At-Risk Youth and Oregon (by Derek Hines)

Introduction

derek.hines1-IMG_4759 derek.hines1-IMG_4760 derek.hines1-IMG_4758My research question is, “What measures are in place to deal with, or prevent youth from becoming at-risk, and how do youth programs and the juvenile justice system effect at-risk youth?” I then wrote a public letter to the Citizens of Oregon regarding homeless youth, at-risk youth, and the effects of Measure 11 on Oregon’s youth because I believe that there isn’t enough resources out there to help Oregon’s at-risk youth succeed. I take a significant amount of pride in being an Oregonian, and I think that the one area where we can be more progressive is dealing with our at-risk youth.

During this term I learned quite a bit about dedication, sacrifice, and doing the right thing. I’ve always wanted to volunteer somewhere, and this class gave me the opportunity to get myself started. I even brought my wife along a couple times, and got her involved as well. I explain a little bit about myself in my writing, but I am a 33 year old student attending Portland Community College as well as working part-time in the corrections field. I’m studying to eventually be a Corrections Counselor, or Juvenile Parole and Probation Officer because I really enjoy helping other people, and take pride in working for the taxpayers. I have about 5 years and counting under my belt in the corrections field so far, and find a great deal of pleasure in helping people get back on their feet. I enjoy working with juveniles especially because I believe that they have so much life to live, and some of them really need a good role model to help them navigate through their early years.

Culminating Project Part I – The Research Collection

Research Question:

During my volunteer time, and research this term in WR 122 I have thought about a vast array of different questions concerning the topic of at-risk youth. I spent almost 4 years working with at-risk youth in the Oregon Youth Authority at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in Woodburn, OR. I did my volunteer work with an organization named, Focus on Youth, who work with homeless teens to teach them photography, gardening, and cooking healthy for themselves.

For my research question I had a hard time narrowing my research question down, but I believe that the questions of, “What measures are in place to deal with, or prevent youth from becoming at-risk, and how do youth programs, and the juvenile justice system effect at-risk youth?” seemed to me to be the most appropriate research questions.

Research Collection & Annotations:

  1. Development of Juvenile Justice.” At-Risk Staff. At-Risk.org. January 31, 2014.

 

Prior to the establishment of the juvenile court in 1899, youth were treated the same as adult offenders; they were sentenced the same, and housed in the same facilities. After 1899 the movement to deal with youth offenders through rehabilitation, more lenient sentences, and housing them in juvenile-only facilities started.

Even these days the juvenile correctional facilities are in use, even though they are filled with hierarchies that encourage criminal behavior, physical and/or sexual abuse, and gang activity. Because of the dominant culture in juvenile facilities these youth usually end up adopting one of these roles; aggressive, manipulative, or passive. Unfortunately even in juvenile facilities strong-arming, and bully tactics are still in play and can often lead to protection payouts of money, personal items, or even sexual acts. Even worse is statistically juveniles transferred to adult prisons are five times as likely to be sexually assaulted, twice as likely to be beaten by staff, fifty percent more likely to be attacked with a weapon, and eight times as likely to commit suicide.

The biggest challenge our juvenile justice system is facing is not inside a fence. It is the aftercare received once released from confinement. Often these juveniles are released back into the situations in which they came from, such as abusive homes, and gang infested neighborhoods. I have seen with my own eyes youth that leave a facility just to return weeks later for the same crime. There are not enough resources, or programs to help juveniles that are released back into the community.

The most important skill for a juvenile to receive to prevent future criminal acts is education. The more education a juvenile receives in custody, the more likely they are to not re-offend. Preventative and rehabilitative programs seem to be the most effective ways to prevent juvenile crime, but are often poorly funded and the effects are not seen until long after they are implemented.

At-Risk.org is a web site dedicated to informing the public of different topics involving at-risk youth. It has so much information on at-risk youth, and anything involving juvenile justice. I’m sure I could have used this website for all my research, but I wanted to expand my research to more than one source.

I chose this post because juvenile justice is a field I am very passionate about. I believe that there is a better answer to the system that Oregon and the rest of the country has in place now, but this is also complicated because Oregon is a leader in the United States when it comes to recidivism rates among juveniles; meaning that we have the least amount of juveniles that re-offend after their release from custody of the Oregon Youth Authority.

  1. Taking the youth perspective: Assessment of program characteristics that promote positive development in homeless and at-risk youth.” Heinze, Jozefowicz, and Toro. Children and Youth Services Review: Volume 32, Issue 10. October 2010.

 

A study focusing on 133 youth (42 boys and young men, and 91 girls and young women) from six different community agencies was conducted. Studies show that 1.6 to 1.7 million youth experience at least one night of homelessness per year. Youth that are in homes characterized by abuse, neglect, and conflict are more likely to run away. Lower levels of monitoring, warmth and supportiveness and high levels of rejection, conflict, and family violence were assessed by both homeless youth and parents of homeless youth as reasons for runaway/homeless youth. School attendance is also noted as a reason for homeless/runaway youth. Poor attendance, suspension and expulsions are also equating for a reason for a youth to run away. Youth that are coping with problems at school and in the home are at increased for gang activity, substance abuse, crime, and risky sexual behavior by adolescents.

Homeless youth are not being exposed to the same education and programs as the average youth, so they are not developing properly. More programs for homeless youth can result in better outcomes in their future. In programs dedicated to homeless youth there are skills being taught, trust being built, and the homeless youth feel safer. Examples of programs for homeless youth that have been deemed successful are outreach programs, safe shelters, educational programs, and mentorship programs.

Some of the positive things that homeless youth are seeking the most in community programs are safety, appropriate structure, empowerment, peer relationships, positive social norms, and family/school integration. Program staffs are instrumental in facilitating the things that homeless youth seek out the most. They are on the frontlines, and the more education given to program staff, the better they are able to help and treat homeless youth.

I found this article through the PCC Library website. I just searched for “at risk youth” in the article search field. Reading through the article it seems like a fairly straight forward study, and one that really proves my theory that every youth needs safety, positive relationships, and support; whether they are homeless, or not.

The organization that I volunteered with proved to me the validity of this research article. Focus on Youth gives homeless youth a haven to learn about photography, gardening, cooking and eating healthy, and offers support and security.

  1. Local author helps at-risk youth succeed.” Ashley Cole. WWLP News. August 11, 2014.

 

Carmen Garner is an author, a successful teacher, coach, college graduate, artist and youth mentor. He grew up as an at-risk youth. He watched his Mother die, and his Brother incarcerated for life. He lived in 7 different homes as a child; bouncing between projects, foster care, and relatives.

Carmen Garner recently wrote a book titled, From That to This, which is about his struggles as an at-risk youth, and how he succeeded. He wrote this book as a sort of survival guide current or future at-risk youth. He also intends for it to be read by educators, and youth program workers to help them understand what it means to be an at-risk youth.

As a child, Carmen Garner, witnessed drug abuse within his family, and lost his closest family members and friends to AIDS, crack cocaine, and incarceration. The book is filled with strategies to help at-risk youth with obstacles, and also use as a guide on how to be successful and obtain their dreams. Carmen Garner grew up in the projects of Springfield, Massachusetts and as quoted from the article, “He turned disadvantage into opportunity.”

I chose this article because not only is it a feel good story, but I think I can gain some knowledge by reading it. Becoming successful is very hard, but becoming successful as an at-risk youth is even harder. I am really interested in diving deeper into the author’s story, and seeing what strategies he used. Plus, it is recommended for anyone that deals with at-risk youth.

  1. Milwaukee leaders head to Chicago to visit program for at-risk youth.” Georgia Pabst. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. August 10, 2014

 

One Summer Plus is a Chicago based umbrella program that serves youths from the age of 14 to 24. One Summer Plus helps prevent violence during the summer months by giving youth opportunities to avoid gang violence. The program is city-wide, but focuses mostly on the neighborhoods that experience the most crime. 22,000 subsidized jobs are provided by One Summer Plus.

In 2012, an evaluation by the University of Chicago Crime Lab showed that program participants had a 51% drop in arrests. More than 30 children have been fatally shot and 185 wounded by gunfire in Milwaukee, WI as of June causing the city to look for answers. Milwaukee is undergoing a high rate of unemployment therefore increasing the number of youths at-risk.

The Deputy Commissioner for Youth Services with Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services said, “This blends in the whole prevention side by trying to catch kids before they get into gangs and give them options.” The whole idea of prevention, especially in a crime infested city like Chicago is very important to dropping the amount of shootings, and crime rate.

My brother lives in Chicago so I have been there numerous times which increased my interest into the article. It is very sad that there is so much violent crime involving teenagers in some neighborhoods of Chicago. The ages that these youth are getting involved in crime is getting lower too. It is good to see that Chicago may be able to help other cities curb their problems with violent crimes as well. Chicago needs more programs to help inner-city youth avoid crime. I watched a very interesting documentary about crime prevention in Chicago titled, The Interrupters, which was an amazing film. It is about a group of ex-gang members that walk the streets and try to mediate conflicts before they turn violent. If you have a chance to watch it, I definitely recommend it.

Culminating Project Part II – Public Writing

Dear Citizens of Oregon,

 I am a student at Portland Community College. I have worked for 5 years in the Corrections field in Oregon. I am studying to become a Corrections Counselor, and I hope to eventually be a Parole & Probation Officer for juveniles. I am writing in regards to at-risk youth, the juvenile justice system, and Measure 11. (For those of you that don’t know, Measure 11 was passed in 1994 by the citizens of Oregon as a way to prevent major crimes, and mandates minimum sentencing for specific major crimes. It applies to anyone over the age of 15, meaning juveniles over 15 that commit a violent crime are sentenced as adults in Oregon. Measure 11 covers violent crimes from robbery to murder.)

 Fortunately for me, I grew up in a two-parent home, went to a good high school in suburban Portland, and lived in a nice neighborhood, surrounded with people that cared for me. After graduation, I served my country for four years in the Army where I learned self-discipline, respect and a number of other positive qualities. I believe that it is these fortunate opportunities that have made me the person I am today.

 Unfortunately there are young people out there that are not as fortunate as I was. If you walk down any street in downtown Portland you will see for yourself that there are people that need help getting their lives together. Although I believe everyone can use a helping hand, my main concern is with the population of homeless, at-risk, and incarcerated youth in Oregon.

We all know a youth does not run away for simple reasons. Statistically speaking, the majority of homeless and at-risk youth in Oregon come from homes with abuse, neglect, drug use, and neighborhoods with gang or crime problems. They turn to the street because they feel they have no other option. Running away and living on the street is not glamourous. It’s not a lifestyle that a child looks forward to achieving. In the cases I have seen myself “street families” can be stronger and safer than a youth’s real family. But in order to survive on the streets these youth are generally forced into committing crimes, prostitution, or panhandling.

There are some programs out there for at-risk youth, such as the one I volunteer for. It is a non-profit that is designed to help teach homeless youth photography, horticulture, and how to cook healthy. It is programs like this one that make homeless youth feel safe and secure while providing them education, pro-social skills, and positive relationships. I believe there are not enough programs available for prevention and care of at-risk youth, nor financial resources for these programs. I would like to see Oregon become a safe haven for all youth to prosper; no matter what their background is.

 Another problem for at-risk youth that I have seen with my own eyes is Measure 11. I have seen the negative effects it has had on the youth of Oregon. We all know that youth are impulsive, impressionable, and make mistakes. We all make mistakes over the course of our lives, but I have seen youth lose their entire teenage years or more from making one big mistake. If a youth commits a major crime and goes to the Department of Corrections or The Oregon Youth Authority they are given educational, vocational, and treatment opportunities, along with time to mature, which is important in the rehabilitation process. MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, for example, has youth that are serving adult sentences for crimes they committed as young as 15 years old. They are doing anywhere from months to years, and in some cases “25 to life”. Some of them have used all the educational, vocational, and treatment resources available to them and are now just doing time. They don’t cause problems in the facility, they don’t get written up or go to isolation. They work every day (including weekends and holidays) for as little as 30 cents an hour, and wait for their mandatory sentence to expire.

Recently there was a teacher in the news that had sexual relations with two different students and received an extremely light sentence. Shouldn’t an adult have more knowledge than a juvenile? What kind of message is being sent to the incarcerated youth of Oregon that have become the prey of Measure 11? How do adults get a second chance; meanwhile a juvenile that commits a less heinous crime gets punished more? I have seen youth that were used by adults to commit a crime get their teenage years ripped from them, even when it was an adult they were influenced by.

  Incarcerated youth are turning into young men or women, but they are surrounded by gangs, criminal activity, and other unnecessary negative influences while trying to stay on the straight and narrow. Yes, we do need to lock up youth that commit major crimes, but why waste taxpayer money and their opportunity of a successful future by incarcerating them for longer than necessary? There are plenty of different ways to address juvenile crime, but it is my belief that Measure 11 does not deter crime with juveniles because most of their crimes are committed out of juvenile impulse or lack of maturity. I believe that the Oregon Youth Authority and Department of Corrections should have the opportunity to transition these youth back into the community once they have completed programming, educational expectations, and proven that they are fit to be released back into the community.

These youth don’t get a second chance. What they do get is a higher risk of being exposed to disease, criminality, prison gangs, neglect, and becoming a statistic versus becoming a well-adjusted adult.

The State of Oregon defines recidivism as “reconviction of new felony within 3 years of release from prison”, in which its rate is 31.3%. Less than a third of inmates released from our prisons will be convicted of another felony within three years. It is my understanding that is pretty good compared to the rest of the country, so we have to be doing something right. But I’m asking you to look at it from another point of view. This means two-thirds of juveniles will not recidivate, but for some reason they are still incarcerated doing wasted time.

 Can we take the money we are spending on incarcerating youth for an extreme amount of time and put it into prevention of juvenile crime, educating at-risk youth, and providing services for homeless youth? I don’t think that we will ever fix abusive homes, or drug addicted parents but can we help the youth that have to go through that. In the beginning of my writing class I wrote a paper titled, “It Takes a Community…” Throughout the course I learned about dedication, motivation, and speaking from the heart. It’s about time we, as a community; help teach our youth the same things. We can’t turn our backs on the future.

Thanks for your time. I hope what I wrote makes a difference in at least one youth’s life.

Sincerely,

Derek Hines

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3 comments

  1. Holly

    Well done, Derek! I must confess, I did a little happy dance when I read that you were my peer-partner. I’ve enjoyed your posts on the discussion boards and Voicethread and I am very interested in your topic of at-risk youth.

    I have a background in social services and most recently worked as a family advocate for at-risk families within my community. The phrase you used “The most important skill for a juvenile to receive to prevent future criminal acts is education” really resonated with me. As I observed hundreds of at-risk families during the two years I worked as a family advocate the one common theme that came up over and over again as an obstacle to improving their situation was lack of education. Many of the parents were high school drop-outs or at best held a high school diploma. Options for employment with little education are very limited and once the babies came along and stretched limited finances to the breaking point, the option of going back to school seemed as realistic as taking a vacation on another planet. I found that supporting families who wanted to make a better life for themselves and their children through pursuit of a college degree was the single most life-changing event I could facilitate. One family in particular sticks out in my mind. She was a single mom with a special-needs child and she had a dysfunctional family and very little support system in place. She also had very little education and her child’s special needs made it nearly impossible for her to obtain childcare so she could go to school, even if she did have the funds to pay for it. And so I, along with my supervisor, became her support system. We helped her to find scholarships and funding to make college possible, we arranged for childcare so she could go and we pretty much “mom’ed” her through two years of school. She graduated last June, I attended her graduation and could not be any prouder of her. She was focused, smart, and determined but without her cheerleaders and support system she wouldn’t have had the courage to take that first step or to keep going. I believe that catching at-risk families with young kids and providing support for the parents to lessen their stress and/or financial strain and allow them to BE parents would be huge in decreasing the amount of at-risk youth.

    I love how you have added personal stories within your paper because making it personal and adding that emotional touch adds a level of personalization and truth that really strengthens your paper. I also appreciated the positive spin you added to this topic. There is so much sadness and despair that could be discussed regarding at-risk youth and it was encouraging to read about the positive things people and organizations are doing for our at-risk kids. I also enjoyed reading about Carmen Gardner’s success story. It reminded me of a book I read “A Child called It” and as disturbing as parts of that book were, in the end it was a success story. Emphasizing the successes that can emerge from the dark chapters creates hope and gives strength and that may be just enough to encourage someone to make a positive change for the better. Overall great job with your paper, Derek! *standing ovation*

  2. David Guerrero

    I am glad that I am getting the chance to read your final project. I, along with Holly, really enjoyed reading each of your posts throughout the term. You can really tell how much this cause means to you and there is no doubt in my mind that you will achieve your goals.
    I think the point you made when you brought up the teacher who got a light sentence after being accused of having sex with minors really hit hard for me. I know that I myself as a teenager made countless mistakes and misinformed decisions. I look back now and cant help but think about how much of an idiot I was. I couldnt imagine having my life taken from me for one of those stupid choices.
    Great job Derek and good luck with everything.

  3. Pingback: Ruby nominated for In the Margins Best Books for Teens List #yalit #books | pdworkman.com

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