Dear Ms. Riley:

Thanks for the opportunity to answer some of your questions.

1. Do you have the time, and can you afford the cost?

When I was on the Board from 1989 until Governor Engler pushed us aside in March, 1999, I put an average of 20 hours a week into Board work. That’s about 1,000 hours a year. As a lawyer, if I had put that time into a side legal practice, I could have doubled my income. But, fortunately for the District, I got more personal gratification out of trying to make a difference, than from a money chase. Last Saturday, at a forum held by the Delta’s, Ms. Mary Blackmon, from the Regional Education Service Agency, congratulated us candidates, as undertaking a noble cause. I personally disagree. Most of us are just power and control freaks, and the notion that we are doing something noble often misleads us into causing more problems than we solve.

When you begin to feel that you are making a thankless sacrifice, it is easy to overstep and begin to exploit your office for personal benefit. You feel that the District owes you much more than $30 per meeting. So your first question is more important than you may have realized. Unethical conduct often begins from that feeling.

Yes, I am retired, and have enough income for a modest living. I will not, however, have much more than 20 hours a week to devote to Board work, if elected. I have several other voluntary commitments. I put about 500 hours each year into running a fund-raising seven-week garage sale for my church and church school at Christ the King Catholic Church. I am the Treasurer of a metropolitan group of faith-based congregations called M.O.S.E.S., to which I devote about 250 hours each year. I do nearly all of my own home repair and maintenance, not because I can’t afford to have someone else do it, but because it gives me a lot of satisfaction to do it myself. I am currently working with a neighborhood group, going door to door to obtain signatures on a petition to establish a Special Assessment District. I have written a manual on how best to organize block clubs, and make myself available to do workshops on that.

2. Do you have difficulty reading?

Not any longer, but I didn’t learn to read until the 5th grade. I was/am dyslexic, but in a small rural Kentucky school in the 40’s, no one knew anything about that. So, I got “D’s” and “F’s” through the 4th grade, but was still pushed ahead. Then, at the end of the day toward the end of the school year in 4th grade, while waiting for the second tier bus to come, my 4th grade teacher, Ms. Leach, began reading to us from Tom Sawyer. I became so enthralled with that story, that I buckled down and taught myself to read over that summer of 1945. In the 5th grade, I read each and all of the 126 books on the 5th grade bookshelf, and became a straight-A student from then on. I still read slowly, but in “over-learning” all that I read, I remember more of it than do most readers.

3. Have you ever been convicted of a felony?
No, not of any kind, nor at any time. Further, I have never been accused of any such conduct. Also, as an attorney, I have never been accused of any unethical conduct.

4. If elected, would you sign a pledge not to run for any other office, especially the State Legislature for ten years?

Yes, but I would go much farther than that. I would ask the State Legislature to pass a law to disable anyone elected to a school board from running for almost any other local or state office for ten years after they are elected. The only exceptions would be for the State Board of Education, or as a Trustee of the Intermediate School District, or as a Trustee for any of our State Universities and community colleges.

There is a large coterie of folks who hang around politics, and who try to hitch their wagon to rising stars. They tell board members what great promise they have for a career in politics, and many of these members succumb to this vision. It then motivates them to exploit their office to build a war chest for that next rung on the ladder. And that leads to micromanaging, to tying the hands of the Superintendent, and to the failure of another round of “reforms”.

5. How many of 7 key points made by Judge Rhodes regarding the new board do you agree with?

a. Commit themselves to excellence in academics and commit to hiring a permanent Superintendent with that same commitment.

This point is a real trick-bag, because “excellence in academics” means greatly different things to different people. For control freaks, it is a license to demand for example that a specific reading program be mandated in each classroom and school. And there are a lot of folks running for the Board who have such an agenda, and there are a lot of voters who think likewise. It is my take that every such mandate saps the will and energy of our teachers to do what’s best for their students, and to just play along with the mandate gamers. Just look like you are responding, when in fact, you are just tired of being told when, where and how to do your job by people who are grandstanding for their next step up the political ladder.

I have confidence that the great majority of our teaching staff knows what they need to do, and if enabled to make their own collective decisions would do a much better job than any “top-down program” can achieve. And I am sure that their focus would be upon academic excellence, because that is why they are there. I am therefore advocating that we hire a Superintendent from within the District who has the blessing of our teaching ranks, and not necessarily someone from outside the District who has developed a sterling reputation somewhere else. We have had several of those, and none lived-up to expectations.

With regard to Alycia Meriweather, I would have to disclose a bias and recuse myself if elected from voting on that question. Alycia graduated from Renaissance High in 1991 with my oldest daughter, Kathryn. They then rented a house on South State Street in Ann Arbor, along with 3 other classmates, to attend the University of Michigan. We all attended Alycia’s wedding some 20 years ago. We thought highly of her then, and even more highly of her now.

I served on the old Board from November, 1989 until we were pushed off in March, 1999. From that experience, I can say that this new Board must make the very best decision that it can on the Superintendent, and they must give that person an iron-clad contract for at least 5 or 6 years. It can have a compensation escalator clause, so long as it is subject to DFT approval, year to year. But, the Board should not be able to terminate the contract except for extreme misconduct, such as, committing a felony which victimizes the District. Our schools and our teachers need stability and support for the long haul. There is no way that the Board can keep the Superintendent on a short leash, and still have him or her succeed. That’s mainly why Deborah McGriff jumped ship. It’s also why David Snead was terminated, because he had said “no” too many times to micromanaging board members.

b. Recognize that not all students are going to college and will need career education.

Back in the 90’s, when I was on the Board, we supported and tried to turn our 4 vocational schools into full-time independent high schools. But, that effort was quashed by the State takeover. Back then, we also reasoned that the only way that most inner-city students could ever afford to go to college was to first have an occupation that paid enough to finance such an effort. This is even more true today, as college costs have escalated.

I understand these dynamics. I went to a vocational agriculture high school in Kentucky. Out of the 58 kids in my first grade class, only 8 of us graduated. On my 16th birthday, November 30, 1951, for reasons too complicated to explain here, my father woke-up that morning in despair, and decided to kill my mother, my brother, me, and of course, himself. Fortunately, my mother had seen this coming, and had unloaded his pistols and hidden the bullets, so his intent fell flat. But, we all scattered that day, and I had to find my own way forward to get a college education. It took me 8 years to work my way through, but I was able to do it. But, back then, the State paid about 80% of the cost of going to a state college. These days, it is less than 20%. It is very, very difficult to work your way through anymore.

So, of course, I support this objective.

c. Understand that education “does not begin when the child walks into the school door and end when the child leaves the school door” – that there must be a continuing commitment to parental engagement in the educational process.

This point is another of my chief points, except that “a continuing commitment to engage” is not enough. Those are weasel words. There must be an actual engagement, and that takes a lot of work and a lot of guts.

The old Board in its fading six months, hatched a plan to address this crucial issue. We called it: A Call to Action. We had more than 20 public meetings about it to sound-out and draw-in community support. I was the author of much of that plan. I still have some printed copies of it. Unfortunately, I wrote it in Word Perfect, which cannot be uploaded to the WordPress platform on my website: (Actually, I have gone back and reproduced that paper, and it is now on this site as of October 15, 2016, cited as the 1999 Reform Plan.)

It is very hard to talk about improving education, without becoming more a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution. Much of the rhetoric has serious unintended consequences. When most of the dominant narrative expounds on parental choice and characterizes education as a Constitutional Right, it sends the unintended message that education is “society’s” problem and obligation. Our children “deserve” an excellent education. Education is just another consumer service. The free market will surely set things aright. Nothing much is expected from parents. After all, over the past thirty years, both parents have had to go to work, and often in more than one job. It is therefore unreasonable to expect anymore from parents. Hey, modern classroom management techniques can make everything OK. This is mostly all wrong, and the first duty of a Board member is to debunk this nonsense, and not to confirm it.

d. Play a special role in helping the district harness the resources of Detroit’s business, civic and religious communities.

This is not a “special” role. It is the main role of a Board, not just to visualize an ideal goal, but to realize the best that we can do with what we have, and with what we can actually garner.

e. Respect the Financial Review Commission, which some critics see as more emergency management.

I personally would hold myself, if elected, and my colleagues to a much higher standard than is ever likely to be called for by the Financial Review Commission. This is not because I respect the FRC, but it is because that is what is needed if we are actually to succeed in greatly improving our academic outcomes.
f. Work with Mayor Mike Duggan to continue to advocate for a Detroit Education Commission, a vital body that the Legislature, blinded by political pressure and special interest dollars, refused to see.

On this point, Judge Rhodes and I diverge greatly.

Firstly, I have read Jane Mayer’s expose of Dark Money, not just once, but three times, in order to engrave in my mind the extent to which Dark Money governs the dominant narrative on many issues, including global warming science, economic and trade policies, environmental protection, and education. I voted for Bernie, but Bernie only got about 20% of the total votes cast in the primaries. I know how to count. At least 80% of the voters in this country and state are clueless about the impact of Dark Money, and I don’t see any way that this will change in the next four or ten years. Meanwhile, we will have the best Legislature that Dark Money can buy. Sure, it would be great to pass laws which stifle Dark Money. Or it would be great if the mass of voters would chip-in a $100 each to the re-election campaigns of all of our legislators. But, none of that has a ghost of a chance of happening. It is, therefore, a waste of time to wage war against this state of affairs, when waging such wars just dissuades folks from doing what they can for themselves, because they are given to believe by a lot of authoritative community leaders that some other more painless relief is just around the corner.

Secondly, at the bottom line, the proposed Detroit Education Commission is just another top-down initiative, following some dozen other top-down failures. It’s all about maintaining an institutional status quo. Well, that’s the usual institutional response to change. Sure, it may help “stabilize” those existing institutions, but I think that these institutions have already reached an economic stasis. I can understand why Mayor Duggan would support this proposal; he would be politically foolish to ignore it, unless he was able to come-up with a better and more compelling response.

Thirdly, I would be happy to work with the Mayor on doing things which actually build up layer upon layer of neighborhood unity and mutual self-help, including in and around their schools. But, every Mayor I have ever seen was wary of building-up neighborhood organizations that could come back and bite them.

f. Be willing to learn.

I am willing to learn, but I am even more willing to teach folks about the probable harsher future that we collectively face. As I read the odds, our future will be harsher, rather than brighter by a 4 to 1 ratio. I do not bury my head in the sand. In fact, I anchor a Northwest Detroit Men’s Bookclub, and we regularly plow into serious non-fiction reads on all that ails our nation and society. Our wives also have an older club, which focuses on popular fiction. They call our group the “Gloom and Doom Club”. There’s 90 guys on the email list; about 35 take an active part in the readings. Maybe, you would like to come out sometime and get the feel of our group. At one level, bookclubs are a small part of the solution.

I read, and I think about things a lot more than the typical person, at least according to Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman in his book: Thinking: Fast and Slow.

I have recently been reading Mohamed El Erain’s persuasive analysis of world economics: The Only Game In Town. His thesis is that we cannot keep on relying upon the Fed’s manipulation of money supply and interest rate controls to maintain our consumer economy. People are running-up higher and higher levels of debt, and somewhere in the fairly near future, this will end because it is economically untenable to keep on doing this. This is what happened in the late 1920’s, which led to the Great Depression.

The Michigan School Aid Trust Fund depends mainly upon a 2% sales tax. When sales stagnate and plummet, so too will that Trust Fund from which the State Foundation Grant is taken. We need to be prepared to withstand or at least diminish the impact of such a high likelihood.

Therefore, I hope that you too are willing to learn, and not just become a parrot for popular institutional thought-control. It is usually fairly easy to get a hold of me. Contrary to my writing, I am fairly mild-mannered face-to-face. Some friends say that I gentle people to death. And, of course, I expound upon most of the points that I have made in this response on my website. I also will be posting this response on my website.

With best regards,
Ben Washburn
14600 Glastonbury
Detroit, MI 48223
(313) 838-5049 (Home land line which has been listed since 1971).
(313) 330-7700 (Cell, which I only use when away from home (when I remember to take it with me.)


This is a paper which I prepared back in 1980 when I was Deputy Director of the Detroit – Wayne Co. Justice Coordinating Council, on how to preclude much juvenile delinquency by making certain changes in our schools.   This paper is even more relevant today.


I.  Introduction: 

          Since 1974, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration has expended nearly one billion dollars for a variety of delinquency control attempts.  Feedback and evaluations show that a few of these projects had their intended impact, but most did not.  At a time when justice agencies are pitted against other core public services for shrinking resources, these findings become critical ones for budget-makers.  If there was ever a time to apply hard thinking to the work of the juvenile justice system, we are well into it. 

II.  The Objectives, Social Functions, and Need for the Juvenile Justice System: 

As used here, the Juvenile Justice System is comprised of:

          – The Juvenile Court(s).

          – The Prosecuting Attorney.

          – Local police agencies.

          – Child Protection Services.

          – Youth detention and corrections agencies.

          – School attendance, disciplinary, and security sections. 

          Most juvenile justice agencies have other societal objectives and roles which often eclipse their juvenile role.  With respect to their juvenile role, however, they usually have three objectives: 

          Firstly, they identify and remove from society those youngsters who are shown to be too dangerous to be left to walk free.  The Wayne County system sees 300 to 400 of these cases each year.  These cases are normally initiated by police agencies, thru the court.

Continuing court jurisdiction over these cases is limited to those which show reasonable prospects for redirection;  the court can not justify its intervention singularly upon the need to protect the public.  If this is the case, and facts show no reasonable prospects for redirection, then the appropriate action is to waive the youth to adult court for trial and disposition (criminal or mental incompetency).  Because the law assumes that any youngster under age 14 has some prospects for redirection, criminal waivers are only used for youth ages 15 and up (and then in only 2% of the cases). 

          Secondly, by its actions, the system sets forth, refines, confirms, and reinforces community norms and expectations for youth deportment and parenting.  Social research indicates that some persons are guided and/or deterred by these examples, while others are not.  It appears that those actually swept into the system are also the least likely to be guided or deterred by the transaction.  While this ironical fact would seem to undercut court jurisdiction, in practice it does not.  No accurate pre-test has yet been devised which makes a usable prediction of which persons will be redirected, and which will not.  The court assumes that a person is redirectable, unless there is extensive evidence to the contrary. 

          Thirdly, the mere existence and response of the system appears to be needed if the informal part of social control processes are to work well.  It reassures neighborhood residents that there are backstop ways with which to curb excessive youthful crime.  That reassurance seems to be needed before people are willing to engage in constructive informal efforts to preclude delinquency.  For specifically, such reassurance is needed to avert such frustration/reactions as the following: 

          – Taking abusive or violent self-help measures against offenders, their parents, siblings or relatives. 

          – Provoking running squabbles which block or cripple future chances to resolve the conflict voluntarily. 

          – Goading a lot of people to quit those several voluntary efforts which are needed to maintain a healthy neighborhood. 

          – Prodding some residents, neighborhood leaders especially, to pull-up stakes and move away from the unending annoyance. 

          – Baffling other people to the point that they give-up and acquiesce to being victimized (behind their locked doors). 

          – Badgering school staffers into accepting a disruptive learning climate as the inevitable norm. 

          While formal agency action appears to be needed to reassure the public, agencies easily run a high risk of inducing an over-dependence upon formal intervention, which will also undercut the effectiveness of the informal social processes.  There is mounting evidence that the informal processes are crucial for effective delinquency preclusion.  If a dynamic balance is to be achieved between the formal and informal processes of social control, it will call for some well-conceived and pro-active work by all formal agencies to recognize, promote, expand, reinforce and nurture the informal means.  Absent such an effort, the natural tendency is toward over-reliance upon formal action, with a concomitant erosion of informal influences. 

          It is therefore crucial to develop and to maintain a broad and incisive perspective upon the most appropriate role and objectives of each element of the Juvenile Justice System. 

          We also need to explore and invent some new pro-active and energetic ways in which to generate a more dynamic balance between the formal system agencies and those informal institutions of social control, meaning:  the family, the schools, the churches, the neighborhoods, peer groups, and the workplace.


III.  The Present-day Status of Delinquency Control and Preclusion Theory: 

          Twenty-some years of intensive social engineering has produced both disappointment and insight.  It has shown that a lot of commonplace “solutions” are much less effective than expected, and that a lot of supposed causes of delinquency are less potent or less relevant than had been widely assumed.   Victimization data have also suggested that the problem is much less rampant than feared;  from 1974 until 1980, there has been little detectable change in youthful crime. 

          The best explanation which has been drawn from all this experience is bundled-up in a social control theory known variously as “drift” theory and “bonding” theory.  It runs briefly as follows: 

          A.  Human behavior is the outcome of a complex of interactionsbetween individuals and their social surroundings.  Those social surroundings have a bigger impact than most of us appreciate.   They provide cues which guide and sustain us in our daily behavior, as well as ties which constrain us. 

B.  Temptations, provocations and opportunities for misdemeanor abound in our crowded, fast-moving society.  Most persons stay out of trouble most of the time because they are “bonded” to the conventional norms of our society by a variety of ties with home, school, church, neighborhood, and workplace.  The strength of these ties depend upon: 

1.  Commitment:          Meaning the extent to which a person has invested time, energy and himself in his home, school, church or work. 

2.  Attachment:            Meaning the extent to which a person has come to value the approval and response of specific other persons in the home, school, church or workplace. 

3.  Involvement:           Meaning the extent to which a person is wrapped-up in activities which form and/or reinforce attachments and commitments.

4.  Belief:                    Meaning the extent to which a person accepts the validity of the social rules used in the home, school, church or workplace. 

C.  Delinquent acts mainly occur in response to just a few of the many opportunities and provocations which surround a youth when there is a breakdown or lapse in most of these ties.  Normal constraints are simply absent, resulting in a youngster who is “drifting” and undeterred.  Normal motivations thus sometimes result in delinquent acts.  The pattern is a random one, resulting from the coincidence of opportunity or provocation and an inclination of the moment.  Delinquent youth are otherwise quite normal.  Youngsters “grow-out of it” as they are caught-up in a new web of commitments, attachments and beliefs, and become normally constrained. 

D.  People who have stronger ties conform because they feel that they have too much to risk.  Deterrence really does work, but only upon persons who are well bonded into home, school, church, neighborhood, and workplace. 

E.  Social control theory does not rule out exceptional cases in which abnormal psychology is the prime cause of misconduct.  It merely notes that such theories can not explain nor account for the great mass of delinquent conduct and research findings. 

          Social control theory is the best explanation around for all of the findings and experience of the past twenty years.  It has some far-reaching implications for the Juvenile Justice System. 

          Social control theory accounts for the failure of most past efforts to treat and prevent delinquency.  It clearly suggests that the best place to focus future effort is on changes which increase the speed with which youngsters form stronger bonds with their home, school, church, neighborhood, and workplace.  This mainly calls for changing the “growing-up” environment, rather than trying to make direct changes in the misbehaving youngster. 

In order to better understand the gist of social control theory, it helps to review those faulty premises upon which a lot of past delinquency prevention efforts have been based.  Here follows fifteen of the more common ones: 

PREMISE #1:  THAT DELINQUENCY DEVELOPS IN PROGRESSIVE STEPS FROM MINOR NUISANCES TO MAJOR OFFENSES.  One should therefore intervene at the earliest signs in order to nip the problem in the bud! 

Research Findings:  The best done studies reveal little more than a RANDOM OFFENSE PATTERN. 

Two random groupings do emerge:  One group, which commits random prankish offenses, and another which commits an array of serious ones, along with some minor ones.  Rare is, however, the case of the youth who progresses from a series of minor offenses to some serious ones.  Among the serious offenders, the first offense is as likely to be an aggravated one as a minor one. 

One pattern found is that the number and frequency of offenses decline as youth grow older.  About 19 out of each 20 offenders grow out of it.  This pattern can not be explained by most other theories of delinquency. 

A youngster who has committed one offense, is three times more likely to commit another, than the youngster who has committed none.  He, who has committed 4 offenses has a 75% chance of committing another.  If direct services have an impact, it makes sense to focus upon the known repeat offender.  The costs of any direct result will, however, run quite high. 

There are some indirect effects of intervention, which may however, be more important than their direct payoffs. 


Research Findings:  Repeated studies show that such claims can not be substantiated.  Such observers have no more than a random chance of being right, and hence are most commonly wrong. 

Junior high teachers have been shown to have up to a 40% accuracy in forecasting delinquency-prone children at that age level.  Their involvement, however, in delinquency prevention and treatment programs have some serious drawbacks.  To what extent are the 60% or more of youngsters who are misidentified, harmed by the pre-delinquent label?  Might that label more than offset any benefits gained from improvement among the 40% addressed by such a program?  No one really knows.  But if cues and constraints found in the normal social environment are as important as social control theory would suggest, then such involvement by junior high teachers would seem to carry a substantial risk of backfiring by nurturing a mindset which precludes bonding opportunities.

Commonly-used personality assessments have found no consistent differences between delinquents and conforming youngsters.  These findings square with social control theory which contends that the great mass of delinquent youth are psychologically normal.  They also cut against those psychological explanations for delinquency upon which most client-centered services are founded. 


Research Findings:  No legitimate researchers have tried to define and test this oft-heard rationalization.  Social control theory would contend, however, that the social environment abounds with temptations, opportunities, and provocations for misdemeanor.  The “sick society” reaction is merely one of an endless number of possible provocations.  Elimination of the reason for that one assertion should not therefore be expected to have much impact per se upon delinquency preclusion. 

(NOTE:  Advocates for a more perfect system of justice often argue that a more perfect system would eliminate a base cause for much delinquency.  The argument may be valid so far as it goes, but inconsequential given the existence of other provocations and opportunities.  If a more perfect system is a priority concern, it should be pursued, therefore on other grounds than its cost-effectiveness in addressing the delinquency problem.) 


Research Findings:  Many studies have documented a higher incidence of delinquent conduct among the children in impoverished areas.  If poverty were a base cause, however, then one should expect that such children would continue to offend until such time as they have escaped their situation.  In fact, however, children from such areas have been found to “grow out of it” at almost the same rate as children in better-to-do areas.

Social control theory suggests that the higher incidence of delinquency in impoverished areas is better explained by a lower incidence of bonding opportunities.  It just takes longer for drifting youngsters to make such connections.  If the theory is correct, it would suggest that no amount of direct services will help, unless they are focused upon forging such linkages.  (The problem in many impoverished areas is further complicated by the peer culture dynamics (gangs), which come into play when and where there is a higher concentration of problem youngsters.)



Research Findings:  Delinquents spend little of their time a delinquent conduct.  But for those rare random interludes, they conform, and are capable of conforming whenever they want.  Their wants, however, are determined by the immediate presence of a reason to conform.  When there is no immediate reason to conform, they are available to respond to a delinquency opportunity or provocation, hence the apparently random nature of delinquency offenses.

Time-filling activity rarely occupies a significant part of a youngster’s time.  It may eliminate a few instances of delinquency, but it is a costly way of doing so.  Activity alone does not have a significant impact UNLESS IT IS OF A KIND WHICH FORMS AND/OR STRENGTHENS ATTACHMENTS, COMMITMENTS AND BELIEFS. 


Research Findings:  Building life-coping skills has no impact upon reducing delinquent conduct.  If social frustration is in fact a precipitating cause of some delinquent conduct, removing it may simply result in some other precipitating cause coming forward.  This approach to delinquency treatment tends to assume that the delinquent is subject to abnormal compulsions/reactions to everyday frustrations.  Psychological tests have found no consistent differences in this respect between delinquents and conforming youth.  Social control theory suggest that delinquency would result from normal levels of motivation, simply because internal constrains are lowered. 


Research Findings:  The common sense rationale that one bad apple can ruin the whole barrel results in more delinquency rather than less.  Bonding theory implies that the youngster with strong bonds is highly unlikely to relent to peer pressure to misact.  On the contrary, in a mixed situation, he would exert a positive peer influence on the youngster with low-level bonds.  The theory would support the expectation that one drifter will easily influence another drifter to misact.  The findings support and confirm these expected outcomes.  Thus, when anxious parents instruct their children to stay away from the bad actors, they help create the situation in which the bad actors are even more isolated and are forced to associate mainly with one another.  Such reactions comprise one of the basic dynamics of the labeling phenomenon.

This dynamic only pertains, however, to misacts which are highly likely to become publicly known, such as, vandalism.  It does not apply to misacts which are not expected to become well known, such as, drug abuse.  



Research Findings:  Researchers have only tackled small parts of this premise, and thus far have found no evidence to support it.  These findings square with the implications of social control theory, which holds that only the well-bonded person is actually deterred by the risk of possible exposure and punishment.  Those drifters who make up the main body of offenders are not deterred.  A mild slap on the wrist is probably sufficient to deter those who are so susceptible.  Sterner measures serve no useful purpose other than to reassure an anxious public that something is being done to protect it (which is a legitimate objective, but not the most cost-effective means to accomplish it).  Imprisonment does also have the effect of isolating the offender from opportunities to become caught-up in a web of commitments and attachments, so as to grow-out of his situation.



Research Findings:  Well-done family counseling and support programs show at best very modest results at rather high costs.  Even then, change for the better only comes when the family members begin counseling with a high level of personal commitment.  Such commitment is uncommon in families which are dragged into the juvenile justice system.

General social studies show that it is normally much easier to build new social situations than it is to change ones which are already established.  Bonding theory notes that bonds with family and school are the two usual mainstays for most youngsters.  Efforts should be designed to shore-up and reinforce those bonds whenever it can be done at a reasonable cost, and the desire to improve is already present.  But, it is pointless to “beat a dead horse”, which is often the case by the time a youngster is a teenager.



Research Findings:  There is a slight correlation between these situations and delinquency, but no clear evidence of why.  There is for example a high correlation between these factors and family income levels, education, etc.   These findings provide no substantial reason to conclude that the cause lies within the family unit and is therefore best dealt with in that context.  Assuming a causal relationship may in fact invite the result of setting-up a labeling situation.  One might expect that youngsters in these circumstances might also have few bonding opportunities.



Research Findings:  Study finds no more criminal delinquency than average among children with learning disabilities.  They may be more disruptive in the classroom and a bigger challenge for their teachers, but not because of criminal behavior.  Like many delinquency premises, the one has helped justify funding for many services, but has no proof in fact.



Research Findings:  Several repeated studies, including some leading ones by the University of Michigan in the late 1960’s have debunked this wide-spread and still lingering premise.  Drop-outs do show a rise in delinquency during the first 3 months after dropping-out, but thereafter, they only show an average pattern for youngsters of their age and circumstances.  Getting drop-outs back in school is unlikely to have any impact upon reducing their incidence of delinquent activity.  This expectation about drop-outs, however, may well trigger a labeling syndrome, and make things worse rather than better. Getting drop-outs back in school may indeed serve other societal needs, such as, better training for the future work force, but those needs should be the main rationale for making such efforts, and not to prevent juvenile delinquency or a criminal career.



Research Findings:  Less reliable research has been done on runaways than on drop-outs; they are simply hard to find and track, study-wise.   There is, however, no solid evidence to support this oft-heard assertion, and there is good reason to expect too that it will turn-out to be unfounded.

Some runaways may be more vulnerable to exploitation than youngsters who still live at home.  Even this supposition, however, may be raised on no more than urban legend and unfounded fear.



Research Findings:  No known research project has seriously addressed this often cited premise.  But the cumulative results of many studies suggest that the economics of early intervention are less attractive than is commonly assumed.

Several studies show that between 20% and 33% of adult offenders had also committed crimes when juveniles.  This of course means that most (67% to 80%) had not.

Even the most effective treatment programs have not claimed more than a 25% improvement factor.

Thus, even the most effective treatment efforts could not reduce the adult crime situation more than 5% to 8%.  (20% X 25% = 5%)  (33% X 25% = 8.2%)

From another angle, studies show that about one out of each eight male youngsters will become a known juvenile offender.  Of these, about one in fifteen goes on to have an adult record.  While this is 3X greater than for youngsters who don’t have a juvenile record, no useful test has yet been found to predict which juvenile offenders are likely to become adult offenders.  Treatment efforts can not therefore be effectively focused.

About 4 out of each ten adult offenders wind-up serving prison time, for an average of four years over their lifetime.  It presently costs the State about $10,000 per prisoner-year.  The other sixty percent cost the State about $1,000 per year for five years of probation and parole services.

Commentators and advocates often make reference to other societal costs of crime, but those costs presuppose a full-employment economy in which the services of the prisoner are lost.  If, we in fact had such an economy, there would be no barriers to make more productive use of prison-labor, in which case there would be no particular economic loss as a result of imprisonment.   The only reason that we do not make effective use of prison labor is because it takes away jobs from the regular workforce.

Based upon the foregoing odds and costs, one could break even from juvenile offender treatment efforts at a 25% effectiveness level, if the unit costs of treatment could be held to about $50 per youngster in treatment.  Unfortunately, most client-centered treatment programs run in the range of $500 to $5,000 per client/year.  Residential treatment programs run from about $8,000 per year for foster care to $30,000 per year for institutional care.

In the real world, the cost savings potential of juvenile delinquency treatment efforts are much less attractive than is commonly understood.  Such efforts may of course produce other benefits and fulfill other societal needs.  But they can not be justified based upon their utility in avoiding future justice system costs or crime losses.

Meanwhile, the assertion of this premise tend to confirm and nurture the image that youngsters who offend are headed for a life of progressively worse crime.  It is in effect on more aspect of the total labeling phenomenon under which excessive fears are raised, and societal reactions are fostered which further inhibit the formation of stronger bonds, making public concern about rampant delinquency a self-fulfilling prophecy and equation.



Research Findings:  Certain kinds of jobs do help to prevent delinquency, but not for the reasons implied above.   The crucial test is whether the job absorbs the drifting youngster into a new and stronger web of attachments, commitments and beliefs, which constrain misconduct.  Some jobs of both of the named kinds have such potential, and others do not.

The workplace is only one of a number places in which a bonding to the norms of the society can take place.  Others include the home, school, church and neighborhood.  If strong bonds are formed in any of those, then a job is not needed to constrain misconduct.

Jobs provide a unique opportunity to bond the youngster who has not made such connections in the home, school, church or neighborhood.  The home and school are the most common places for youngsters to form these bonds, but have declining potential as the youngster get older.  Jobs on the other hand, have an increasing potential for bonding as the youngster gets older.

Unfortunately, most jobs programs for youngsters have failed to build-in those features which would optimize their bonding potential.  They have proceeded on premises which sound plausible, but are ineffective:

A.          That jobs fill time and keep kids off the street.  See Premise #5 as to why this doesn’t work.

B.          That jobs give youth a legitimate way to get the things that they want.  (They no longer have an economic need to steal or offend.)  Efficient delinquency prevention depends upon developing strong inhibitions rather than upon removing all reason to offend.  Trying to satisfy all wants and needs is a bottomless pit and an unworkable strategy for effective prevention of delinquency.

C.          That jobs help defuse minority youth hostility resulting from denied opportunity, and thus to eliminate the desire for revenge.  Again, the elimination of one kind of provocation from the environment will not eliminate all kinds.  Youth lacking strong bonds my respond to any kind of provocation.  Equal opportunity to jobs may, however, open-up added bonding options, if those jobs present such opportunities, and if the youth in question lack such opportunities in the home, school, church or neighborhood.

D.          That jobs confer status and boost self-esteem.  Contrary to the premises of some psychologists, concepts of self-worth, social status, and self-esteem emerge from the social context and not merely from the inner self.  A job is meaningless in the absence of significant other persons.  It is true that many delinquents have low self-esteem (as so many if not most non-delinquents).  Any olde job, however, will not provide the means to overcome this low self-esteem.  It takes one with relevant social features.



Research Findings:  Classic research in adult systems has shown that intensive probationary supervision will change the perceptions and behavior of the probation officer, but not that of his or her client.  So long as a client is within eyeshot of the supervisor, so good.  But once out-of-sight, also out-of-mind.

Volunteer probation programs, on the other hand, have been shown to make sharp reductions in misconduct, precisely because they tap into the mainstream of social control processes.  It is not their intensity which matters, so much as it is the fact that the relationship is a voluntary one on the part of both the adult and the youngster.  It is negotiated between the two.  There often results the formation of a new attachment, which may lead to stronger commitments and investments of self in matters which produce stronger constrains and inhibitions.

Close supervision which rests simply upon the threat of future punishment, should not be expected to make any substantial change in a youngster’s conduct once they are out of the sight of their probation officer (unless the youth has developed stronger commitments, attachments, etc. – in which case, it is the bonds, and not the close supervision, which result in the change).

          Based upon the content of the foregoing 12 pages, one might well wonder how existing delinquency prevention services manage to survive.  A closer look, however, reveals that few, if any, existing services are founded upon a pure prevention objective.  Most exist to fulfill other pressing economic, social, political and institutional needs. Delinquency prevention is more of a make-weight justification for their continuation.  Because there is rarely any occasion to really challenge the rationale for prevention, there is very little critical thinking about the subject in most service agencies.

          Delinquency prevention also gets a non-critical nod from the law enforcement community.  Confronted with service demands well beyond their capacity, these agencies find it easy to endorse any concept which seemingly offers some promise for relief.

          The mainstream of critical thinking about child development and delinquency prevention is tucked away in the sociology departments of the universities.  Some of that thought has been abstracted and synthesized in an LEAA/Westinghouse publication entitled:  Juvenile Delinquency Prevention – Theories and Strategies, May, 1980.  While this publication demolishes some of our fondest wishful thinking, it also points toward some avenues for change which may well justify their costs.  In the main, these deal with institutional change, rather than with more client-centered services.

          In the main, the Westinghouse piece elaborates upon one specific change opportunity – to restructure the schooling environment to reduce its delinquency aggravating features, and to enhance its bonding capacity.  It also identifies some other avenues which have promise for significant improvement at a moderate cost. These include the following:

1.          Programs to modify organizational practices (in schools, justice agencies and the world of work), which reflect stereotypic presumptions of undesirable traits among youth who have certain socioeconomic, racial or ethnic backgrounds. 

Example:    Superintendent Arthur Jefferson of the Detroit Public Schools has stated it to be his policy to assume that all students can achieve, and that past failures offer no firm proof that they can not.  It may take some extra special efforts, however, to translate that policy into concrete action thru-out the school system.

2.  Efforts to improve the images of law enforcement and juvenile justice in the eyes of young people.

Example:  In order to change deep-seated images, one must first get a person’s fixed attention.  Few things work  better than hands-on experience, such as, vocational curriculums in the justice system, co-op jobs in the justice system, youth involvement in voluntary civilian radio patrols, or in community dispute resolution programs, etc.

3.  Programs to broaden the range of conventional ties made available to youth, particularly in the areas of work and community service.

Example:  A program which encourages employers to give preference to job-seekers who can demonstrate useful involvement in community service programs (combined with efforts to provide such service opportunities in the first place).

Or, a program aimed at persuading jobs program administrators to improve their program design so as to enhance the chances of cementing significant attachments on-the-job.

Or a program aimed at persuading school curriculum planners to design courses which offer rewards for cooperative achievement as well as for competitive ones.

4.  “Mainstreaming” of instruction in parenting and other life experiences in the schools.

5.  Programs designed to reduce youth perceptions of powerlessness and uselessness.

Example:  A program aimed at organizing food-buying cooperatives among families with teen-agers, in which teens are encouraged to take part as partial or almost full representatives for their families.

Or a recreation center program in which the youth taking part are expected to carry a big part of the load of designing the program, scrounging financing, materials, and adult help; and in doing a lot of the supporting work.  (Transactions asking for adult help to be done by barter, rather than by begging:  I will cut your grass three times if you will put in ten hours of your time helping with our recreation program.)

Or a program which encourages the parents of well-behaved or high-achieving youngsters to share some of their time and activities with the “left-outs”, to counteract the “rotten apple” misperception.

6.  Steps designed to reduce the flow of derogatory news from school to home, or from juvenile justice system agencies to the schools.

Example:  A program under which school/home/justice agency linkages are carefully reviewed to identify more precisely what information really needs to be exchanged and to confine exchanges to that level.   Further, to design measures to counteract the negative impact of that derogatory information which must be exchanged, for example:  use of a face-to-face home visit rather than a curt form letter to help assure a constructive response to the information.

Three further avenues which are not identified in the Westinghouse report, but which fit the thrust of it, are as follows:

7.  Programs to modify organizational practices of justice system institutions, which tend to discourage informal system initiatives, and to develop an orientation which cultivates constructive self-help efforts in the neighborhoods of the community.

8.  Programs designed to stabilize and strengthen neighborhoods generally, in order to increase their bonding capacity.

9.  A program designed to cultivate use of so-called “dead-end” jobs as opportunities for youngsters to establish a basic work record.

          Institutional change does not come easily.  As the Westinghouse paper notes, it is much easier to design and implement programs which provide direct client services, which may account for their prevalence.  People tend to do the things that they know how to do, and to avoid the doubtful.  Nevertheless, it may well be that well-designed programs targeted at institutional change still offer the best chance of making a significant dent in the juvenile delinquency problem at an acceptable cost.

As noted before, however, the main thrust of the Westinghouse paper is to reform certain aspects of the schooling climate.  Their recommendations include all of the following:

  1.  Ascribe value to a broader range of occupations, than merely those of high status and extensive academic preparation.
  2. Recognize a broader range of knowledge, skills and pursuits than the merely Academic Games.
  3. Stress the importance of cooperative skills in addition to the competitive ones.  Expand cooperative learning, especially in connection with class-related community service work.
  4. Increase teacher reliance upon performance-based instruction.
  5. Ensure that the system of discipline is, and is perceived by students, parents and staff to be, legitimate, fair, clear, and consistent.
  6. Revise tracking systems which preclude students shifting course, and which confer progressively higher status in one direction and lower status in the other.
  7. Revise activity prerequisites which result in visible differences in opportunity by sex, race, socioeconomic class, ethnicity, etc.
  8. Increase the degree to which practical competencies are developed in course-work, of the sorts needed to run a household, small business, or civic organization (to succeed in everyday living).
  9. Increase the involvement of students in work, both as a course of study and as a creditable and credited activity. The point is to increase understanding of the human skills and understandings needed for competent, productive performance in many kinds of work.
  10. Make systematic efforts to transmit good news home, and to suppress bad news, except when there is a specific reason to believe it will help improve commitment to schooling.



Little planned and deliberate effort is now made to prevent and to preclude delinquency among those youngsters who have not yet become known to the Justice System.  Nearly all attention is focused upon the known offenders, and this mainly consists of direct client services.  Existing efforts which impinge upon so-called primary prevention nearly all have other substantial spending justification; almost none are designed to maximize their delinquency prevention potential.  As they strive to fulfill their other objectives, some may actually do more harm than good on the delinquency prevention scale.

It is especially difficult to gain a total perspective upon prevention and preclusion services available and needed.  One quickly becomes lost in the detail and method, and begins to perceive the formal system as the total answer to the problem of anti-social conduct, rather than as an adjunct to and prop for the informal processes of our society.  Before proceeding into some examples of changes which might be made productively in the existing system, it helps to review those processes by which social development into a pro-social person usual occurs.

Young people grow-up and become pro-social members of our society by a complex process involving hundreds of thousands of social transactions and interactions.  The overwhelming part of these transactions are informal ones, perhaps more than 99%, and the overwhelming part of these are positive ones.  Of the negative transactions, only a small fraction become known to and get caught-up in the juvenile justice system.  Even so, the system has a pervasive impact upon other aspects of growing-up.  Yet, it is the informal processes, and not the justice system, which decides most of the final outcomes.

Drift and Bonding Theory suggest that it is not the kinds or numbers of transactions to which a youngster is exposed that make the big difference, but rather whether these lead to becoming caught-up in a web of commitments, attachments and beliefs which both guide a youngster in pro-social pathways, and constrain anti-social deviations.


The Family and the Home:

Most children grow-up within the context of a family and home.  Family make-up has shifted over the years.  Most are now smaller.  There are more and more single-parent homes.  The family has become less and less the center of recreation and the means of entering the job market.  Parenting has become less and less esteemed.  Nevertheless, the family remains the method of choice for raising children.  Foster-care and institutional child-care are only very distant options.

Most youthful misconduct occurs within the family and home, and is normally resolved within that context.  Some parents are more tolerant or lax than others, but virtually all impress upon their offspring a sense of what is in-bounds and out-of-bounds.  When children misact, it is rarely because home life has failed to teach them the difference between right and wrong.

Most families of whatever kind satisfy that broad range of psychological needs which draw youngsters into a web of attachments, commitments and beliefs, which bond them to the conventional norms and values of our society.  Some, of course, do not.

The predominance of the family in the socialization processes has led many to conclude that strengthening the family, and taking a “whole-family” approach to formal intervention provides the best strategies for treating delinquency problems.  Thorough evaluation of such approaches suggest, however, that this is more easily said than actually done.  By the time that cases come to the attention of the formal system, it may well be too late for any effective changes to be

made in family life.  Past successes in whole-family treatment have produced only moderate improvements at rather high costs, and then only among families which approached the program with a high level of commitment.

The Westinghouse analysis concluded that schools provide a more promising and cost-effective target for increasing bonding opportunities than did direct intervention in family life.  Westinghouse did not address the possibility of more indirect approaches for the improvement of family life and strengthening the general role of all families.


The School:

Next to their home, most children spend more of their young lives in and around the school than anywhere else.  Schools offer a broad set of activities, satisfactions, positive and negative transactions, and motivations, which all together offer frequent and wide opportunities to become caught-up in a web of attachments, commitments and beliefs needed to promote pro-social behavior and to constrain misbehavior. Just as in the society at large, most transactions occur on the positive side of the scale.  Just as in the society at large, opportunities to take part in these positive transactions appear to have been systematically, although unintentionally diminished for many youth.  Expansion of these opportunities would appear to hold more promise for delinquency preclusion than an exclusive focus upon school response to misconduct, meaning it’s disciplinary systems.  If a youngster has failed to become drawn into the social webbing of the school, the disciplinary system is unlikely to do much more than assure his or her early departure.

As noted on pages 22 and 23, the Westinghouse paper recommended reform of ten aspects of the overall schooling climate, including: Ensure that the system of discipline is, and is also perceived by students, parents and staff to be, legitimate, fair, clear and consistent.

The response to misconduct in the schools by most schools is one important element of the bigger societal picture.  As one sorts through the details of this response, however, it is essential to keep in mind that this response is but just one element of that bigger picture.

Most schools sort-out four kinds of misconduct, to each of which, they give a different kind of response:

  1. Acts which harm no one but the offender, such as, failure to do homework, cheating on tests, tardiness and truancy.
  2. Acts which harm others as much as the offender, such as, disrupting class, distracting behavior and clothing, razzing classmates and teachers, tearing-up educational materials, breaking lab equipment, sending-in false fire alarms, etc.
  3. Acts which threaten the health and safety of classmates and staff, whether on the way to school, at school, on the way home, or at school-sponsored activities wherever held, such as, carrying weapons, extorting lunch money, selling or using drugs, fighting, leading other students in mass jaywalking or blocking traffic, setting fires in waste baskets, assaulting students or staff, etc.
  4. Acts which occur outside the scope of schooling.

Most schools now have a formal Code of Student Conduct.  Some codes are more specific than others.  Some tell how to make an appeal; some don’t.  Court decisions, however, generally require, for the more severe penalties, that a clear notice of the charges be made, that the names of witnesses be given, that punishment be suspended pending a decision on the appeal, and that other witnesses be permitted to be called.

  1. Acts harming no one but the offender:

Such behavior is mostly handled within the school’s grading and promotional system.  Extracurricula activity privileges may be suspended; special study halls and directed homework may be required.  Parents may be called-in for a sit-down.  Exclusions and suspensions may be imposed, but are not very effective in dealing with truancy and goofing-off.

Michigan law requires that added steps be taken in the case of persistent truancy and disregard of the compulsory education laws, which require attendance from age 6 until the 16th birthday.  The law requires that parents be notified to attend a conference on the problem.  If they fail or neglect to appear, a formal letter is to be sent which directs that the student be brought on the next school day to the school.  If the parents fail or neglect this responsibility, they may be summoned before the local district court, where they may be fined from $5 to $50, or jailed for not less than 2 nor for more than 90 days. (MCL 380.1561 to 1599).

If the parents make reasonable efforts to assure attendance and the school system does all that it can to accommodate the child, and the child is still disruptive or truant, the school system may then approach the Juvenile Court.  The court normally does not accept jurisdiction of such cases unless all other available options have been exhausted.  Even then, it handles the case on an informal basis and limits intervention to a variety of counseling.  Only in the exceptional case are any coercive measures applied.

More recent studies have exploded a long-standing myth that school drop-outs are more likely to become delinquent.  While delinquents are more likely to be drop-outs, there appears to be no causal relationship between the two circumstances.  It also appears that compulsory efforts to force drop-outs back into school may do more to provoke than curb delinquency.  Getting such drop-outs into voluntary alternative education programs may help them improve their occupational prospects, but are highly unlikely to help prevent delinquency.  The merit of such programs must rest strictly upon their utility in providing more equal job opportunity and educational opportunity.

  1. Acts which harm others as much as the offender:

Demeanor which impairs the educational environment and disrupts the efforts of other students and staff is usually handled by different and more punitive measures, but still within the school itself.

For student offenders who are normally present for school, exclusions, suspensions and possible expulsion provide some effective toeholds.  The denial of certain privileges and/or special study halls or time-out rooms comprise effective options for less disruptive offenses, as does a simple recorded warning.

For students with poor attendance records, exclusions, suspensions and expulsions are of dubious value.  Special directed study halls are often more practical and effective answers for such students.

Theoretically, Michigan school teachers and superintendents may resort to corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure.  According to MCLA 380.1312: “(2)  A teacher or superintendent may use reasonable physical force on the person of a pupil necessary for the purpose of maintaining proper discipline over pupils in attendance at school.  (3) A teacher or superintendent shall not be liable in a civil action for the use of physical force on the person of a pupil for the purposes described in this section, except in case of gross abuse and disregard for the health and safety of the pupil.”

The above provision was amended in 1976 to add the word “reasonable” and to strike phrasing which was less equivocable about the authority to punish.  Few teachers are willing to risk finding-out what a court might find to be “reasonable”.  Some contend that the law only intends such physical “restraint” as is needed to hold a pupil safely while a parent is called, and was not intended to authorize any kind of physical punishment.  Some school districts refuse to defend a law suit brought against any of their staff on these grounds, effectively forbidding any use of corporal punishment.

  1. Acts which threaten the health and safety of classmates and staff.

Schools have a legal duty to take reasonable measures to assure the safety of students in their charge and persons on their premises.  They have a duty and authority to make and to enforce rules needed for that purpose.  Some of these rules address conduct which would constitute a crime; some address demeanor which is more negligent and reckless than criminal; and some relate simply to student health.

Because schools have charge of students going to school and home again, their rule-making authority extends to some off-the-premises behavior, to the extent that it poses a threat to student health and safety.  If older students are harassing younger students, extorting their lunch money, or leading jaywalking, the schools are duty-bound to step-in and take reasonable measures to prevent and curb such conduct.  It may be done administratively by changing the times of beginning and release, so as to separate age groups, or by that and a combination of disciplinary measures and cooperative action with public safety officers, depending upon the nature and seriousness of the problem.

Parents are called-in for a conference on all more serious infractions as well as on smoking offenses (which are serious to some and not to others).

In the case of especially serious offenses which threaten student and staff safety, such as, possession of weapons or drugs, assaulting a teacher, or arson, the offense may be referred to the formal juvenile authorities, as well as handled as an infraction of the Student Code of Conduct.  Suspension and perhaps expulsion is the more likely disposition with the school system.  Such cases present a no-win decision for the school.  If the student is expelled, some will blame the schools for being hard-hearted.   But, if an offender is not expelled, and later harms another student, that student’s family may well win a lawsuit against the schools for failure to keep their student safe.

  1. Acts which occur outside the scope of schooling:

Misconduct which occurs outside the scope of schooling is   usually ignored by the school system.  For example, students who vandalize a car or a home on the way to and from school would not normally be considered a school disciplinary problem, unless the safety of the students and their classmates are placed in jeopardy by the misconduct.

More recent research and theory suggest that this distinction is a useful and important one, that the best interests of society are served when the flow of unusable negative information back to the school is blocked.  Such information only tends to prompt a student and staff reaction which makes it less likely that the offender will develop or maintain the kinds of bonds and ties needed to constrain future misconduct.

Bonding Theory and supporting findings strongly suggest that school plays an unintended key role in generating delinquency.  Most young people have but two main bonding places:  home and school.  Problems at school often spur problems at home, when the word leaks back.  Contrary to popular impression, studies reveal that matters get worse rather than better when news of failing grades are sent home.  When a youngster loses ties to both home and school, few have any others which tide them over.  That which emerges is a youngster adrift and immune to ordinary deterrence influences.
The school is obviously even more critical in the case of the youngster who has weak family ties, and for whom school provides the only major bonding opportunity.

The bottom line is clear.  School practices which compound and provoke delinquency need revision.  Conditions which expand and stimulate bonding opportunities need to be encouraged and developed.


Peer Groups:

Among adolescents especially, peer groups exert a powerful influence upon conduct, some good, some bad, although mostly of little long-term consequence.  Most peer groups emerge and dissipate within a few months, replaced by others.  This inherent instability makes them a poor target for any intervention efforts to prevent or preclude delinquency.



It may be that neighborhoods have more underdeveloped potential for juvenile delinquency preclusion than almost any other institution.  Some neighborhoods are somewhat organized to realize this potential, but most are not.  Neighborhood organization could be substantially improved, however, if the orientation of other agencies and institutions were modified to bolster and support a stronger neighborhood role.  The ways in which this might be done will be made apparent in later parts of this document.



With some of the foregoing thoughts in mind, the following pages will explore some of the practical changes which might be made in our existing juvenile justice agencies to improve the effectiveness with which delinquency is treated and precluded.  In the main, these approaches consist of:

  1. Providing management consultation.
  2. Providing technical assistance.
  3. Providing staff training and re-orientation.
  4. Picking-up selected costs of making changes in the ways that juvenile justice agencies go about their work.


A limited survey of the existing opportunities for such changes has uncovered the following three examples.  Without doubt, many other options also exist.

  1. Community-run Recreation Centers.
  2. Community-oriented Work Training Projects.
  3. Community-oriented Police Response to Juvenile Offenders.



Progressive budget cuts will soon force the closure of most of Detroit’s public recreation centers.  While this would mean a cutback in services provided, it may open opportunities for improved delinquency preclusion.

Studies demonstrate little value in recreation programs per se for delinquency preclusion.  The manner by which they are organized, however, can be made to offer rich “bonding” opportunities.  If such activities were organized by a voluntary effort of the community, and if youngsters were recruited to perform significant roles in the organizing effort, their preclusion effectiveness should be greatly improved.  The experience of the North Rosedale Civic Association in running their community house demonstrates some of the possibilities, as well as some of the pitfalls.

Such approaches have heretofore been precluded by City union resistance to any volunteer role which threatens the job security of recreational staff.  Once these centers have been closed, however, for want of any means to keep them open, then some new possibilities will unfold.  It may not be too early for some community-minded organizations to begin planning and preparing for such an initiative.

If centers are closed in a number of progressive steps, it might be best to close those in the stronger, better organized neighborhoods first, and to offer assistance to the local neighborhood improvement associations to set-up a voluntary program.  This would help keep centers in higher need areas open longer, while building-up experience with the voluntary approach.

Community self-help efforts are not without their hazards.  Some may distract a neighborhood organization from its more important objectives.  If an exclusionary clique develops, it might do more harm than good.  Such efforts therefore take careful development and oversight, and varied support from time-to-time to keep them on-track.



Most existing work training programs for youth are funded under the federal Comprehensive Employment & Training Act (CETA Program).  Some school systems also run cooperative vocational curriculums in which youngsters combine their schooling with on-the-job experience.  The private sector promotes some youth employment efforts, most notably under the National Alliance of Businessmen.  Finally, there are some youth employment elements in federal/state social services programs.

CETA:  Four elements of the CETA Program are targeted on youngsters (ages 14 to 21) from disadvantaged families (Income less than 85% of the Department of Labor’s Lower Standard of Living benchmark, the “poverty benchmark”).

  1. The Job Corps, which is run directly by the Department of Labor, is mainly a residential job training and job readiness program, and is directed at jobless youngsters, ages 16 to 21.
  2. The Youth Community and Conservation Improvement Program (YCCIP), which is focused on youngsters ages 16 to 19.
  3. The Youth Employment Training Program, which serves the full age range, ages 14 to 21 year-round (YTEP).
  4. The Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which also serves all age ranges, 14 to 21, but is restricted to summer-time work (June 1 to September 30).

YCCIP, YEPT, and SYEP are administered by a local prime sponser, of which there are four in Wayne County.  These are the cities of Detroit, Livonia, Dearborn, and the County of Wayne, which handles the program for all other parts of the County.

Although delinquency prevention is often cited in public discussion of the aims of the CETA Program, this objective is not reflected in the design of the program, nor in its administrative preferences, guidelines and restrictions.

Bonding Theory asserts that it is not the job itself, but the matrix of lasting human ties surrounding the job which yields its delinquency prevention potential.  To the extent that it helps cement in place a set of strong personal ties to the community norms and to significant other persons, a job can have a real impact, but not otherwise.  Very few jobs projects are set-up to stress these aspects.  One of the better examples, which may have been more by accident than design, was a 1980 effort undertaken by New Detroit, Inc. under a special grant from Detroit Bank & Trust.  It suggests that the following approach be taken to project design:

  1. The work site(s), or at least most of them, should be located close to the youngster’s home, school, or church, so that both the work and its product can be seen by friends, neighbors, family and co-church members – people with whom the youngster will be in on-going contact after the job is done. These persons should be made aware that the work is being done and stimulated to compliment the youngster for his part in achieving it.
  2. Supervision should also be provided mainly by persons with whom the youngster is likely to have on-going contact, including neighbors, teachers, co-church members, and even relatives – if this can be provided without nepotism complications.
  3. Work which is organized on a team-basis is better than work which is specialized into isolated work stations. Work which stresses cooperative efforts is preferable to work which stresses competitive ones, except when teams compete against one another.
  4. Work products are preferred which are highly visible and lasting, or which are widely recognized and appreciated. For example, construction of neighborhood entranceways which accent its separate identity, or organization of a food-buying cooperative, or an area-wide garage sale.
  5. Work is best which enhances and raises the level of voluntary contributions from both the youth employed and other persons in the community. Care needs to be taken to avoid discouraging voluntary effort by paying some to do things which others are expected to do as a volunteer.
  6. Work products are best which raise the general level of block and neighborhood cooperative activity and interaction. For example, work products which draw reclusive elderly neighbors out from their retreats and into closer contact with their neighbors, such as, an improved front porch, a front fence which keeps-out roving dogs, improved porch stair railings or ramps, etc., done explicitly in exchange for their increased help in keeping an eye on the neighborhood, or in helping-out at the local mini-police station, or by calling people to remind them of up-coming block meetings.
  7. While reasonable efforts should be made to provide working hours which are regular and predictable, no one should be paid to wait around nor to do irrelevant “make-work”. When  project needs do not provide an even opportunity for productive efforts, then an uneven and intermittent work schedule should be planned, and understood by the participants from the onset.
  8. The user organization should have a big say in who is hired and why. A central referral system may be helpful in recruiting a wide spectrum of youngsters, but a central selection process shuts off the opportunity for establishing some all-important personal bonds.
  9. Projects should be designed to take and employ all who want to take part (from within the targeted area and age group). If the work can not be spread so thinly and still be feasible and productive, then some kind of lottery should be used for final selections.  If some youngsters are considered to be more deserving than others because of their past efforts, then they might be given an advantage in the lottery, for example, by having two slips instead of one in the hat.  The criteria for that advantage and the opportunity to work toward it should be well known in writing and long before it is used, however, so that the opportunity to comply is open to all concerned.  Lotteries can also avoid the embarrassment which sometimes comes from the involvement of close relatives in the selection process.  While rewarding merit has a place in such programs, it should not be permitted to unduly disadvantage those youngsters who have not yet had an opportunity to prove themselves.
  10. Delinquency in general shows a pattern of declining intensity and frequency as youngsters grow older and acquire a bigger stake in their society. Prevention programs are therefore best focused upon the 14 to 16 age group, in order to hasten that process.
  11. If programs involving older youth are to be undertaken in order to reduce criminal activity, they must be designed to provide reasonable assurance of a permanent job and of upward mobility in a reasonable progression. Stop-gap make-work provides no investment worth protecting.  Because community organizations are rarely positioned to assure such placements, they make a poor bet for addressing the work needs of older youth.
  12. Whenever possible, other funding sources should be joined with CETA funding so as to include youngsters above the designated disadvantaged income line. Programs focused exclusively upon disadvantaged youth may have a labeling effect which more than offsets their constructive features.
  13. Special efforts should be made to comply with the intent of the child work safety laws without unreasonable limitations upon the kinds of work which are permissible. For example, the prohibition on demolition work should not be extended to reclaiming useable building materials from demolition debris, once it is safely on the ground, and so long as suitable shoes, clothing, dust masks, and goggles are worn, and close supervision is provided.  Such materials can provide those needed to complete some visible and lasting neighborhood improvements, such as distinctive entranceways.
  14. Whenever possible, non-unionized user agencies should be chosen to implement projects, so as to avoid work jurisdiction conflicts and complications which might stymie project implementation. (Prevention projects for youngsters ages 14 to 16)
  15. No placement should be made in a governmental agency unless the specific office involved serves a small well-defined neighborhood area, such as, a neighborhood city hall, a police mini-station or a recreation center. Nearly all other kinds of governmental agency placements offer no opportunity for concerned supervision, on-going recognition and contact, nor close identification with the youngster’s neighborhood.
  16. Special efforts should be made on every project to develop supervisory resources well in excess of those which can be provided with CETA funding. The 10% limitation upon administrative overhead in the CETA program typically works out to a ratio of one administrative body for each 80 youngsters employed, meaning that each youngster gets about 30 minutes of attention per week, and that includes program set-up, work site development, determination of eligibility, selection, assignment, payroll management, performance monitoring, and progress reporting.  Most administrative time is consumed in complying with the voluminous documentation and other paperwork required by the funding agencies.  Without supple-mental resources for project development and implementation, it is basically impossible to set-up and run a project which has any real delinquency prevention potential.

(NOTE:  The 10% administrative limitation sounds reasonable at first view, until one considers that the youngsters employed are paid minimum wages and usually work for just a few weeks.  Administrative staff are typically paid triple or more of the minimum wage, and have to be on the job for weeks before and after the youngsters are employed to set-up and to wrap-up the project.  So, instead of the 1:9 supervisory ratio which the 10% allowance would suggest, one really has about an 80:1 ratio during the implementation period, which is just enough for the proverbial kiss and lick.)

  1. Wherever possible, projects should be integrated with the youngster’s regular school curriculum, so that it is doubly beneficial. Further, when the job, school curriculum and neighborhood can be pulled together into a cooperative undertaking, with on-going results, the benefits are more than tripled.


In the real world of grant-funded delinquency prevention planning, it is particularly difficult to merge most or even many of the foregoing design features into a given project.  Projects tend to be developed in a hurry-up, last-minute flurry, once funds have been appropriated and made available.  There is an urgency to be the first in line to get them expended, before the next appropriation is due, lest that one be curtailed for failure to exhaust funding for the previous grant.  Projects tend, therefore, to be brief bursts of self-contained and frenetic activity, which leaves few enduring and tangible waves or results.  If anything broader is to be developed, it will require some longer-term thinking, and some longer-term commitments of funding.



The aim is to develop a set of community service projects which combine teenagers, adults and their schools in a common and mutually beneficial undertaking, which can be repeated each year on a self-sustaining basis once developed.  Project development and coordination would be best done by a community-based organization which is experienced with managing federal, state, and foundation grants, and which has substantial experience at neighborhood organizing and educational improvement.  The community service projects would be integrated into the regular school curriculum and done partly during regular school hours.  It would also be closely coordinated with and supported by adult supervision from the various neighborhood improvement associations or block club constellations involved.  Technical assistance and instruction would be sought from the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) and from the Cooperative Extension Service.

The community service projects would be set-up in a way which yield the following benefits:

  1. A practical application of basic and some advanced educational skills in writing and other communications, math, technical reading, social studies, and mechanics. Make school relevant.
  2. Strengthen youth identification with their own neighborhoods, by making them more practically valuable to their neighbors.
  3. Increase constructive interaction between youth and their adult neighbors and their own families.
  4. Strengthen the neighborhood itself and the relationship between the schools and neighborhoods.
  5. Increase the employability of youngsters by improving contacts with persons who can be of help in finding work for them, and of help in sustaining their interest in constructive pursuits.
  6. Promote cooperative conduct and positive social values, most especially constructive self-help.

Two specific community service projects which have great potential for yielding the foregoing benefits are:

  1. Organizing a large-area yard sale.
  2. Organizing a series of small area food-buying cooperatives.



It takes a full school term to bring a yard sale to full fruition.  It involves many kinds of work, such as, writing announcements and promotional advice to encourage potential sellers to prepare and to take part; making posters and signs and securing permission to display them in strategic places; preparing flyers and setting-up a distribution system to get each participating household to help pass-out those flyers in surrounding neighborhoods; obtaining with a door-to-door canvass a commitment from households to take part in the sale and to contribute a dollar to the costs of advertising; reading fix-it books on how to repair broken items for sale; working-out project budgets; designing and conducting a survey on sale day to measure the effectiveness of the advertising; setting-up food vending operations for the day of the sale; and so forth.  With proper supervision and guidance, most of this organizing work is within the competence or learning ability of teenagers.  It provides a practical opportunity for them to take a constructive and widely recognized and appreciated role in their neighborhood, as well as an opportunity to make a few dollars and to extend their skills.  It strengthens the neighborhood and the relationship between teenagers and their neighbors, and their schools.

Combined with training in the repair of small appliances and household goods, provided for example by trainers from the CETA Program, it offers the context for occupational development.



Food-buying cooperatives, when they are carefully designed to accommodate youngsters as well as adults, provide a practical vehicle into the food-processing and preparation industries.  While these industries provide limited opportunity for advancement internally, they provide extensive opportunity for young people to establish a work record, which can become a stepping stone to better things.   They make an especially relevant project for schools which also offer a culinary arts curriculum.

At the neighborhood level, coops make excellent springboards for the development of a variety of other cooperative endeavors, if they are designed from the onset with those possibilities in mind.  Coops make an excellent choice for neighborhoods which currently lack a strong neighborhood improvement association.  Technical assistance is available from the Cooperative Extension Service, as well as are food-canning facilities.

The crux of making the food-buying coop an effective delinquency preclusion tool lies in providing ways in which youngsters can take an active part in progressive steps as the coop representative for their family.

The best day on which to conduct food-buying coops is on Saturdays.  One of the biggest impediments for developing a food-buying coop is having an adequate space in which to bring, sort, bag, and distribute the produce.   Church basements can provide this place, but so to can schools.  While it costs a school some extra dollars to have a section open on Saturday for coop use, it cements a closer relationship with the neighborhood. Continue reading “HOW SCHOOLS CAN PRECLUDE MUCH DELINQUENCY”