“It’s on Me”: Arrest and the Transition to Adulthood for Street-Involved Youth
Mackall, Abena Subira
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CitationMackall, Abena Subira. 2018. “It’s on Me”: Arrest and the Transition to Adulthood for Street-Involved Youth. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractAnnually, nearly 1.5 million youth under age 18 are arrested nationwide. Regardless of the outcome of their arrests, this formal contact with the juvenile or criminal justice system is a critical developmental turning point, with substantial implications along the life course. Arrests during adolescence are associated with social isolation, low educational attainment, unemployment, and continued system-involvement in early adulthood. However, the underlying mechanisms through which contact with the police and courts results in these undesirable outcomes for youth is unclear. Some social theorists suggest that young people internalize the idea that they are ‘delinquent,’ which cultivates a deviant self-concept and a corresponding withdrawal from prosocial networks and behaviors; while others emphasize societal responses to the stigma of arrest that exclude young people from prosocial opportunities.
To expand our understanding of how contact with the justice system shapes experience and development, this dissertation examines how male youth who were first arrested as minors interpret the role of their arrests in their daily lives. Data for this study were collected in Massachusetts’ Greater Boston Area and include: three rounds of in-depth phenomenological interviews with young men aged 17 to 24 (n=26); contextual interviews with stakeholders who have either personal or professional experiences with youth arrest (n=15); and over 20 hours of participant observation at events related to juvenile justice issues.
By using an ecological perspective, I identify a set of related processes that influence young men’s self-concept and decision-making in the aftermath of justice system contact. Early life adversarial interactions with teachers, social workers, and law enforcement, produced alienation and distrust of public institutions. Following arrests, young men viewed their social network’s responses to their arrests as an indicator of loyalty and status. These peer and family networks, however, rarely had the capacity adequately support young men through lengthy and expensive periods of justice system involvement. In the absence of both public and personal supports, young men expressed a strong sense of responsibility for their own well-being that ultimately stymied help-seeking behaviors. To conclude, I consider the implications of this work for sociological theory and interventions aimed at facilitating the transition to adulthood for justice system involved youth.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:37935843