America's Cradle to Prison Pipeline: A Children's Defense Fund Report
America is still a country in which underprivileged children are discriminated against and "pipelined" into a life of problems and failure rather than success and good health. Something must be done; it's the responsibility of all adults to rally together and take action to correct this far-reaching, systematic, cyclic problem. The main steps that must be taken are: work together to change the norms and values of society; replace punishment and incarceration with early intervention and firm commitments to children; begin this commitment with guaranteed prenatal, health, and mental health coverage for everyone; ensure every child eligible for Head Start programs is able to participate; permanently connect every child to a caring parent or mentor; instill a solid academic work ethic and make sure all children can read by the 4th grade; put an end to poverty in America; reduce the numbers of children entering government welfare, juvenile and justice systems; replace guns and violence with nonviolence; put an end to the abuse and neglect of children; put an end to hunger; create jobs with a living wage; make affordable housing available to everyone; and provide quality after-school and summer programs to help keep kids out of trouble.
Critique: This report from the non-profit Children's Defense Fund Organization is a dramatic call to action for adults. Rife with statistics, examples, and biographical sketches, it gives a compelling look into the lives of underprivileged children in America. Placing the blame squarely on adults, it offers many suggestions for working together to change society and improve the outlook for children who are poor, abused, neglected, or victims of discrimination. This report does have some practical positive advice, such as: parents shouldn't strive for perfection, just honesty and being a good role model; adults must stop "talking right and doing wrong" in all areas of their lives; and the problem must be broken down into manageable pieces before it's tackled. On the other hand, the writing is highly judgmental, scolding, biased, emotional, negative, and depressing. This is probably necessary to get the point across and rally supporters, but I'm not sure it's the best strategy for some audience members. I would suggest countering all the negativity with more positive examples of change, and leaving out the references to God altogether. In addition, it's just too broad in scope to be effective. After reading so many pages of harrowing statistics about children and their futures in America, the report begins to sound more like propaganda than an informative piece. And sadly, its expectations are simply not realistic. They are bold and highly worthwhile hopes, of course, but asking to end all child poverty by 2015 is just not feasible. Instead, I think the authors would have produced a much more effective report by taking their own advice and breaking down the monumental task of saving all of America's underprivileged children into reasonable, progressive tasks. By introducing one strategy for improvement per report, and replacing the scolding with concrete, practical steps that everyone can take to help with the effort, I believe they would be much more successful in rallying supporters to actually take action.
Eppright, T., Kashani, J., Robison, B., & Reid, J. (1993). Comorbidity of Conduct Disorder and Personality Disorders in an Incarcerated Juvenile Population. The American Journal of Psychiatry: 150, 8, 1233.
Summary: Children with conduct disorder cost government and society excessive time and money. To date, not many studies have been carried out to determine the rate of different personality disorders among juveniles with conduct disorder. This article describes the results of one such study. In sum, the study found that among all children diagnosed with conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder was the only frequent coexisting disorder; among girls there is a notable incidence of conduct disorder with borderline personality disorder. Other personality disorders occurring less frequently with conduct disorder include narcissistic, paranoid, passive-aggressive, and dependent. The authors note the significance of finding antisocial personality present in children under the age of 18, since it is not generally considered diagnosable until later in life. The pool of subjects with conduct disorder was drawn from 100 randomly-selected juvenile offenders, ranging in age from 11 to 17.
Critique: While concise and informative, with apparently sound scientific methods used to garner statistics, this article does not attempt to discuss the findings further or draw conclusions about what future actions should be taken. Knowing that there is a high correlation between one or more personality disorders and conduct disorder among juveniles might seem somewhat obvious, but the results of this study should be investigated for further implications. More specifically, what kind of testing should be administered to problem children in school, and what kind of interventions would be appropriate at such a young age?
McManus, M., Alessi, N., Grapentine, W., & Brickman, A. (1984). Psychiatric Disturbance in Serious Delinquents. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 23, 5:602-615.
Summary: This article addresses the correlation between juvenile delinquency and central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction by studying "hard" vs. "soft" dysfunction and their relationships to four different criteria: educational and intellectual achievement, psychiatric illness, severity of delinquency, and neuropsychological deficits. First, neurological status was determined using medical records and neurological exams. Then, the researchers conducted IQ tests, psychiatric evaluations, and "blind" neuropsychological testing. Among 71 male and female juvenile offender subjects, gross neurological dysfunction was rare, yet IQs were low across the board. All subjects had one or more diagnosable psychopathologies, and a marked relationship was found between neurological soft signs and conduct disorder. Still, they could not determine a connection to the degree of violence in offenses. This suggests a relationship to undersocialization which the authors suggested should be investigated further, with factors such as substance and alcohol abuse also considered as related to violent behavior.
Critique: This article does an excellent job of thoroughly and objectively drawing clear conclusions about juvenile offenders and neurological dysfunction. Their scientific methods for testing were sound, and results were clear. They were able to draw meaningful conclusions where appropriate, yet acknowledged areas where more research is needed. For example, they were able to state that there is a relationship between higher neurological soft signs and lower IQ, conduct disorder, and attention and language difficulties. On the other hand, as mentioned above, they suggest more research should be done to make a final determination on any relationship between neurological dysfunction and severity of delinquency or specifically violent behavior. Their findings of a link between neurological soft signs and difficulties with socialization and achievement suggest that there are fundamental differences in the brains of juvenile offenders, as compared to adolescents who avoid breaking the law. The only problem with this article is a lack of further discussion about the implications of this finding, and what effect it should have on the assessment and treatment of juvenile offenders, as well as their outlook for adulthood.
Chung, H.L., Little, M., & Steinberg, L. (2005). The Transition to Adulthood for Adolescents in the Juvenile Justice System: A Developmental Perspective. In D.W. Osgood, E.M. Foster, C. Flanagan, & G. Ruth, On Your Own Without a Net (p. Chapter 3). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Summary: In this book chapter, the authors discuss the unique difficulties of transitioning from childhood to adulthood for juvenile offenders. They ask three main questions: What specific challenges do these vulnerable youths face? Why are some able to benefit from positive turning points in their lives? What can the juvenile justice system do to encourage these positive turning points and overall positive adult outcomes? The writers go on to criticize the highly negative view of juvenile delinquents as "sociopaths" destined for failure, and note that since 1994, rates of juvenile crime have been decreasing.…