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Where does probation monitoring end and parenting begin?

The juvenile justice system is designed to be different than the adult justice system. In theory, it takes a more rehabilitative approach, aiming to intervene in an adolescent’s life before they become embedded in the criminal justice system. One way this occurs is through emphasizing either alternatives to adjudication (e.g., diversion) or community-based probation programs. Community supervision is the most common form of correctional control for juveniles, with over 300,000 young offenders under the supervision of a juvenile probation officer.

Adolescents’ parents also play a vital role in reducing delinquency in many ways, including through monitoring behavior and encouraging success. At the same time, parental participation represents a significant challenge to the juvenile justice system. Many parents have very limited knowledge of how to navigate the legal system. Plus, entry into the criminal justice system poses significant financial burdens that may damage the parent-adolescent relationship.

In Partners or Adversaries? The Relation Between Juvenile Diversion Supervision and Parenting Practices, Fine, Rowan, and Cauffman (2020) set out to study the role juvenile probation offices play in an adolescent’s life. They specifically investigated whether juvenile probation officers’ perceptions of parenting influence their decision-making. This study sampled from male youths who were first time offenders arrested for charges of low-to-moderate severity. The findings showed that over time, parental controls are loosened, regardless of the severity of probation conditions. This pattern may occur for several reasons, but one posited by researchers is that probation officers act as a parental figure that lessens the perceived responsibility of parents. This theory is consistent with the doctrine of parens patriae—where the legal system sees itself as the “guardian” of the vulnerable.

A juvenile’s home conditions were found to be a predictor of the officer’s control-oriented response. When officers perceived the juvenile’s home environment as problematic, youth were more likely to receive stronger supervision conditions—stricter rules, earlier curfew, and more stringent monitoring. However, the officer’s perception of a troubled family was not always congruent with adolescent’s perceptions of his parenting experience. According to self-reported youth experience, parental supervision declined once they were placed under official supervision, indicating that families may view probation as supplanting their parental responsibilities.

This research highlights how important it is for juveniles to have a strong support system. Juveniles who do not are not only at higher risk of violating the law, but also receive stricter supervision (with the corresponding legal consequences) when they do. There is a clear need for policymakers and researchers to further examine how to improve parental monitoring among young offenders. First time involvement in the juvenile justice system is stressful and can be a negative experience for both parents and adolescents. Implementing personalized treatment can significantly contribute to its effectiveness. In addition, probation departments should consider the role of parents within intervention programs. This can help parents support their child and decrease future adolescent criminality.

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