Crime and Juvenile Justice Alternative
During the Spring 2013 semester, I was granted the opportunity to intern at Denton County Juvenile Probation. This institution is responsible for delinquent juveniles that have committed a criminal act. The institution consists of several departments: intake, the court, detention, the POST adjudication program, and JJAEP (Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Program). My intern experience consisted of working with juveniles placed in the Courage to Change (CTC) POST adjudication, which is a diversion program of the Texas Juvenile Detention Department (TJJD). However, while interning, I was able to experience the many facets of the juvenile justice system, from the juveniles’ entry into Denton County Juvenile Detention Center, all the way to their release from the Courage to Change program and their re-entry back into society. For the majority of my time as an intern.
I worked under the caseworkers in the CTC program, which managed the majority of casework load for each juvenile that was sentenced to the program. The daily activities that I performed while interning included: filing of room checks, group work, and case file information, while also helping the caseworkers fulfill any code greens (memos to the caseworkers from the residents for needed materials or to notify them of any information).
One of the major activities that I was able to experience was getting the opportunity to sit in during a court session. During the morning session, I was able to view the juveniles and their lawyers as they discussed with the judge on whether they were to stay in detention or be released back to their guardians based on the opinion of their probation officer. During the afternoon session, I was able to view juveniles who were still in the custody of their parents, but detention was being determined according to whether or not they violated the conditions of their probation. I had never been in a courtroom setting before, so seeing what takes place during the court sessions was very fascinating.
During one of the sessions, there were a few parents that got out of hand and the judge had to exercise his powers. It is interesting to see how parents react based on their children’s actions, despite the evidence of the acts that their children have committed. Also during the duration of my internship, I was able to sit in on a few staffing’s of residents in the CTC program. A staffing is comprised of the deputy director, therapeutic program coordinator, counselors, and caseworkers, which are considered the “treatment team.”
Essentially, the team is responsible for deciding the fate of a resident, as they review the resident’s history and behavior. They review many aspects of the resident’s activities to determine whether they should stay in the program or be removed and sent to a more restrictive placement in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to serve the remainder of their sentence. During most of the staffings, the juveniles being reviewed seemed sincere about wanting to change and do better to stay in the program. But, there was one staffing that I viewed where there was such a blatant disregard for the program and those trying to assist him in his recovery. It was heartbreaking to see this individual’s attitude towards people and sadly reinforces that idea that you cannot help someone if they do not want to be helped.
To be placed in the CTC program, each member of the treatment team reviews each juvenile’s social history and psychological evaluation and votes on whether the program would be a good fit for him/her. This experience taught me what to look for in each of their social histories and evaluations and what would deem a juvenile a good fit for the program.
The CTC program is not as easy as it may seem and is not a program made for everyone. However, once a juvenile is admitted, I was able to help conduct the orientations for the new residents. This mainly consisted of going over the rules of the program and what was to be expected of the resident. Occasionally when I went down to intake to create new wristbands for the residents, I was able to learn the functions of intake whenever a juvenile was brought to intake by a police officer.
The intake officers were able to show me different parts of their job, such as the type of programs that they use to admit a juvenile and how it is input into the system. Additionally, they showed me the steps they take with the juveniles and the process that they physically go through with each juvenile from pat downs and administering the SASSI and MAYSII, instruments used to determine the level of supervision and caution needed with each juvenile. Overall, all of the events that I was able to experience while interning served to further my education into the juvenile justice system.
The internship program at Denton County Juvenile Probation exceeded my expectations. When I first started, I was very nervous because my first day only consisted of filing documents. However, as the weeks went by, I was able to participate and experience things that I did not even think that I would while interning with the department. One of these highlights included working directly with the residents. I especially enjoyed working with them because I was able to get an idea of how the residents of the program felt, what they were thinking, and figuring out the ways that I could help them.
Mostly, the residents appreciated whenever I was able to help them with their memorization of concepts such as criminal thinking errors, time bomb tactics, and defense mechanisms which they were required to complete in order for them to pass their level review and move up. While there, I mainly worked under the caseworkers, but some days I was able to cross train and work with other departments and individuals, which only allowed me to gain more experience. I was able to participate in an intake, detention, the courts, and even work with many of the supervisors and directors.
Those people that I worked with were very knowledgeable of areas in the criminal justice system and always willing to go the extra mile to help me understand any confusing concepts. Having good communication skills is an important part of this job since you are constantly relaying information to other departments and frequently conferring with the residents on your case plan. Working with caseworkers taught me a lot and expanded my knowledge. I was also able to work with other interns, allowing me to see different responsibilities that they hold, such as the counseling interns. These interns allowed me to sit in on many of their focus groups and even give pointers on how to speak with the residents. Everyone within the department was very obliging and I would recommend an internship with the Juvenile Probation department.
Since I took my criminology class concurrently with my internship, I was able to apply a lot of what I was learning in class to my work at Denton County Juvenile Probation Center. These classes have provided me with the background that I needed to better understand the juvenile justice system. In my criminology class, I learned about Sykes and Matza’s techniques of neutralization and drift. They detailed that individuals learn criminal behavior through techniques and actions that go against law-abiding behavior. I find that a lot of the juveniles that I worked with would fall under this theory.
They would use one of the five techniques of neutralization that Sykes and Matza proposed. I found that most of time, the juveniles used the “denial of injury.” They assumed that their act did not do as much harm as everyone believes. They fail to realize the full extent of their actions and how they actually do affect those people around them. This was most apparent whenever I sat in on focus groups and the residents would express how they felt about the acts they committed and those that they hurt. An exercise that the caseworkers frequently assign to the residents when they first enter the program is to list all the people that they have done any harm to.
I believe that by having the juveniles write whoever they feel they have harmed onto paper, they begin the process of realizing the extent of their behaviors. Furthermore, I found that some juveniles used the neutralization technique of “appeal to higher loyalties.” I believe this technique is important because many of the children and juveniles find themselves in situations where they are peer pressured into making the wrong decisions. A few of the juveniles that I worked with seemed to be good kids and I often wondered why they were even in the CTC program.
But after reading their social history and case file, I learned that when they committed their crimes, they were with a group of friends who probably encouraged them to commit their crimes. They justify their behavior by adhering to these “loyalties.” However, they also fail to realize that by adhering to those loyalties, they only hurt themselves in the process. Subsequently, juveniles can be affected by those individuals they surround themselves with, which leads them to be easily susceptible to conformity.
Hirschi’s Social Bond Theory theorizes why juveniles commit crimes. He talks about how the four bonds, attachment, commitment, involvement, and beliefs, maintain control over the juvenile and discourage them from delinquent behavior. When these bonds are weak is when delinquency occurs. A weak bond that I found among most of the juveniles was attachment. Many of the juveniles in the CTC program have a very poor family structure. Hirschi explains that poor attachments can be a gateway to deviant behavior.
I would constantly hear about parents of the juveniles refusing to come to counseling, or parents saying “there is nothing wrong with my family,” and even parents being secretive and demanding their child not to say anything. The blatant refusal to help or support their child when they most needed it was very distressing. Negative attachments and the parent’s unwillingness to support their child is what continue to influence their deviant behavior. I also saw that the commitment bond was weak among many of the juveniles in the program. Some of them lacked goals for themselves; they were merely working the system and doing their time so they could be released and continue their deviant ways.
Some even did not have the desire to gain an education, so they could become something more. However, I think some of them had simply given up. I believe a factor to this was because they had been labeled deviant by society, they would continue to act upon those stereotypes and labels as theorized by the labeling theory. There were a few juveniles that refused to go to the required AA meetings and from my correctional systems class,
I learned that those juveniles failing to take advantage of community based forms of punishment or rehabilitation is a sign of an offender’s break from society. Interning at Denton County Juvenile Probation Center certainly made me realize that working with juveniles is definitely the profession that I wish to pursue. Working with kids is certainly a life changing experience. I have a passion to listen, foster and help kids better themselves and empower them live a positive life that should be afforded to them. It may be difficult at times, but everyone, especially juveniles, need someone who is there to support them and push them to do better.