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The Voices of Youth Offenders



Initially the Juvenile Justice System was created in order to protect children and become  a surrogate parent for children who didn’t have a support system at home. It was intended to deter children from becoming adult criminals and help rehabilitate those who were already on the “wrong” path. According to Mears, D., Pickett, J., & Mancini, C. (2014), “The founders envisioned that the juvenile court would act like a surrogate parent and focus primarily on what would be in the “best interests” of youth (Butts and Mitchell 2000; Krisberg 2005). They also believed that youthful offenders should be protected from the harms of the adult justice system and that children could be “saved” and so avoid a life of crime (Feld 1999; Mack 1909; Platt 1977; Zimring 2005).”

Mears, D., Pickett, J., & Mancini, C. (2014). Support for Balanced Juvenile Justice: Assessing Views About Youth, Rehabilitation, and Punishment.Journal of Quantitative Criminology J Quant Criminol, 459-479.

When we started our group discussion about  the juvenile justice system we realized that there are many repercussions youth face once they are part of this system. We are interesting in find out how the youth offenders transition into their communities and families after spending time in a detention center. How are they different after spending time in detention facilities?

With the information we gather from our research project we can educate the general public about the Juvenile Justice System and how we can help teenagers transition and become part of society again. Improvements that can be put into place within the juvenile system and understanding the emotional aspect of being a youth in prison. We would like to inform others about the rehabilitation process and how it affects the youth.  


Literature review

When a young person under the age of eighteen is charged with a crime the case is handled in the Juvenile Justice System. The Juvenile Justice System deals with youth who are caught and convicted of a crime. It is intended to punish and rehabilitate adolescents who show criminal behavior. The intentions of the juvenile justice system are to intervene early in criminal behavior to prevent adolescents from engaging in those types of behaviors as adults. Our topic focuses on “Is the juvenile justice system effective? How do youth offenders re-enter society after being a part of the system?” The following articles will help us better understand the challenges youth have after being release from the system


The Juvenile Justice system

According to Michael Bullies, P. Yovanoff, & E. Havel (2002), more than 100,000 youth are incarcerated in the United States yearly. 86% of youth that are incarcerated are boy and between 12% and 70% of youths might have a disability that qualifies them for special education. The researchers stated that many individuals who display criminal behavior in adolescence would continue to display those behaviors in adulthood. Approximately 50% of youth that are released from the juvenile correctional system will return to the juvenile justice system. After being release from the system, few youth will enroll in public school and fewer will earn their high school diploma or GED. They made a study with 759 youths who were released from the juvenile system and they found that only 12% completed high school or their GED after being released. They also found that they have trouble finding work after being released from the juvenile justice system.

The 5-Year TRACS Project

Michael Bullies, P. Yovanoff, & E. Havel (2002) did a 5-Year TRACS (Transition Research on Adjudicated Youth in Community Settings) project that examined the facility-to-community transition of 531 incarcerated youth which 58% of them had a disability. About 40% of youth returned to the juvenile correctional system within 12 months after being release and 47% were engaged in work or school at 6 months after they were released. Participants who were engaged in work or school at 6 months after release we less likely to return to the juvenile correctional system. The results pointed out the importance of providing interventions after being release from the system and helping those youth find work and school placements in order to keep them from going back into the system.

Parents and the Juvenile Justice System

Kearse B. Geraldine & Julie A. Hirsch (2002), asked 105 young offenders and their parents to participate in their research, the researchers wanted to find out at what age was the child’s first offense, they found the age of their first criminal offense was between the age of 11. They asked the parents about their opinion about the school, neighborhood, and juvenile justice system. 50% of the parents believed that the schools should take more responsibility for student problems. 36% of the parents report that labeling a student causes problems, by labeling a student for bad behavior the entire school than starts to have lower expectations for the student. When it comes to community 50% of the parents believed that a volunteer or job program for youth would keep children out of trouble. Parents say that there aren’t enough activities for children and parents had said that their children lacked positive role models. When it comes to the juveniles justice system 60% of the parents say that there were no prevention/primary services to support families until after their child got trouble with the law once the child was in trouble with the law that’s when the families receive help. When parents received services, 30% of parents stated that they get slow service. 20% of parents said that there were limited resources and 20% of the parents claimed that the agency blamed them for their child’s problems and perceives them as bad parents when they asked for help. 20% of parents said that the only good thing of the juvenile justice system was the family support group, which gave parents a chance to hear other families experiencing the same problems, and share information about parenting.When asking the adolescents about their neighborhood 60% of them felt like their neighborhood didn’t like children and 50% of them said that their community lack things for children to do.

Our topic question is : How do youth offenders re enter society after being part of the Juvenile system?

Sub Questions: How are youth affected emotional when they are incarcerated?  

Hypotheses: We suspect the juvenile justice system works to a certain extent in deterring youth from committing crimes, however, there are consequences to being incarnated at such young ages. We believe that incarnation does more harm than good when rehabilitating youth offenders and reentry into society is difficult.

Gaps in the literature:

We noticed that the literature we found for our research did not provide us with much information about how the youths felt being incarcerated or after incarceration. Most of the literature discussed statistics and outcomes of programs and whether or not the offenders returned to into the system. We felt as though our research question would be able to give the youth a voice and perhaps begin to reconstruct the way the system is set up for reentry into society.

Bullis, M., Yovanoff, P., Mueller, G., & Havel, E. (2002). Life on the “Outs” – Examination of the Facility-to-Community Transition of Incarcerated Youth. Exceptional Children, 69(1), 7.

Geraldine, K. B., & Hirsch, J. A. (2002). Innocence lost: Case studies of children in the juvenile justice system. The Journal of Negro Education, 71(3), 205-217.


Ethical Considerations

Informed participation

Our team will inform the participants about the purpose of our research, we will inform them about what our research is about and what we are trying to find out in our research. We are interested in the youth’s feelings and thoughts about their reentry into society and their experiences while they were incarcerated.  We will inform our participants about the information they will be sharing and how it will be used.

Voluntary participation

We will inform the participants if the can opt out of the research at anytime they feel like they no longer want to participate. The participation is voluntary not mandatory and any information shared during the time they participated will be destroyed if they do not wish to have this information shared. We will ask our participants to sign a contract stating that they no longer what to participate in our research project and we will allow to express their thoughts and ideas freely.

Confidentiality and anonymity

We will ask our participants to sign a consent form in order for us to use the data collected. All names will be omitted in order to protect the identities of our participants. Since we are asking about personal information about crimes that the teens were involved in  we want to kept their identities private . Any recorded interviews we collect will be keep in a locked cabinet and any written data will be shredded after we collect the data that we need.

Protection from harm

With our research there are potential risks involved such as emotional hurt perhaps when the participants recall any experiences that they had while being incarcerated. They may also share important feelings about how they are coping with being back in the general population, we want to make sure our participants are safe and have a safe space to share their experiences.

Participation of children

The teengers who want to participate can do so by signing up to participate in recorded interview sessions with the researchers . The participants  involved in the research can opt out at any given time if they feel uncomfortable or don’t want to participate anymore. They will be given every opportunity to say what they are comfortable with and will have the final say in the amount of information they would like to share.


Potential bias that may happen could be how we interpret the data, the answers to the questions may be interpreted differently by the children. A researchers we feel a certain way about the topic and may be bias and the children may have a completely different way of expressing their thoughts and ideas on the topic.

Data security and  Dissemination and use of research

In ensuring that data containing participants’ information is kept confidential, our team has decided to use password protected USB sticks. When we conduct recorded interviews and we will only use participants’ initials and no other identifiable details.  When the interviews are recorded and transferred onto the USB’s  we will ensure that they are kept in a lock box.

We plan to protect these USB’s by ensuring that they are locked away in our filing cabinets and only our research team will have access to keys and codes.  The master key will be kept in the office of the research director’s office.

For additional security and anonymity of participants we plan to remove any identifiable data from the interviews, possibly use pseudonyms, and transfer to the USB stick that is password protected. We want to do this to separate personally identifying data.

Our research might reveal the truth about the juvenile justice system and whether or not it actually helps the youth offenders. During our interviews other issues may arise that we may be interested in researching further.

We will adhere to the terms of the participants’ consent.


Data Collection Methodology:


The qualitative data collection method selected for this project is ethnography . Our ethnographic methodology will consist of interviews and participant observation. With the use of interviews , we hope to learn what the participants believe, how they think, and how their lives are affected by incarceration . Our interviews will be semi-structured to answer our research question: How are youth affected emotionally when they are incarcerated? This allows us to access specific information from each interview that would not necessary be available in a quantitative research methodology. With participant observation, we will be able to immerse ourselves into the culture and community of the participants in order to gain knowledge about the intricacies and inner working of their community. Also, by employing this method, we will get a sense of the other systems that impact their lives; and what is important to them.  With the participants’ permission, our team will record the interviews. Ultimately we will transcribe the tapes.  To aid us in the collection of data we will also, with the permission of participants use video graph and take photographs of important contextual information. This methodology is relevant in that, as researchers, we can investigate this critical issue concerning the youth. We hope to develop a better understanding of the design problem.  In our research, we want to evaluate an existing hypothesis which states that : Incarceration does more harm than good when rehabilitating youthful offenders and reentry into society is difficult.

Population and Sample

Our population of interest  is young men and women ages 13-25. As stated in our methodology, we intend to use a participatory approach to collecting data for this project. Being that our research is qualitative based, we are interested in gaining greater detailed description and explanation from few participants; we will use a non-random sample. We intend to categorize our sample size into male and female, so that we can investigate both gender perspectives. The number of people we will select is approximately 6. (2 per research team member, male and female). The technique we will use for selecting  samples is therefore purposive. We are interested in juveniles with specific characteristics; those who have been incarcerated, and encounter difficulties re-entering society.

Study Site

Some social settings we plan to conduct our study include, participants home and family setting, neighborhoods, courtrooms, schools.  These site were purposefully selected as we presume that we can easily access a variety of observations and interactions, and attitudes. To gain access to these sites, we will acquire permission. In the cases of courtrooms and possibly schools, we will adhere to the laws of the respective jurisdiction.

Data Collection Procedures: Interviews

As a part of our methodology, we will use interviews. As ethnographic researchers we are privy to the importance of careful research conduct with children.  In framing our interviews, we will ensure that participants are comfortable with disclosing any information. As highlighted in our ethics section, they will be told that there is no obligation to answer any particular question , and that the interview can be stopped at any time. Other than the youth participants; parents/guardians, teachers, court-officers for example, who may provide insight to this research, we will inform them in the same way. They also would be told about the levels of confidentiality. The interview will be semi-structured. We will advise the participants of the approximate duration of each interview. Our time commitment plan is approximately 10-15 minutes. We will adjust accordingly. We plan to observe the participants for a year.

We plan to use the four categories of ethnographic interview questions  adapted by J.P Spadley

Sample questions:

Grand Tour Question

Could you describe a typical day?

Details Through Question

Could you give me an example of a typical day in school/program?

Experience question

Could you describe your most difficult experience while incarcerated?

Native-like question

While you were incarcerated, how did you communicate with your peers?

Document Analysis

We will determine  whether or not we have found examples of our concept by the relevance of the data collected. The mediating variables explain how external physical events (incarceration) take on internal psychological significance (harm done to juveniles of the system upon re-entry)

Spradley, J. P. (1979). The ethnographic interview.

Greene, S., & Hogan, D. (Eds.). (2005). Researching children’s experience: Approaches and methods. Sage.


Data Analysis Plan

The clarity and applicability of the findings depend on how we as a research team, analyze the data that is collected. Our goal is to sift through the interviews and find patterns in the descriptions of the participants and then finally look for major themes. In doing this, we will be able to categorize relationships and comparisons between descriptions. We will seek to answer who, when, where, what, and, why questions.

In breaking down themes, our goal is to categorize concepts, insights, and conceptual models such as mental health and participants’ overall perceptions.

Since we plan to divide the work-load among our research team, all three researchers will go through our recorded interviews and observation notes, and conduct coding.  When we meet to discuss our research, we will then confer the codes. Based on our findings, we will re-organize our data to reflect categories or patterns. Our last step will be to identify common threads in the interviews and or observations. We will do this by highlighting specific quotes.

For our coding procedures, we plan to use a spreadsheet (Excel) to record short phrases that summarize what we hear on the recorded interviews.

The data will be represented in thematic descriptions. In interpreting the analysis, our goal is to answer, and state clearly, the findings of the questions specified in our proposal: How youthful offenders transition into their communities and families after spending time in detention centers?

As a team our ultimate goal is to answer the following questions:

  • What are the problems of the individuals participating in the research?


  • What aspects of reentry are important to the participant?


  • What are the experiences of the participants?


  • What are important aspects of reconstructions of the juvenile justice system and reentry as it concerns mental health?


  • What are positive aspects of re-entry according to the participants?


  • What are positive personal behaviors discussed by the participants?
  • What are the ‘social determinant’ discussed by the participants?
  • How do participants suggest making the system better?
  • How do participants view the future of individuals who enter and transition the system?



The outcome of our study would be to give the youth a voice and have them tell their side of the story. We will be able to hear their voices about incarnation and get a better understanding on the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system . Is it helping or harming our youth in the long run.

Our Theory is that the youth have a lot to say about their rights and how they are treated within the system. We feel by giving the youth a voice and conducting interviews and ethnography observation we cannot get a greater understanding of their world and struggles a youth offenders.


Perhaps we can develop a new system that not only rehabilitates the youth but ensure that the receive all the support needed to turn their lives around and become productive members of society.




Mears, D., Pickett, J., & Mancini, C. (2014). Support for Balanced Juvenile Justice: Assessing Views About Youth, Rehabilitation, and Punishment.Journal of Quantitative Criminology J Quant Criminol, 459-479.

Spradley, J. P. (1979). The ethnographic interview.

Greene, S., & Hogan, D. (Eds.). (2005). Researching children’s experience: Approaches and methods. Sage.

Bullis, M., Yovanoff, P., Mueller, G., & Havel, E. (2002). Life on the “Outs” – Examination of the Facility-to-Community Transition of Incarcerated Youth. Exceptional Children, 69(1), 7.

Geraldine, K. B., & Hirsch, J. A. (2002). Innocence lost: Case studies of children in the juvenile justice system. The Journal of Negro Education, 71(3), 205-217.


-Ayanna, Sharni, Adriana

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