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Why Juvenile Detention Makes Teens


Worse
By Maia Szalavitz Friday, Aug. 07, 2009
Parents have always warned teenagers against falling in with the wrong crowd, those kids they consider bad
influences. Now a new study of juvenile detention in Montreal adds to the evidence that Mom and Dad may
have a point.
Researchers found that rather than rehabilitating young delinquents, juvenile detention which lumps
troubled kids in with other troubled kids appeared to worsen their behavior problems. Compared with other
kids with a similar history of bad behavior, those who entered the juvenile-justice system were nearly seven
times more likely to be arrested for crimes as adults. Further, those who ended up being sentenced to juvenile
prison were 37 times more likely to be arrested again as adults, compared with similarly misbehaved kids who
were either not caught or not put into the system.

(Read "Getting the Juvenile-Justice System to Grow Up.")


"It's much worse than we would have expected," says Richard Tremblay, a psychology professor at the
University of Montreal and a co-author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Child Psychology
and Psychiatry. "By having them live together, they form relationships. It's more likely to increase the
problem."
The 20-year study followed 779 low-income youth in Montreal with annual interviews from age 10 to age 17,
then tracked their arrest records in adulthood. Researchers also interviewed the teenagers' parents,
schoolmates and teachers. The study accounted for variables such as family income, single-parent-home status
and earlier behavior problems (such as hyperactivity) that are known to affect delinquency risk.

(See pictures of crime in Middle America.)


Kids who entered the juvenile-justice system even briefly for example, being sentenced to community service
or other penance, with limited exposure to other troubled kids were twice as likely to be arrested as adults,
compared with kids with the same behavior problems who remained outside the system. Being put on
probation, which involves more contact with misbehaving peers, in counseling groups or even in waiting rooms
at probation offices, raised teens' odds of adult arrest by a factor of 14.
The rehabilitation of troubled teens has long been a contentious issue, pitting the individual needs of problem
children and families against a system that does not typically give social workers adequate tools or resources to

help. Often, the treatment of difficult or drug-using teens occurs en masse in residential homes, for example
but instead of scaring kids straight, the group experience tends to glamorize delinquency and drug use.

(Read "Teens Behaving Badly?")


Why? In any such setting, teens establish a predictable social hierarchy, says Tom Dishion, director of research
at the Child and Family Center at the University of Oregon, who was not involved with the study. The kids who
have behaved worse than others committing robbery, for instance, vs. smoking cigarettes earn the most
credibility with their peer group, which encourages further bad behavior. "That story [about robbing someone]
has a function of making that kid more interesting. He or she gets a lot of attention. [These kids] become higher
in the social hierarchy."
Says Tremblay: "There is that competition of who is going to do the worst stuff for them, it's the best stuff
like stealing the biggest or best car."
Past research has also shown that peer exposure can worsen behavior. In a 1995 study conducted by Dishion
involving 158 high-risk families in Oregon, researchers compared the impact on teens' behavior of four
interventions: parenting groups focused on effective discipline, social-skills-training groups for teens, both the
parent- and teen-focused group interventions, or no group treatment at all. Overall, the parent-focused group
was most effective, leading to reductions in teen smoking and misbehavior at school. The teen-focused group,
by contrast, significantly increased participants' rate of aggressive behavior and smoking; in the combination
group, kids showed no improvement, presumably because the exposure to other teens canceled out the positive
effect of the parents.
The new study supports these findings, suggesting that family therapy or one-on-one counseling or any
intervention that doesn't aggregate troubled teens is safer and more likely to be effective than group
activities. But if groups must be used, experts say that high supervision and low child-to-staff ratios are
essential to minimize the risk of behavior contagion.
"I think it's a very important finding, and it's consistent with other research in the last 10 years on this topic,"
says Dishion. "What's really surprising is that we don't have more research showing this to be true. Almost
everyone you tell about these findings who has worked in [residential or juvenile-justice settings] is not
surprised. I think there's a tacit agreement not to look too carefully."

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1887182,00.html

Getting the Juvenile-Justice System


to Grow Up
By Ken Stier Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2009

If it's not the biggest scandal in American legal history, many are calling it at least the darkest day for the
country's troubled juvenile-justice system. For more than four years earlier this decade, two senior county
juvenile-court judges in northeastern Pennsylvania took kickbacks of $2.6 million in exchange for packing
thousands of kids off to privately owned detention centers. Many of the kids had committed minor offenses and
didn't have the benefit of a lawyer. A 14-year-old from Wilkes-Barre, for instance, spent a year in a Glen Mills
detention facility for the offense of stealing loose change from unlocked cars to buy a bag of chips; he was only
set free after public-interest lawyers challenged the constitutionality of the punishment. (See pictures of
children behind bars.)
The miscarriage of justice goes beyond the judges, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan, who pleaded
guilty on Feb. 12 to federal charges of wire and income tax fraud and face the prospect of more than seven years
in prison. State and federal authorities are still investigating the case, and the owners of the detention center,
PA Child Care, have not yet been charged. (The owner, Greg Zappala, says he didn't know anything improper
was going on, while a former co-owner claims he was a victim of extortion by the judges.) What's more, many
prosecutors, public defenders and other court officials apparently turned a blind eye to the abuses, shocking
parents who had expected a fine or probation and instead watched their children be dragged off into custody.
When the mother of the 14-year-old arrested for stealing the loose change asked to hire an attorney, she was
told by one defense counsel it would be a "waste of money" because the judges would not listen. Now that the
scheme has been unearthed, some 5,000 kids have grounds for suing, and many have already joined a class
action against the two judges, the center's owner and other defendants. In addition, many are attempting to
have their records expunged, though their bad memories of the experience will never be erased. (See pictures of
a diverse group of American teens.)
As egregious as the case is, experts say it is all too indicative of a juvenile-justice system racked with abuses yet
subject to far less scrutiny than the adult system it increasingly mirrors. The entire Texas juvenile-justice
system had to be overhauled two years ago after it was discovered that kids were arbitrarily held years beyond
their original sentence and that many were sexually abused. Recent studies have shown high recidivism rates
from graduates of the private boot camps that were in vogue under then President Bill Clinton after he
endorsed the experience as Governor of Arkansas. (Read "Boot Camps Take Another Hit.")
Nationwide, the system, which sends kids to a mix of large public "kiddie" prisons and smaller (but far more
numerous) privately owned ones, handles more than 1.6 million juvenile cases a year; detentions have
increased 44% from 1985 to 2002, the most recent year for which data are available. And that doesn't include
the number of young offenders who bypass the juvenile system altogether. Every year, some 200,000 youths
are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults, and on the first instance of trouble, often for relatively minor
crimes, according to the Campaign for Youth Justice; those kids are 34% more likely to get into trouble again by
committing new crimes, according to a government study.
Many advocates and academics argue that juveniles are not being given enough of a chance to turn their lives
around after committing minor offenses. And officials at both the state and federal levels seem to be getting the
message. Last summer, after reviewing a large swath of research literature, the Department of Justice
concluded that "to best achieve reduction in recidivism, the overall number of juvenile offenders transferred to
the criminal-justice system should be minimized." That came three years after the U.S. stopped executing
minors, following a Supreme Court decision, Roper v. Simmons, that was largely based on new brain research

showing that the full development of the frontal lobe, where rational judgments are made, does not occur until
the early- to mid-20s. At the state level, Missouri is leading the country by phasing out its large juveniledetention institutions in favor of smaller facilities, closer to kids' homes, that offer more specialized services,
like mental-health and drug counseling and education. In the process, the state claims to have reduced
recidivism rates for juvenile offenders to 10%, compared with a national rate of 40% to 50%. "We cannot
incarcerate our way out of this problem of juvenile crime," says Shay Bilchik, director of Georgetown
University's Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, who served as Clinton's point person on juvenile issues at the
Justice Department.
Occasionally the widespread problems at juvenile facilities erupt in scandals, as in the aforementioned Texas, or
in Mississippi, where minor offenders were hog-tied in facilities that sometimes had only dirt floors, run by
guards with barely a high school education. Federal officials occasionally intervene against egregious facilities
where there have even been some deaths along with thousands of allegations of abuses. But experts say simply
trying to weed out the bad actors is not a viable solution. At a congressional hearing in October 2007, Jan Moss,
executive director of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, said the industry wanted
stronger regulation. "Among our goals is the complete elimination of the abuses and neglectful practices we
have heard about today," she said. "Clearly, we have a long way to go."
Her sentiments are echoed by advocates who are working to clean up the system. "We are closing Guantnamo,
[but] we need an equal amount of attention to the abuses of restraints and excessive use of isolation in the
facilities where our nation's children are being held," says Mark Soler, executive director of the Center for
Children's Law and Policy, who has spent 30 years litigating against such abuses. Soler argues that only the
most violent juvenile offenders really need to be detained roughly 5% of the more than 90,000 who are
currently institutionalized in juvenile correctional facilities. (See pictures of crime in Middle America.)
Surveys have determined that while as many as 75% of kids sentenced to some kind of facility need support for
mental-health issues or drug counseling, only about a third are actually getting help. But Georgetown's Bilchik
says there is a national movement to create more "wraparound support programs" for mental health,
education, drug counseling to give prosecutors and judges more options than choosing between
institutionalization and probation, which generally provide few services the kids need. "When you see
additional services being offered, you see judges opting for them," he says.
As the Pennsylvania scandal showed, keeping kids out of institutions requires at the very least zealous legal
representation. The Supreme Court extended the right to legal counsel to juveniles in 1967. But in practice the
requirement still goes largely unfulfilled, in part because in some jurisdictions, it does not apply to the initial
detention hearings at which judges decide whether the minor can stay at home or must be held by authorities.
In addition, the confidentiality measures in place to protect the identities of minors can sometimes prevent
much needed transparency.
But a responsive and responsible system also requires oversight throughout the justice system, something that
appears to have been sorely lacking in Pennsylvania. No one has accused prosecutors of being part of the
scheme, but many observers argue that they were in a position where they should have known of the problem
but chose not to speak out. Instead, it took the work of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center to uncover
the abuses. After discovering that more than 50% of kids in Luzerne County Juvenile Court had been without

legal counsel, the organization in April 2008 petitioned the Pennsylvania supreme court to step in. (See the top
10 crime stories of 2008.)
Even then, there was no action taken initially; eight months elapsed before the court declined to act, without
explanation, even though the application was supported by the state's attorney general. But the day after federal
charges were leveled against the two judges the result of a long-running probe into links between the court
and the youth-detention centers the state supreme court reversed itself and appointed someone to clean up
the mess.
That shaky performance may or may not have been influenced by the fact that Zappala, the owner of the two
private detention centers receiving a guaranteed annual rent ($1.3 million) from Luzerne County, is the son of a
former chief of the same court. Or maybe it was what State Chief Justice Ron Castile told a local columnist, in a
sad commentary on the entire system: the judges found the state's figures on the unusually high rates of kids
being sentenced to detention and getting no legal representation simply too hard to believe.

http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1870045,00.html
THE SKIMMER

Teens Behaving Badly?


By M.J. Stephey Wednesday, Jan. 07, 2009

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Display of Health Risk Behaviors on MySpace by Adolescents & Reducing At-Risk Adolescents'
Display of Risk Behavior on a Social Networking Web Site
Megan A. Moreno, Dimitri A. Christakis, et al.
Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine
Vol. 163 No.1 January 2009
The Gist:
Scientists at Seattle Children's Research Institute and the University of Washington randomly
selected 500 MySpace profiles belonging to self-described 18-year-olds in the U.S. to determine what
sort of information the average teen was sharing online. Their conclusion? The kids are not alright.
Well, half of them anyways. Nearly 54% of the selected profiles revealed details about risky sexual
lifestyles, drug addictions and violent encounters with peers.

Highlight Reel:
1. Cyberspace versus Reality:
MySpace boasts more than 200 million profiles worldwide, with one in four of those profiles
belonging to someone younger than 18. As a result, the website has become what the researchers dub
a "media superpeer" that promotes and establishes norms of behavior among teens. So as more kids
openly discuss their sexual and drug experimentation, it becomes less and less taboo to join in. The
article also notes that merely presenting oneself as a wild child invites "unwanted online attention
from individuals such as cyberbullies or sexual predators."
2. On identifying displays of sex, drugs and violence:
Have you ever downloaded a picture of a gun or posted a photograph of Al Pacino in Scarface on
your MySpace profile? Yes? You're violent. What about completing a sex survey and displaying the
results? Or using a Playboy bunny icon to represent you? Well then, you're probably promiscuous. Is
your profile picture one of you drinking or smoking? You're an addict. Evidently, this is how the
study's authors determined which profiles displayed "risky behavior" and which didn't. Obviously,
there are many problems with such an approach.
3. On altering online behavior:
After identifying 190 self-described 18- and 20-year-olds whose profile contained information about
risky lifestyles or habits, Dr. Megan Moreno, one of the study's authors, sent messages to half of
them about the dangers of sharing such personal details online. Moreno also provided information
on regional testing centers for sexually transmitted diseases. Three months later, nearly 14% of the
95 teens who were contacted by Moreno had removed sexual references from their profiles, while
just 5% of those who were not contacted took it upon themselves to clean up their accounts.
The Lowdown:
After listing MySpace's potential benefits (identity exploration, peer interaction, alternative social
outlets), the researchers note its drawbacks, namely the tendency for teens to overshare personal
information "in a globally public venue." Is that really the main problem here? That teens are
practically advertising their vices? That they might damage their reputations? This study seems to
imply that the oversharing of risky behavior is the problem, not the behavior itself. Moreover, the
study's authors second-guess their own research by noting, and rightly so, that many teens or
anyone who maintains a social-networking account for that matter don't always tell the truth when

protected by a digital barrier. Perhaps more time should be devoted to studying the factors that
inspire such behavior, rather than the various ways teens fess up to it be it online or off.