Peer mentoring program for African-American male juveniles
A brief description of your community
African-American males are disproportionately represented in the incarcerated juvenile population, relative to their percentage of the general population. The reasons for this have been hotly debated amongst criminal justice professionals and laypersons. Possible reasons include racism within the police and justice systems, the ways laws are written, and also a lack of vocational opportunities. According to one study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice in New Jersey, while 10% of white juveniles were adjudicated and sentenced for their first-degree offenses, more than 31% of African-American juveniles received sentences for the same crimes; white juvenile offenders were similarly found to receive lesser sentences than African-Americans in the state of Florida (Drakeford & Garfinkle 2000). Dealing with the unique problems of African-Americans within juvenile detention centers is clearly an essential component of remedying this injustice.
As well as being disproportionately represented in the juvenile population, African-Americans also make up a higher percentage of juveniles arrested for delinquency and a higher proportion of high school dropouts. They make up 15% of the juvenile population but account for 45% of delinquency cases involving detention (Morrison & Epps 2002). There is a strong association between delinquency and dropping out of high school. According to a recent study by Northeastern University, 23% of African-American male dropouts ages 16 to 24 are in a juvenile detention facility. But while 23 of every 100 young Black male dropouts were in detention from 2006 only 6 to 7 of every 100 Asian, Hispanic or White dropouts out of 100 were incarcerated (Black male dropouts lead nation in incarceration, 2012, PR News wire).
It should also be noted that minority youths are more likely to be diagnosed with learning disabilities and males are more likely to have reading-based learning issues, making improving African-American male literacy a point of particular concern in attempting to address the issues raised by these statistics. Literacy is a critical component to learning in general, not simply success in English courses. Dealing with the educational deficits of incarcerated youth, including diagnosed and undiagnosed learning disabilities is essential but African-American males clearly have demographic-specific challenges that must be addressed regarding their disproportionate representation in the juvenile justice system and the mounting evidence that the education system has not addressed their learning needs.
An identification of the type of program: Detailed description of this program.
This program will be a treatment program: although prevention of delinquency is vitally important, the juveniles currently in 'the system' cannot be ignored. It should also be added that all programs which deal with the problem of delinquency are 'preventative' to some degree -- they are designed to prevent further recidivism and to prevent the current juvenile population to evolve into an adult criminal population. The lack of perceived opportunities and societal racism which affect African-American youths make them particularly at risk to become habitual rather than merely first-time offenders. The goal is for juveniles to ultimately 'transition out' of the juvenile justice system and to become law-abiding adults.
The proposed program will be modeled on one which currently exists at Evergreen State College called Gateways for Incarcerated Youth and exists in partnership with the juvenile detention centers at Green Hill and Maple Lane. Students at the college are paired with juveniles whom they mentor throughout the incarcerated individual's progress through the detention center's educational system. The students provide both academic and emotional support to the detainees. They also meet with their mentees informally to talk about writing assignments and to give advice about general life issues, including going to college in the future (Gateway, 2011, Prison Studies Project). The program sets high aspirations for at-risk youth. For juveniles with longstanding negative issues in their relationship with adults, the program is particularly valuable. Rather than acting in a judgmental way, the program conveys to the juvenile detainees that they can have a future if they work hard and commit to their education. It also shows the juveniles that they can lead a different way of life, demonstrating to them that college is a very real possibility, and 'real people' their age go to college.
However, the new proposed program will specifically focus upon the needs of African-American youths. It will pair high-achieving African-American students at the senior level of high school and in their freshman year of college with African-American males detained in juvenile facilities. These high-achieving students will provide academic and emotional support to their mentees. This will include tutoring in math, science, social studies and the other subjects that the teens are being educated about within the educational program provided by the facility. However, there will also be educational enrichment programs organized for the mentors and the mentees. The two groups will read books that touch upon issues pertinent to gang violence, dealing with aggression, and specific issues pertinent to African-American male self-esteem. They will watch videos on these subjects and engage in dialogue and facilitated discussions designed to provoke soul-searching about these issues.
Because the mentors are young people, trained facilitators will be required to oversee the initial formation group. There will be an orientation program for the mentors, instructing them in how to deal with an incarcerated population. Likewise, the juvenile detainees will be oriented in terms of the level of respect demanded of them in relation to their behavior towards their mentors. Then, the two of them will be paired off, based upon temperament, interests, and life experiences, interviews, and a preliminary questionnaire. There will be weekly or biweekly one-on-one meetings, as well as scheduled weekend sessions for the entire group. The volunteer program will be designed to last for the duration of the school year, so juveniles who are being detained for a period longer than several months are the most suitable candidates for the program.
Analysis of the developmental theories
The foundation of this program is the developmental theory known as 'social modeling.' One theory of juvenile delinquency, particularly amongst African-American youths, is that many youths in high-risk areas have few opportunities for positive social modeling. Thus, they find few ways of expressing themselves other than through the mediums of crime and 'acting out' by imitating images of criminality in their immediate environment and in the media. This program would strive to provide positive social role models that the youth's environments and the media have not provided. Additionally, given that many African-American youths have had problems with authority figures in the past, the program offers peer models engaged in positive experiences and behaviors. The mentors are still recognizable in terms of their appearance and age demographic but seem realistic in terms of the aspirations they embody.
African-Americans are more apt to perceive the American justice system to be unfair 'across the board,' demographically, even if they have not had negative encounters with the law, so the perceptions of detained juveniles of law enforcement are even more likely to be negative regarding the justice system. By bringing in persons from outside the justice system, the tensions between the teens and law enforcement are diffused, and juveniles are less likely to see compliance as capitulation but rather as a positive step forward for themselves.
Bandura's social modeling theory suggests that the human brain, particularly the brain of a child, is extremely malleable. Bandura's theory was based upon his experiment in which he had colleagues 'role modeling' violent behaviors on a doll (beating up the doll, punching the doll) while young children observed these interactions, either on a television or through a two-way mirror. The children who were exposed to the violence were far more apt to mimic the behavior when left to their own devices with the toys -- particularly boys -- than the control group who did not witness adults interacting with the toys by punching them and pushing them to the ground. According to Bandura, the necessary conditions of effective teaching through role modeling include attention (making the behaviors of the 'role models' significant to the observers); retention (reinforcing behaviors through repetition); reproduction (encouraging the observer to reproduce the behavior) and motivation (motivating the individual to reproduce the behavior) (Social learning theory, 2013, Learning Theories).
This proposed program satisfies all components of Bandura's learning theory. The act of making the program formal increases the 'attention' focused upon the mentors and tutors of the juveniles. Retention is reinforced through regular, bi-weekly meetings for tutoring, along with other special events, such as films and book discussions. Reproduction is also included because the juveniles are asked to use the skills they learn in the program in their classes every day and in the anger management and other classes that they are enrolled in through the facility. Motivation is encouraged because students can more successfully and easily pass their classes with the additional academic support. Additionally, the image of role models who are already academic success stories will bolster their motivation.