Helping Today's Youth

In today's 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
found.
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 juvenile's
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
(140).
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
offender's 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 master's degrees and can provide both family
and group therapy... probation departments are grossly understaffed and underfunded?
(Satterthwaite 57). After contacting