African American Female Juveniles: Reducing Recidivisms through Mentorship

Abstract

The African American community continues to be oppressed and disenfranchised. The result of this has realized high incidents of incarceration and recidivism throughout the Juvenile Justice System. Specifically this study will analyze ways the system can be improved to discourage recidivism among African American teen girls. One way the problem can be addressed is to include mentorship programs within the framework of the justice system. Mentorship programs have shown success to reduce incidents of recidivism and reoffending within this population. It provides African American girls with the emotional support and guidance they need for future success. It provides them with positive affirmation. Furthermore, it can encourage school attendance and reduce violent behavior, improve social and peer relationships, and promote positive changes. This study will analyze the positive effects of mentorship programs and suggestions for mentors and community outreach when working with this special population. Through aspects including affirmation of self, providing structure and consistency, and encouraging students to look towards the future with positive light, African American teen girls can be greatly influenced by mentorship programs.

Introduction

Recidivism among criminals is a major problem facing America today. Statistics indicate that more that 67% of criminals will be rearrested and more than half will be re-incarcerated, (Stein, 2010). While incarceration can help reform criminals, more than half continue to engage in criminal activities. As a result, youth involved in the juvenile justice system also demonstrate issues with incarceration and high recidivism. Andrew Stein, a researcher and attorney at law, defines recidivism as, “the act of a person repeating or relapse into an undesirable behavior after they have experienced negative consequences or punishment of that particular behavior”, (2010). This can be observed throughout the juvenile justice system. Although statistics of youth recidivism varies from state to state, research conducted using data from the Judicial Information System found that 41% of “recidivating juvenile offenders reoffended in the first 3 months”, (McElfresh, Yan, & Janku, 2009). Of juveniles reoffending, 31% are African American youth, the highest rate among the different nationalities, while 19% of females are likely to reoffend. The high rate of recidivism among African Americans suggests this group is negatively affected by incarceration and consequences of the American Justice System. To reduce the rates of recidivism among African Americans, specifically African American female youth, programs should be established. Research indicates that youth mentorship programs can encourage reform in African American females, to reduce crime and discourage recidivism.
Many young people look to adults for guidance and support. This is needed to help youth and adolescents with the problems they face at home, school, and the community. Many times these problems encourage and stimulate criminal activity. African American youth who live in high crime areas may be susceptible to gang involvement and peer pressure. Incidents such as this can encourage high rates of recidivism among African American girls. These girls may not be able to go to their parents for guidance or receive the emotional support they need. Some parents may be unable to provide support, undependable, or unreliable. This includes a parent incarcerated, addicted, sick, or abandonment. Some girls may have lost a parent or may live with other relatives. Fundamentally, this describes a girl who is either unwilling or uncomfortable expressing herself with their parent or guardian. It is important for today’s youth to have a support system. The need to reach out and offer support and guidance to youth has encouraged the development of youth mentor programs. Mentor programs can be an after school program or a service offered in the community. Several studies conducted on mentorship programs demonstrate that it can have a positive affect to reduce recidivism and encourage reform in youth participating in the juvenile justice system. As a result, African American girls who spend time with a mentor on a regular basis are less likely to reoffend, through structure, consistency, positive affirmation, and encouragement of future success.

Literature Review

The concept of pairing together caring adults with at-risk children has helped millions of young people throughout the United States. Yet, there are still some who fall through the cracks. Every day, 3600 students drop out of school and 2700 teenage girls become pregnant, (Keating, Tomishima, Foster, & Alessandria, 2002). High school drop-out rates are also related to youth recidivism among African American youth. Statistics indicate that youth who drop-out of high school are 63 times more likely to become incarcerated compared to college graduates. As a result of mentorship programs, African American female juveniles can receive the guidance and support needed to keep from reoffending. The majority of these teens and adolescents do not have a healthy relationship with a caring adult to help them navigate through life. Research suggest that young people who spend time with a mentor on a regular basis graduate at a higher rate than those who do not, through structure, consistency, positive affirmation, and encouragement of future success. As a result, “mentoring programs have become increasingly popular as a preventive intervention strategy for youth”, (DuBois & Neville, 1998). A structured mentoring program consists of volunteer mentors from the community that are not family members. The mentors are individuals who possess good and objective listening skills, able to commit to a long term relationship with the mentee, and can meet on a regular basis for an extended time. “Youth mentoring programs differ…but most emphasize the relationship between a disadvantaged youth and a caring adult”, (Keating, Tomishima, Foster, & Alessandri, 2002). Through a healthy relationship with a caring adult, mentees are 46% less likely to start using drugs , 27% less likely to start using alcohol , 33% less likely to commit acts of violence, and 52% less likely to skip school. Considering these numbers, there is no mistaking the affect that mentor programs have on young African American women in the juvenile justice system. Thus, it is easy to see the positive effect that a solid mentoring program can have in today’s young African American women.

Method

The notable mentoring program is called, Foster Grandparents of Imperial County. This program was established in 2002 out of Southern California. The program worked in partnership with the Imperial County Probation Department to offer foster grandparents to youth still incarcerated. This program has shown great success, all the while helping hundreds of African Americans reach reform and discourage reoffending. This program was used as a model from the popular Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America. The programs pairs volunteers from the community with mentee’s and spend quality time with one another. Mirroring this program, Foster Grandparents reach out to incarcerated youth providing support and encouragement they need. These incarcerated youth are those who have fallen through the cracks. They may not participate in a mentorship program on their own or simply would not attend. However, with mentoring programs involved with the juvenile justice system, it will address the heart of the problem. It will allow adults to reach out to students who have already participated in criminal activity and are at risk of recidivism. These teens have poor adult guidance, poor school attendance, and little motivation to be successful and productive.

In 1997, during the summit for America’s future, youth advocates gathered to assess the necessary tools for today’s youth to be successful. The first area identified was the need for youth to have a positive healthy relationship with a caring adult whether it’s a parent, mentor, tutor, or coach to help them to face life’s roadblocks. Statistics indicate that 79% of incarcerated youth have a parent who has served time in jail. This suggest that these youth have little guidance and support needed to make positive life decisions. While there are many different types of mentoring programs, the more traditional programs are community based organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Mentor programs such as these must be implemented into juvenile justice system to encourage African American girls to strive towards reform through education, improved social skills, and plans for future success.

Results

Girls and teens have a strong desire to be accepted. This can be seen through their strong connection with peer groups. Although these girls may feel they are older and can make appropriate decisions, they still require the guidance and support of a caring adult. This is the reason gangs are appealing to young people. As crazy as it seems, gangs can be seen as mentorship. There are gang leaders (caring adults), who build relationships with disadvantage young people. Although this is for all the wrong reasons, aspects of mentoring are present. As a result, what matters most to young women is whether or not she is accepted by others. While this is difficult to do, it is the first step and foundation in beginning a positive relationship with African American women involved in the juvenile justice system. Mentorship programs will open the door in other areas of the young person’s life. A good mentoring relationship will build on different areas of their life, from relationships with others to academic success. “The presence of a strong emotional connection between mentor and protégé is associated with better outcomes, such as improvements in perceptions … and feelings of self-worth”, (Deutsch & Spencer, 2009). Even when helping to prepare these women for the future or even their life after incarceration, these young girls require someone who is objective. Most importantly, mentors must believe in their future.
A system wide mentoring program will not only address individual changes, but also changes within their social outlook. “Many young people who have been served describe the foster grandparents as the first people in their lives who cared about them”, (Yetsen, 2004). This new outlook encourages self-esteem and positive thinking that can stimulate these girls to make appropriate decisions for the future. Discouraging recidivism by providing African American girls with an adult mentor will not only reduce crime but stimulate positive thinking. Consequently, statistics indicate that community based mentoring programs have an overall positive affect on young people and decision making. So it is fair to say that decision making is an area of concern for officials and associates of juvenile justice, including drugs, alcohol, fighting, and school attendance. A mentoring program when done correctly provides a solution to many of those problems. “Mentoring has been shown to help students achieve better grades, establish obtainable goals, and enhance their self-esteem [as] adult mentors can provide at-risk students with a positive influential person in their lives” , (Lampley & Johnson, 2010).

Mentor programs are highly recommended to impoverished, at-risk youth and those involved in the juvenile justice system. Someone participating in juvenile justice is someone who is currently or formerly incarcerated. These individuals may have a probation officer or someone appointed by the court to handle their case and minimize risk of reoffending. While some courts may require a youth to participate in a community based program to reduce the risk of recidivism, they may also be recommended by a social worker, lawyer, or caseworker. Lampley and Johnson concede that these juveniles are also associated with, “retention in grade level, poor attendance, behavioral problems, low social economic status or poverty, low achievement, substance abuse, teen pregnancy”, (2009). Specifically, these youth are in great need of mentorship to offer support through the challenges they may face in life, school, or the community. Thus, it is important that mentor programs are implemented within the juvenile justice system.

“Research indicates that a positive, caring adult could offer an at-risk student substantial emotional and instructional support that could supplement the needs not met by a student’s family or regular school program”, (Lampley & Johnson, 2010). Mentor programs in association with the juvenile justice system can offer African American girls the opportunity to rise to the occasion and put focus back into what is important. Girls mentored in association with the juvenile justice system have additional support and resources provided by their probation officer who can encourage mentorship participation as well as judges who can provide consequences for non-participation. “Mentor relationships predict significant changes… [including] academic confidence, self-concept, attitudes towards helping, feelings of connectedness” all of which produce a successful and confident young lady, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006).
It is noted that mentor programs can produce positive results for young African American women due to affirmation. By pairing girls with caring adults, the youth can receive affirmation about things that occur in their life and affirmation of self-value. Affirmation is verification and confirmation from a caring adult. The young woman may need affirmation that they are a likable, they can excel, or confirmation that they are valuable. Today, many young women find affirmation in negative ways either from peer groups or from men. This may cause a young women to be sexual promiscuous or fall to peer pressure to receive the affirmation that she is looking for. This can have negative results such as encouraging recidivism, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and criminal activity. Therefore, it is important for young girls to be listened to and their problems heard. Affirmation from an adult confirms with the young woman that everything is okay. Through the help of mentor programs, she can receive affirmation from a caring adult on a regular basis. Receiving affirmation regularly helps her to succeed and strive to be the best she can. “It entails acknowledgement of the protégés perspective and needs, encouragement towards independent thinking and problem solving, as well as the provision of opportunities to make choices and hold age appropriate responsibilities”, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006). This study demonstrates that 83% of mentees reported an increase in self-esteem and self-worth. The high percentage suggests that mentorship programs for incarcerated African American girls can have a positive effect recidivism, crime, and juvenile justice.

Mentor programs are extremely beneficial to youth. “Mentoring may provide … social support and hence improve youth functioning”, (Hawkins & Weiss, 1985). Not only do young girls bond and develop a strong connection with their carrying adult, she is able to learn additional skills that can be used later in life. She will learn to communicate her feelings, socialize with others, and develop a caring attitude. These additional skills are then taken into the home, community, and school. Whereas before the young lady did not care about academic success or positive peer groups, with the help of a mentor program she will have the drive necessary to achieve personal goals. Furthermore, building communication skills will allow the child to communicate better with parents and/or siblings in the home as well as others in the community. Relationship built between mentor and mentee can then be used to develop stronger relationships with those around them. As such, “by serving as a sounding board and providing a model of effective communication, for example, mentors may help youth to better understanding, express, and regulate their emotions”, (Rhodes & Dubois, 2008).

Although affirmation from a caring adult may help young women to reduce recidivism among African Americans, this can also have negative effects for mentees. Some girls, especially those who have been in the system for a while, may have social and behavior problems. They have a difficult time relating with their mentor and developing quality relationships. These girls often try and ruin their mentor relationship based on fears, trust, or past broken relationships. Some girls may be wary to develop a close relationship. Young girls maybe unwilling to create a bond due to issues with abandonment. Therefore, “youth who experienced emotional, sexual, or physical abuse were more likely than other youth to have had their mentor relationship end”, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006). Girls who receive a mentor often do not have a change in behavior or outlook in life. Those with issues due to connectedness with others can push their mentor away. As such, mentor programs do not work for all African American female youth. “Some theories of juvenile delinquency suggest that youth develop delinquent behavior patterns because they have not identified with appropriate role models in their environment”, (Hawkins & Weiss, 1985). Despite this, most are able to receive positive benefits from a mentor either in the community through juvenile justice mentorship programs like Foster Grandparents of Imperial Country. Rhodes and Dubois claim that, “youth who are over whelmed by social and behavioral problems appear to be less likely to experience strong enduring ties with their mentors and perhaps consequently, also receive fewer benefits”, (2008).

Discussion

When developing or participating in a mentorship program, it is important to have a mentor who is structured and consistent in building and stabilizing a relationship with a mentee. This is imperative for young women and must be done for her to experience a positive change. “The mentors in each environment are also chosen on the basis of whether or not they are likely to be long-term participants in the mentor-in structure so that constant support can be available”, (Miller, 1997). This will enable positive results and allow her to reduce recidivism to become successful. When developing a relationship, the mentor will care for the mentee. The mentor will express concern over the mentee’s wellbeing and encourage the mentee to succeed. Keating, Tomishima, Foster, and Alessandri reported that, “children in the program for 1-2 years reported success was 69% for those in the program 2-3 years it was 90%”. As a result, the longer the relationship between mentor and mentee there is an increased bond. This improves the probability to produce positive results. While this may exceed the juveniles probationary period, the positive effects of mentorship programs within the justice system may encourage participation for a recommended period to ensure success. This will reduce crime, repeat offences and encourage personal success in areas such as academics, activities, and also self-worth. As such, it is important the mentor and mentee relationship have structure. Not only should there be a structured schedule, the mentor must encourage respect, discourage inappropriate behavior, as well as develop a positive foundation. Without this, the relationship may fail and the mentee may not receive the encouragement and support needed. Structure implemented by a mentor will provide “higher rule compliance”, (Britner, Blacazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006).

Despite building structure and a stable relationship, a mentee may continue to fail through repeat offences and incarceration. This is seen especially in youth with adversities in the family and community. Examples include those who come from dysfunctional backgrounds or low income households. This can negatively affect the mentor/mentee relationship. An example is a teenager who must work to support the home and cannot afford to spend time with the mentor. This is also seen in a mentee who is swayed by outside forces such as gang members and other negative influences. Consequently, “environmental adversities such as family instability and socioeconomic disadvantages also frequently pose challenges to the formation of mentoring relationships”, (Rhodes & Dubois, 2008). Furthermore, structure in the mentor/mentee relationship is important to develop a bond and make positive life changes. However, if a mentor is inconsistent, does not appear to care for the mentee, or cannot develop a bond, then the child may not exhibit improved social skills and academic success. Due to this, research suggest that, “mentor protégé matches that ended prematurely were marked by poor or inconsistent contact”, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006).

Mentoring programs should work hand in hand with the juvenile justice system to reduce recidivism by providing encouragement and support to incarcerated or formerly incarcerated African American girls. “Mentoring has taken place for generations, both inside and outside the classroom”, (Cutshall, 2001). Providing a mentorship program within the juvenile justice system can have a positive affect not only on African American girls, but also girls across nationalities and sexes. It will allow youth to have access to a mentorship program, especially juveniles who have participated in criminal activity. These youth are in great need of mentorship programs, providing great success and positive outcomes. This ability to reach a large range of youth that are at risk of recidivism can only stimulate the success of the American juvenile justice system. Another positive is to involve the community in partnership as well as probation officers, social workers, and case workers. The idea that the community cares and the systems wants to see improvement in youth delinquency will develop a sense of pride, acceptance, and affirmation from young people. In addition, the justice system will play a large role in their success. There is no denying the demand and need for a structured mentoring program within the juvenile justice system. Given the state of today’s youth, the criminal justice system can no longer see it’s self solely as a method to restore social law and order. Therefore, the juvenile justice system must go above and beyond rendering justice. The system must provide a system of support and opportunity for individuals to reduce recidivism and encourage productivity and success of American society.

An important factor to implement mentorship programs within the juvenile justice system is for girls to make positive changes. This is indicated by the research collected. It is said that 47% of mentored students have improved grades in schools and 49% have improved school attendance. The fact that girls and teens are beginning to take responsibility for their academic achievement is phenomenal. Rhodes and Dubois say that, “mentors may help shift youths conceptions of both their current and future identities” (2010). This shift from not caring about school to caring, encourages the student to excel. From encouraging words, to helping the mentee face life challenges, and providing support, mentors can ultimately help the protégé to see their future self. They will achieve and succeed at reaching their goals in life, whether it’s a professional career to continue their education. Either way, the improved self-esteem and self-worth aided by a mentor can dramatically improve their lifestyle. Girls who participate in a mentorship program are less likely to participate in criminal activity and incarceration. Their focus on education is productive in that it also reduces recidivism. Instead of running the streets, these girls are in school making positive steps in the right directions to stay out of the system and away from a life of crime. “One important objective of many mentoring programs is to encourage protégé to make autonomous decisions and assume responsibility regarding life choices”, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006). This need to succeed will encourage girls to seek out resources that are available to them, continue their education, or seek vocational training. With encouraging outside forces in place, young African American girls are encouraged to succeed academically and in life.

Conclusion

Implementing a mentorship program within the juvenile justice system will positively benefit young African American girls at risk of recidivism. Through aspects including affirmation of self and providing structure and consistency, mentors encourage students to look towards the future with positive light. This is why it is important to implement programs like this in the juvenile justice setting. Participation in mentoring relationships is linked to “higher attendance in class, lower aggressiveness and better chance of taking part in higher education”, (Britner, Balcazar, Blechman, Blinn-Pike, & Larose, 2006). For this reason and others, mentorships must be included within the juvenile justice framework to improve reincarceration and provide positive outcomes for African American young women in contact with the system.

References

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About Russia Robinson

I am an independent freelance writer and free thinker. I strive to use my writing talents to benefit the greater good of society, one word, one sentence, one page at a time. Originally from Richmond, California I attended San Francisco State University receiving a BA in English Creative Writing and American Literature in 2004. After this I attended post graduate studies in 2008 at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University in Technical Writing. With an academic background in English, I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. This can be seen in my career background in education and mental health. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher for the state of Georgia. I also worked in social services including juvenile mental health treatment services and counseling. As a result, I understand the diversity of problems people face in their everyday lives. With words put together like so, I promote equality and a healthy society for all people regardless of individual differences. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I push to educate others about various issues that affect people. I also do this creatively through short stories, poems, pictures, and a novel in progress. My hobbies and interest are reading and learning. I enjoy all things art and all things nature. From camping and astronomy to photography and cooking, I enjoy sighting seeing and socializing just as much as I enjoy curling in bed with a good book or binge watching TV.
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