Psychological Implications

While the physical resources are hardly provided aside from the well-funded police force, the stronger force to be reckoned with in these boy’s lives was the attack on their mental health and stability.

Reading through “The Coupling of Criminal Justice and Community Institutions”, I had a similar reaction to everyone else in the class. Being a psychology major, I was particularly interested in how the youth control complex was propagated by most of the adult figures in many of the boy’s lives criminalizing them, some without even realizing it.

Anyone paying attention to the national news for the past year or two would have no problem understanding the lack of psychosocial training required of police officers in the United States. Increased violence, especially towards those labelled as “criminals” or “threatening”, has revealed the uncivilized manner that many police officers find to be within the realms of their job description. Because police officers are supposed to be seen as figures of justice and safety in the community, this dissonance between role and behavior causes extreme stress and anxiety among the youth in the impoverished communities. The police officers in these communities operated under the assumption that the boys were intent on carrying out criminal activity and in turn, the boys felt as though they had to rely totally on themselves as well as “street law”. Although I cannot empathize with this situation, I can imagine that it would cause extreme stress to live in an environment that could be dangerous at almost any time and the law enforcement entity is relatively useless in any such situation. Although Rios does not explore this avenue, I would not be surprised if some of the boys involved in gang violence, with and without the police, suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Experiencing violence as an adolescent as well as being completely aware that the community service that is meant to protect them will not would almost certainly cause anxiety in any youth.

While the police behavior came as much less of a surprise to me personally, I was much more upset to learn of the behavior Rios observed from the probation officers. The probation officer is another entity in society that is meant to provide resources to those struggling with the criminal justice system. Rios observed that many of the P.O.’s were regarded with disdain because many of them provided anything but help to the boys. Aside from the fact that providing the boys with unachievable goals is a waste of time and resources, it can be extremely harmful to introduce a person who has learned to function without structure into a structured environment that provides an expectation of perfection with little guidance. This strong contrast provides the boys with two options: (1) find the motivation to strive for good grades in school, apply, interview, and receive a job with a criminal record, and completely substitute their old group of friends for a completely new one OR (2) continue to exist in the cycle of the youth control complex that the system and their lives are based around and try as hard as possible to stay out of jail. Personally, I fell that any rational adult would understand that the former of these two options is not even the least bit constructive when aimed at youth that exist almost entirely in a broken system. The fact that the P.O.’s met with the boys for about 15 minutes simply to lecture them about staying out of jail is extremely frustrating. This behavior does nothing but sends the message to the boys that they are expected to go to jail, but this is their chance to try not to. I am not sure how I could go home to sleep at night if I were a probation officer that went to work every day and helped absolutely no one, but I guess they do get paid(?) I am certain that there are probation officers who are dedicated to helping their clients, but this chapter does not provide evidence of it.

The final, most unfortunate, participants in the harming of the boys’ mental health was their parents. At least in the cases of police and probation officers, it is reasonable to assume that they do not necessarily have any personal stake in the lives of the boys. However, one would hope that parents want their children to live as much of a stress-free life as possible.¬†While the parents behavior is out of worry and care for their child, it is completely counter-productive. Some parents are shamed by the justice system and in turn use its power to threaten their children. The boys experiencing this would in turn associate their parents with the police officers that expected them to travel from childhood, into adolescence, into the prison industrial complex. I cannot imagine what it would be like as a 12 year old to have the feeling that your parents would support the behaviors of police officers that include propagating the youth control complex basically every day. I know that if my mom told me that if I didn’t get better grades she would contact my probation officer, I would feel extremely alone. Isolation and anxiety are hardly a successful mix, and the parents are promoting them without even being aware of the detrimental effects these stressors have on the psyche of any person, especially an adolescent.

The actual actions of being stuck in the youth control complex are extremely serious. Living in poverty, being forced into gang activity, existing in a society that is a toxic hybrid of the Wild West and the 21st Century police state, and being afforded almost no hopeful opportunities provides a relatively impossible lifestyle. However, the psychological effects of isolation, distrust of those who are the designated trustees in society (parents, police officers, teachers), anxiety, and depression can be equally as harmful to exist with and as just as ignored by the public.

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