Probation

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. 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 to 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 of how to approach a goal for the child. If punishment were to be harsher, and juveniles 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 costs 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 who have 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 they 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 a client, speaking to individuals who know the offender, making an outline as to how to go about in order to help the juvenile, preparing reports on data of court, school, police arrest sheets, and previous probation reports, making decisions as to whether the child should go to court or whether an agreement can be reached between the probationer and probationee, visiting homes, making court appearances and a great amount of telephone calls, a probation officer is often worn out and disillusioned (Whitehead 37-39). In some cases, probation officers become convinced that social work is an occupation that has no reward or meaning; some return to more traditional casework settings, and some remain in this field. Those who decide that they will remain in the juvenile justice system are most commonly criticized for being ineffective.

Three major stages describe the process of a probation officer's job: one, "toughening up"; two, "mellowing"; and three, "burning out". Burnout is one of the most common problems for probation officers, caused by large caseloads, low pay, little training, and inadequate community resources (Whitehead 3-9). Though officers attempt to give equal amounts of supervision to each child and provide beneficial impact on a juvenile, the imbalance of too many clients and either too much or not enough contact with them can cause stress for the officer and a lack of motivation for the client (41). When an officer cannot seem to separate his or her personal problems from those of a client, drinking addictions, stress, and other occupational hazards seem to result in their lives (Erickson 33). Along with the probation officer losing control of his own life, the delinquent, too, appears to commit more criminal acts because of the lack of attention and discipline.

In order to eliminate the most common difficulties that exist in the probation occupation, changes are necessary in not only the system itself, but also in the attitudes and behaviors of the juvenile and officer. One of the most important goals is to prevent children from violating any further so they can become responsible and successful adults. The second most important goal is to protect society from the criminal acts of children. Parents need to teach children self-control by monitoring the child's behavior, recognizing the different behaviors when they occur, and punishing those which are unacceptable (Boostrom 181). Through education, treatment, and affection, prevention of criminal acts reaches juveniles and assists them into a healthier and better life. To be able to use these components at the earliest stage possible is to keep these teenagers from ever entering the juvenile justice system in the first place. With the help of education, training, and support for the staff, probation officers can be better prepared to take on diverse cases of all types (Anonymous 1-2).

The juvenile justice system needs improvement. Probation officers, judges, and family members need to make effective decisions about who should really be incarcerated and/or receive probation. If an offense made is not extremely serious and the client and officer can agree on a punishment, the child does not need to present himself before a judge. If either the client or officer wants to make an appearance in court, an agreement cannot be reached, or threats have been made involving either parties or others, a court decision is most suggested (Carter and Wilkins 142). In addition to making the correct choices, good community programs are also necessary to place delinquents in a better environment to be able to succeed. Though juveniles tend to steal, trespass, fight, drink, take drugs, use profanity, run away from home, and miss school, many solutions were being thought about to prevent these flaws (Erickson 125). The first has already been mentioned and deals with "toughening up" and placing juveniles in adult courts. According to Satterthwaite, removing offenders from society for longer periods of time will reduce crime. Those who have not committed a serious crime will come to the realization of the possible punishments (such as life in prison, the death penalty, etc.). Violent offenders would be less likely to repeat their crimes by learning from their first lesson (64-65). Nationally, 38% of juveniles are charged with a violent crime, 41% are charged with crime against property, and the remaining 15% on drug charges. Fifty-seven percent of those arrested for the first time did not repeat an act of crime, 27% got arrested once or twice more, and 16% went on to become chronic offenders (See Appendix ). Though these number figures may show a step to success, it is five times more likely for a juvenile to be sexually assaulted, two times more likely to be beaten by staff, and a 50 percent chance that they will be attacked with a weapon in an adult facility.

When released, juveniles turn into violent criminals because of the insensibility they suffered in prison (Satterthwaite 67-69). A second solution was then proposed in which young offenders would be rehabilitated and placed in community organizations. Boot camps, for example, are school-based atmospheres that teach youngsters self-discipline, increase self-esteem, provide exercise and counseling opportunities, and help train them for a G.E.D. A program called “High Impact” emphasizes teamwork, provides life and job skills, and builds a sense of personal and community accomplishments (Satterthwaite 70-71). The Girls and Boys Clubs of America help youth participate in structured recreational and educational activities, focusing on personal development, communication enhancement, problem solving, and decision making skills (Thornberry 5). With this program, 1990 statistics prove that 90% of the youth attended once a week or more, 26% attended on a daily basis, 48% showed improvement in the academic area, 33% showed improved grades, and another 33% had much better attendance (6). Juvenile hall is also another option. Although it includes school attendance during the day, educational programs, and volunteer services, this method is too expensive. In 1996/97 alone, 5,967 minors had been locked up, 5,024 were males and 943 were females (Anonymous 1-3). Costing an average of $108 per day, per child, taxpayers are paying $644,436 every day.

Instead of using so much money inefficiently, a bigger solution can be reached. A Youth Aid Panels program helps to reach children before they commit crimes in the first place. This specific program is made from a group of citizens who are trained to handle cases involving first-time offenders or juveniles who have committed minor crimes. These trainers act as probation officers when trying to work out resolutions with the offender, but instead, they get the child involved with the community, and the community with the child (Satterthwaite 73-74). The people of this organization not only look at the safety of the public, but they attempt to help teenagers realize where they stand and what they need to do to improve. When these juveniles are finally released from probation, after care is needed. Still, more monitoring and support has to take place by working with family, by keeping a better eye on the juvenile at school, and by preventing future problems. Satterthwaite states, "America's success...depends not so much on specific problems for punishing...but on our overall willingness to invest in the nation's youth" (75).

In truth, the success or failure rate of the juvenile justice system depends solely upon the effort put in by both the probation officer and client. The officer can tell the offender what to wear, who he can and cannot talk to, what time he has to be home, and what rules he has to live under (Satterthwaite 57). If the offender decides to disobey, discipline is required. In 1948-1950 a study was done on 5,020 juveniles who had been placed on probation and had been previously convicted. The number of boys was more than nine times that of girls -- 4,586 males versus 434 females. In the process, studies proved that not only were the majority of juveniles convicted for community offenses against property, but that towards the end of the trial and error experiment, the success rates were generally higher for females than those for males, and for those who were older rather than younger (Radzinowicz 4-5). Offenders were released and usually tend to be released from probation in two ways.