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Juvenile Offenders Article


Tracy Barnhart Juvenile Corrections
with Tracy Barnhart


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Violent youth of today - The THUG Life

"Thugging ain't easy, but it is so very necessary!"

I work in a juvenile correctional facility labeled as super Supermax close security. Think about that for a minute: Juveniles, males aged 16 to 21, locked down 23 hours of the day (and out for an hour of recreation in a cage). Their aggressiveness and past violence has shown these youth as not amenable to any sort of treatment. These are youth that, when they watch COPS on TV, they root for the criminal. They do not look at you as human, but just someone they can victimize. Respect is shown through fear and intimidation. If you do not represent a greater power, you get no respect.

But you have to wonder, why are they so violent toward authority? Why are the youth of today so resistant to authority and what makes my job so hard and violent working with these youth?

One youth I worked with stated it best: "There is no conscience in the streets, if they're not your friend, they're your enemy."

A 15-year-old boy was charged with murdering an 18-year-old man as he took out the trash. In December, a 14-year-old boy was convicted of shooting into a car and murdering a 22-year-old man four months earlier after someone in the car fired a shot into the air. Young people are becoming more involved in crime, and community leaders are perplexed by how to stop the escalation of violence. To an extent, they say, churches and schools can help fill the gap of a solid family structure, but it only goes so far.

Guns were around when I was growing up, of course, but people didn't settle their problems so easily with a bullet. Over the past decade, murders have overtaken fist-fights as the norm. Today kids have a non-negotiable drive to be seen as "hard" no matter what — show no weakness -— which gives rise to an emotionally detached and ultra-violent mentality. Kids are no strangers to guns; they don't mind picking one up to settle their problems and carry them readily — if not brashly — at all times.

Factors
No one risk factor can be pinpointed as the reason for youth violence. According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Center, "Depressed economic conditions coupled with individual cases of unemployment and limited economic opportunity contribute to higher levels of violence in a given community. Researchers have confirmed that youth living in poverty are more likely to engage in violent behavior." 1

Another commonly cited reason is many youths' lack of parents or mentors in their lives. When a child lacks a supportive home and/or school environment, for instance, his self-worth tends to suffer because, in fact, there is no one there to tell him that he is worthwhile — that he can play a positive role at home and in his community.

With this in mind, I have to ask, where were the parents? when a 14-year-old was on the street and armed with a handgun at 2 a.m., attempting to gain street credibility. Where were the parents when 3,000 of Charleston County's 40,000 students didn't show up for school on the first day of school? When children are truant from school, they often become engaged in poor behavior. Left unchecked, this poor blatant behavior leads to criminal behavior and we have to ask ourselves, "Where are the parents?"

What do the kids think?
When I talk to kids in my facility and ask them where they think youth aggression and violence come from, the consensus is that they were never told no — they did as they wished and easily manipulated adults growing up. They practically raised themselves, they say.

Sadly, this is an all-too-common refrain: "My mom is in prison, my dad was killed by the police, my brothers are in county... it's like I am expected to follow their footsteps."

My question to you is, are you afraid of your children? Do you have the ability to say no when your child throws a fit to get their way? We are breeding a lost generation of criminals, killers, predators as well as Inmates of the State and it seems that we don't even care or know how to stop them.

National self-report studies indicate that the age of highest risk for the initiation of serious violent behavior is age 15-16 and that the risk of initiating violence after age 20 is very low. If an individual has not initiated serious violent behavior by age 20, it is unlikely that he will ever become a serious violent offender.

The highest rates of participation in serious violence are at ages 16-17. At these ages, 20-25 percent of males and 4-10 percent of females report one or more serious violent acts. After age 17 however, participation rates drop dramatically. Approximately 80 percent of those who were violent during their adolescent years will terminate their violence by age 21.

While both offenders and victims are disproportionately male, black, urban and from low-income and single-parent families, this characterization of violent youth is misleading. Among children, the gender difference in victimization is small, whereas among adolescent victims and violent offenders, it is quite strong. Among violent offenders, race/ethnic and social class differences are small during adolescence, but become substantially greater during the adult years.

For example, by age 18, the cumulative proportion of blacks involved in serious violent offending is only 18 percent greater than that of whites. There is little evidence from the national self-report studies for any difference in predisposition to violence by race, once social class is taken into account. Youth violence is widespread in our society. It is not just a problem for the poor or minorities — or those in big cities. It crosses all class, race, gender and residence boundaries. It is a problem for all Americans. 2

Most violent behavior is learned behavior. Unfortunately, for too many youth, violence is either the only or the most effective way to achieve status, respect, and other basic social and personal needs. There is little pro-social modeling of alternative ways of dealing with conflict. Like money and knowledge, violence is a form of power, and for some youth, it is the only form of power available.

When such limited alternatives are combined with a weak commitment to moral norms and little monitoring or supervision of their manipulative behavior, violent behavior becomes rational. The potential rewards are great, the perceived costs minimal. You are seen as what you can do for them and not as a human being deserving respect. "You become a barrier to doing what they want and it seems more and more that eliminating those barriers in whatever way possible is acceptable." This is evident through their defiance toward any authority and they will resort to violence against you without fear of consequence or repercussion.

"I didn't create Thug Life, I diagnosed it." — Tupac Shakure

So, they want to be a THUG
THUG Life stands for, (The Hate U Gave Lil' Infants Fucks Everyone) Part of the actual code of the thug life is as follows:

 - All new jacks to the game need to know: He's going to get rich, he's going to jail and he's going to die.
 - Snitches are outta here, snitches get stitches.
 - The boys in blue don't run nothing; we do, we control the hood and make it safe for squares.

There are actually 26 codes to the THUG life, and it is meant to bring positive rules of engagement into street gang warfare. But the youth of today are getting caught up in the glamor of what they see and hear in gangsta rap and MTV — much of the message being that rebellious, criminal and remaining antisocial is the way to go.

In fact, all media is rife with messages of instant gratification and "funny-violent" problem solving. Think of "South Park," "MTV Cribs," "Pimp my Ride," and a host of others idolizing the THUG Life. Morals and "real world values" are no longer seen as good, as something to strive towards. The new reality is, if you don't have a pocket full of cash and having sex with three or four girls then you are looked at as second class. There is no respect for authority — even for parents.

Parents themselves seem handcuffed by the system when it comes to disciplining their children, since kids are taught in school to report parents who attempt to discipline them to police, or school officials. Thing is, a lot of the time the parents just allow their children to do as they wish, and then chastise the system when they are caught up a legal net.

"No" is not a word they have heard a lot during their childhood. Parents allow the streets to teach their children about morals and livelihood.

***

End Notes
1 J. David Hawkins, Todd I. Herrenkohl, David P. Farrington, Devon Brewer, Richard F. Catalano, Tracy W. Harachi, and Lynn Cothern, Predictors of Youth Violence, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, April 2000.http://www.safeyouth.org/scripts/facts/risk.asp#6

2 Youth Violence: An Overview Dr. Delbert Elliott, Ph.D. Director, Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence March 1994

About the author

Tracy E. Barnhart is a Marine combat veteran of Desert Storm/Desert Shield. Upon leaving the Marines in 1992, he became a police officer with the City of Galion, Ohio PD. Barnhart was the youngest officer to attain the rank of Staff Lieutenant and established a productive community-oriented policing program. Barnhart then left Galion to become the Chief of Police for the Village of Edison, Ohio where he continued his effective community education programs. Barnhart attained his Ohio Peace Officers Training Commission as a Unit Instructor teaching several law enforcement and correctional courses at the state academy. In 2000, Barnhart left law enforcement to start a career with the Ohio Department of Youth Services in juvenile corrections at the Marion, Ohio Juvenile Corrections Facility. The Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility is maximum security male correctional facility housing over 320 with over forty beds being super maximum security lock down capable. Barnhart deals with male felony offender’s ages 16 to 21 with violent criminal convictions and aggressive natures.




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