21). Caseloads of more than fifty clients were always on call from school
principals, police, judges, lawyers, and parents to be able to guarantee effective
treatment, but basic services were performed (28). In truth, problem behavior remission
was made possible by having more cooperative parents, teachers, and peers, regardless of
the type of treatment provided.
The problem with the juvenile justice system is truly a major issue when dealing
with the United States. As seen over time, the juvenile delinquency rates have increased,
going anywhere from hundreds of children to the many thousands recognized today.
Although more and more children are being placed on probation, in most cases, a lesson
is not learned and the juvenile simply goes back to the same bad habits. Through the
many solutions being proposed, the process is a “trial and error” based experiment.
When one solution seems to fail, another is thought about to help make a difference
in a juveniles life. Money and control are two factors that do not affect the behavior
modification. Males states, “Only by attacking the conditions that lead kids to
crime-social ills: poverty, violence, drug abuse, dysfunctional families, and failing
schools-can the country truly protect its most precious resource, its children” (75).
Speaking with Ceasar Arambula, a Los Angeles county therapist, he states that out of all
the delinquents and children placed on probation, only about 15% actually succeed.
Although the number figure is very low, the criminal law field is “the field of the future”
and more probation officers will be needed to assist in making a childs life that of a
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