Moving Forward: Utilizing a Developmental Model in the Juvenile Justice System

The developmental model of juvenile justice advocated by Scott and Steinberg (2008) identifies major guiding principles necessary for successful reform of the juvenile court and, listed with the concerns they are designed to address, are as follows: 1) the implementation of proportionate sentences with sufficiently narrow ranges in order to promote fairness and limit possible abuses due to bias as a result of broad judicial or prosecutorial discretion, 2) restrictive transfer rules that enable the juvenile court to maintain jurisdiction over the majority of adolescents in an effort to minimize the potential harm exposure to the criminal court poses on adolescent offenders' development, 3) the implementation of empirically supported treatment programs in conjunction with punitive sanctions that promote healthy development of youth in all jurisdictions, 4) intensive interventions in the lives of very young serious offenders to hopefully successfully intervene in the potential development of chronic, serious offenders, 5) and extended dispositional jurisdiction over youth entering the juvenile justice system at a later age in order to maintain fairness in sentencing as well as the application of proportionate punitive sanctions. The reforms suggested are not a drastic departure from the traditional juvenile court, but include significant changes in policy and procedure designed to remedy the shortcomings of its original implementation. At the same time, these guidelines are a significant departure from the recent focus on purely punitive sanctioning models prevalent in the contemporary juvenile justice system.

It should be noted that these proposed guidelines do present their own set of limitations. Some youth possess a history of antisocial behavior and do not fit within the normal pattern of adolescent offending that is driven by developmental influences (Scott and Steinberg, 2008). These youth may enter the justice system facing serious charges and may have a substantial criminal record by mid-adolescence; though such youth represent a very small percentage of youthful offenders, they pose a significant threat to public safety and do not fit the developmental model advocated thus far (Scott and Steinberg, 2008). Scott and Steinberg (2008) acknowledge that successful identification and intervention in the lives of these youth poses a daunting challenge, and the potential for disproportionate sentencing and excessive punishment is inherent in such interventions, especially if the same programs utilized are not available to all youth. While a single model for the juvenile court will not yield positive outcomes for all youth, the developmental model aims to provide a framework of stable, satisfactory responses to juvenile delinquency that promotes the social welfare of youth while holding adolescents accountable, although to a lesser degree than adults, for their actions.

The examination of the developmental model above raises an interesting question: in light of the shift to contemporary policies and practices in juvenile justice, are political leaders, practitioners, and the public willing to take a different approach to juvenile justice? Interestingly enough, many state legislatures are already moving toward more moderate policies as the high economic costs of recent reforms and the impact of harsher sanctions for such young offenders begin to be realized (Scott and Steinberg, 2008). Further, research by Scott and Steinberg (2008) shows that public attitudes toward juvenile justice are hardened immediately after a highly publicized offense, but soften and trend more toward rehabilitation after some time passes. In fact, surveys consistently indicate that the preferences of the public align more with the proposals presented by the developmental model presented than with the current, contemporary regime (Scott and Steinberg, 2008).

Support for the developmental model is further emphasized by recent news throughout the United States. On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court barred mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder, indicating a shift in viewing youthful felons from irredeemable predators to victims of circumstance that possess the potential for rehabilitation (Bronner, 2012). A report published in June 2013 identified nine states that previously incarcerated youth at high rates that have enacted policies that shift the majority of young offenders toward community interventions (Rosales, 2013). Some states have reversed changes that lowered the age at which youthful offenders were automatically transferred to the criminal court, including Connecticut, a state that once sent the highest number of juveniles to the adult court (Chen, 2010). Georgia legislators unanimously passed major reforms implementing new sentencing laws that keep non-violent drug and property offenders out of prison and directing them to intervention programs and graduated scales of punishment, and are looking to do something similar for the juvenile justice system (The Economist, 2013). Finally, in Illinois, the state most credit with the establishment of the juvenile court, the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission published a report condemning the state youth prison system and finding that the majority of incarcerated young offenders would be better served in treatment or educational programs (NPR, 2012).

It is evident that the traditional model of the juvenile justice system was ineffective in dealing with the problem of adolescent crime. It is just as evident that the contemporary approach to punitive sanctions and incarceration has been ineffective in remedying the shortcomings of the traditional model. The developmental model advocated by Scott and Steinberg (2008) provides a framework to address the shortcomings of the traditional model with regards to accountability and responsibility of youthful offenders, while also promoting the social welfare of juveniles and basing sentencing and disposition on empirically supported treatments and interventions. Further supporting the work of Scott and Steinberg (2008), recent reforms and research on public preferences and perspectives align with the guidelines advocated by the developmental model of juvenile justice.

Sources:

Scott, E., & Steinberg, L. (2008). Rethinking Juvenile Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bronner, E. (2012, June 26). News Analysis - Ruling Reflects Rethinking on Juvenile Justice - NYTimes.com. Retrieved June 22, 2013, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/27/us/news-analysis-ruling-reflects-rethinking-on-juvenile-justice.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Chen, S. (2010, January 15). States rethink 'adult time for adult crime' - CNN.com. Retrieved June 22, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/01/15/connecticut.juvenile.ages/index.html#cnnSTCText

The Economist (2013, February 2). Juvenile justice: Suffer the children | The Economist. Retrieved June 22, 2013, from http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21571176-georgia-rethinks-how-its-justice-system-deals-young-offenders-suffer-children

NPR (2012, April 18). Kids Behind Bars: Illinois Rethinks Juvenile Justice : NPR. Retrieved June 22, 2013, from http://www.npr.org/2012/08/18/159131971/illinois-seeks-new-approach-to-juvenile-justice

Rosalas, C. (2013, June 18). Report singles out 9 states, including Texas, for turnaround in adopting policies to reduce youth incarceration | Crime Blog. Retrieved June 22, 2013, from http://crimeblog.dallasnews.com/2013/06/report-singles-out-9-states-including-texas-for-turnaround-in-adopting-policies-to-reduce-youth-incarceration.html/

Balancing Individualized Treatment with Legislative Restrictions in the JJS

Balancing individualized, offender-based treatments with the need for consistency and proportionate sanctions has been a subject of ongoing debate and criticism regarding the juvenile court. In an effort to maintain balance between these two goals, sentencing guidelines and systems of graduated sanctions with targeted treatment have been enacted within the juvenile justice system in various jurisdictions. The question still remains, however, of whether these approaches help maintain the aforementioned balance, and at what expense?

Many states have enacted guidelines for graduated sanctioning systems, modeled to a considerable extent on the Comprehensive Strategy released by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) to provide offense-based, tiered levels of increasingly stricter sanctions while also suggesting rehabilitative strategies where appropriate, in an effort to maintain individualized sanctioning of youthful offenders and to emphasize the need for, and use of, risk and needs assessments (Mears, 2002). In similar fashion, and to a large extent the same mentality behind the development of the Comprehensive Strategy, graduated sanctions and incentives are key components of many intervention programs (Kurlychek, 1999).

In conjunction with the aforementioned guidelines, sentencing guides also play a major role in the determination of treatment for youth adjudicated delinquent in the juvenile court. These guides aim to provide consistent and proportionate sanctions against offenders brought before the juvenile court in an effort to reduce or eliminate the potential for abuse of the discretionary authority of juvenile court judges, especially in light of research indicating that the court could be used to provide a form of social control over various targeted populations (Mears, 2002). According to Mears (2002), these guidelines are voluntary in some states, are mandatory in others, and in some states incentives are provided to promote use of the guidelines.

Taken together, sentencing guidelines and the implementation of graduated sanctions that include targeted treatment could provide a framework that assists the juvenile justice system in maintaining balance between individualized treatment and sanctioning, consistency and proportionality in sentencing, and balancing the community needs for retribution, incapacitation of serious and chronic offenders, and specific and general deterrence. However, this balance is not evident in practice with current sentencing guidelines. Most state guideline systems utilize offense-based criteria for the determination of sanctions to be applied, and the priority often shifts from addressing the needs of the offender to punitive sanctions (Mears, 2002). In fact, with sentencing guidelines in many jurisdictions, prosecutors become the determiner of whether and how to file charges, and often that discretion is coupled with legislative action in jurisdictions that impose automatic sanctions for specific offenses (Mears, 2002). This shift in discretion to prosecutors effectively eliminates the ability of the juvenile court to balance the needs of the offender, the circumstances surrounding the offense, and potential risk of re-offending when sentencing occurs.

As evident in the information provided, sanctioning guidelines are not effective in providing balanced, individualized sanctions for youthful offenders, though they do provide consistency in sanctioning within jurisdictions. A system of graduated sanctions that is coupled with targeted treatment for youthful offenders, however, is both recommended and empirically supported as a response for the treatment of juvenile offenders according to Kurlychek (1999), and as noted by the research-based, data-driven, and outcome-focused approach and success of the comprehensive strategy developed by the OJJDP (Howell, 2003). Utilizing these two systems together, and providing some discretion to the juvenile court during disposition of a case in order to lessen automatic sanctions against first time offenders or those unlikely to re-offend, creates a framework that can be applied across jurisdictions without irrevocably negatively impacting the life course of those offenders found to be less culpable during the time within which they are subject to the authority of the juvenile court.

It should also be noted, however, that reliance solely on systems of graduated sanctions is not a perfect approach. While considerable progress has been made in the identification of major risk factors that lead to delinquent behavior (and therefore influence the nature and focus of recommendations for the rehabilitative components found within systems of graduated sanctions and targeted treatments) much of the research on protective factors, as well as longitudinal studies that will provide more accurate information about the causes of delinquency than cross-sectional studies to date, is still in its infancy (Howell, 2003). With additional research and study, these components can be added to risk and needs assessment tools to further enhance and modify guidelines for use by the juvenile justice system in promoting effectively balanced, consistent, and proportionate sentencing of youthful offenders that encompasses each of the goals of the juvenile court while maintaining the rehabilitative and targeted, individualized treatment component.

Sources:

Howell, J.C. (2003). Diffusing research into practice using the comprehensive strategy for serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders. Youth Violence & Juvenile Justice 1: 219-245.

Kurlychek, M., Torbet, P., & Boznyski, M. (1999). Focus on Accountability: Best Practices for Juvenile Court and Probation. U.S Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Washington DC.

Mears, D. (2002). Sentencing guidelines and transformation of juvenile justice in the 21st century. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 18: 6-19.

Effectiveness of Juvenile Transfer to Criminal Court

Juveniles may be transferred to the criminal court system in one of six assorted methods: judicial waiver by the juvenile court judge, prosecutorial waiver in jurisdictions where the prosecutor has filing discretion, statutory exclusion due to legislation requiring youth of certain ages charged with certain offenses being excluded from juvenile court, legislative action wherein states set an age lower than eighteen years of age as the boundary for criminal court, youth who are no longer subject to parental authority (such as by marriage) are automatically transferred to criminal court but may be referred back to juvenile court, and through blended sentencing wherein juvenile and adult sanctions can be imposed by one court (McGowan et al., 2007). The goal of these assorted transfer mechanisms, aside from holding youth more responsible for offenses committed, lies in the philosophy that stricter punitive sanctions would act as specific and general deterrents by requiring adolescents to be subject to the harsher and more adversarial experiences of criminal court and sentencing. There are, however, significant harms caused by the automatic transfer of large groups of juveniles to the criminal court based on age or offense alone, and research indicates that the theoretical basis for deterrence as a result of transfer results in either no effect on youth via general deterrence, or a negative effect on youth in cases of specific deterrence (McGowan et al., 2007, Fagan, 2008).

McGowan et al. (2007) found that only one of five studies reported any evidence that transfer of juveniles to the adult system deterred either violent or other re-offending, and the other four studies identified a harmful effect in which juveniles transferred to adult court committed more subsequent violent and total crime than retained juveniles. Further supporting these findings, Fagan (2008) reports that rates of juvenile offending are not lower in states where the transfer of juveniles to criminal court is more commonplace than in other states.

With the aforementioned points in mind, turning to an assessment of the risks inherent in the current transfer policies of juvenile offenders may shed light on why transfer policies have had little to no affect on deterring juvenile crime. Perhaps the most significant issue, especially with regards to legislative or prosecutorial methods of transfer wherein the determination for transfer lies solely on age of the offender or offense committed, lies in the transfer of not just those youth whose crimes and reoffending risks merit more punitive sanctions, but also in the transfer of youth who are not chronic or serious offenders or whose risk of reoffending is significantly low, and who are subsequently negatively impacted by their exposure to the criminal court system (Fagan, 2008).

A related issue is the transfer of youth under the age of eighteen years of age, again through legislative action that automatically transfers these youth based on age or offense, into the criminal court system. Empirically supported research has shown that adolescents under the age of sixteen lack the competence to understand and participate in the judicial system and make judgments comparable to adults found incompetent to stand trial (McGowan et al., 2007). Further, Cauffman and Steinberg (2012) report that brain development, especially in those systems responsible for controlling many aspects of social and emotional maturity, continues through late adolescence and into early adulthood. Many states have enacted laws lowering the age of legal responsibility for specific offenses below the aforementioned ages, which results in the immediate wholesale transfer of many offenders who possess traits that reduce culpability and, theoretically, increase potential risk of negative impacts from being transferred into the criminal court system.

From an examination of the above points it seems clear that returning the selection of youth to transfer to criminal court to juvenile court judges would be most prudent, along with defining eligibility for transfer on more criteria than age or offense alone (Fagan, 2008). However, as noted by Kupchik (2003), the differences between the processing of cases between the criminal court and the juvenile court is not as significant as commonly believed, and therefore may not account for the apparent ineffectiveness of transfer policy alone on deterring criminal offenses. In fact, in the analysis of a single court in New York City, Kupchik (2003) found that the same philosophy that guided the creation of the juvenile court was utilized by the criminal court “part” (a separate court designed to exclusively handle youthful offenders but remaining an extension of the adult criminal court) in sentencing offenders.

It is this last piece of data that makes it difficult to answer whether transfer policies should be eliminated, though it is apparent that modifying transfer policies is absolutely necessary in order to promote a socially responsible and just approach to adolescent crime. Fagan (2008) summarily states it best in saying that discretionary transfer, as opposed to wholesale transfer, would minimize harm by limiting the number of adolescents subjected to the criminal court, identify youth whose malleability and proclivity to reform warrants juvenile court intervention, and maintain proportional punishment for offenders whose crimes are too serious to be handled by the juvenile court.

Sources

Cauffman, E., & Steinberg, L. (2012). Emerging findings from research on adolescent development and juvenile justice. Victims & Offenders 7: 428-449.

McGowan, A., Hahn, R., Liberman, A., Crosby, A. et al. (2007). Effects on violence of laws and policies facilitating the transfer of juveniles from the juvenile justice system to the adult justice system: A systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 32: S7–S28.

Fagan, J. (2008). Juvenile crime and criminal justice: resolving border disputes. Future of Children 18: 81-118.

Kupchik, A. (2003). Prosecuting adolescents in criminal court: Criminal or juvenile justice? Social Problems 50: 439-460

Developmental Immaturity and Culpability in Juvenile Justice

The juvenile justice system was founded on the intuitive idea that youthful offenders were developmentally different from adults and, therefore, the system required a different approach to intervention and treatment of youths who commit delinquent or criminal acts. Recent studies by Scott and Steinberg (2008) and Cauffman and Steinberg (2012), as well as Supreme Court decisions in Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama, have provided compelling evidence and support for the concept of developmental immaturity resulting in reduced culpability of adolescent offenders. Understanding the information provided in the aforementioned sources yields interesting insights surrounding the impact to juvenile justice policy and practice.

Two broad theories have been posed to evaluate the blameworthiness of offenders in American criminal law doctrine: choice theory and character theory (Scott and Steinberg, 2008). Choice theory can best be summarized by the notion that a person who commits a criminal act is fully responsible and deserves full punishment if they are capable of rational thought and have a fair opportunity to not engage in the criminal act. Using an offender’s general social standing, prior history, and related psychological and psychosocial information to show that engaging in a criminal act is abnormal, and therefore not the result of deficient moral character, best summarizes character theory. According to Scott and Steinberg (2008), both theoretical frameworks support the idea that adolescents are less culpable for criminal offenses as a result of poorer decision-making skills and constrained opportunities to avoid criminogenic environments (i.e. choice theory), and adolescents are also in a state of developmental flux wherein their moral character is not fully formed (i.e. character theory).

Further expounding on the aforementioned ideas, Cauffman and Steinberg (2012) explain that brain systems responsible for controlling many aspects of social and emotional maturity continue development throughout adolescence and into adulthood, and recent work in developmental neuroscience has linked both physiological and functional markers in brain development with the aforementioned psychological changes. These developmental changes support the idea that adolescents, as a group, are less culpable based on the theoretical frameworks outlined by choice theory and character theory because of the unique manner in which humans mature. Additional support for reduced culpability of adolescents has been presented in U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Roper v. Simmons, Graham v. Florida, and Miller v. Alabama. In each of the aforementioned cases, the Court has ruled that youthful offenders possess diminished responsibility on the basis of immaturity and vulnerability to negative influences, as well as greater potential for reform due to the changeability of their character.

One final point that should be made with regard to understanding developmental differences in adolescents revolves around current practices of incarceration and transfer to adult court. Cauffman and Steinberg (2012) report that trying adolescents as adults or submitting them to harsh sanctions does little to deter delinquent behavior, and may actually have negative effects on youths' mental stability and health, psychosocial development, and proclivity for further antisocial behavior. Keeping the key points outlined above in mind, it becomes imperative to ask the following question: what does this mean for current and future juvenile justice policy and practice?

According to Cauffman and Steinberg (2012), studies of adolescent development should not be utilized as a single point of reference for “solving” the issue of juvenile delinquency. However, informed responses to juvenile offending as a result of understanding the lessons of developmental science allows the juvenile justice system to respond to youthful offenders in developmentally appropriate ways that will not harm their future prospects by treating adolescents as adults (Cauffman and Steinberg, 2012). In fact, Cauffman and Steinberg (2012) go on to explicitly state that no single policy regime will provide positive outcomes for all adolescents entering into the juvenile court system, but understanding and utilizing developmental research as a guide will provide a strong foundation for policies and practices that enhance public safety by implementing effective treatments for adolescents instead of ineffective punitive sanctions.

The supporting evidence is overwhelmingly conclusive that adolescents are developmentally different from adults in ways that mitigate culpability. Continuing to study these differences, and using that knowledge to influence policies and practices in juvenile justice, remains crucial to the success of the juvenile justice system. As evidenced by the Supreme Court rulings referenced above, it is also critical in maintaining fair and just sanctions for adolescents who become subjected to the adult court system. In short, the principle of proportionality and its direct relation to culpability, as have been long established in criminal law, must be upheld in accordance with developmental differences among all offenders, not just the mentally incompetent or handicapped.

Sources:

Cauffman, E., & Steinberg, L. (2012). Emerging findings from research on adolescent development and juvenile justice. Victims & Offenders 7: 428-449.

Scott, E. S., & Steinberg, L. (2008). Rethinking Juvenile Justice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press

Graham v. Florida and Sullivan v. Florida. (n.d.). American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/about/offices/ogc/amicus/graham.aspx

Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs . (n.d.). American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/about/offices/ogc/amicus/miller-hobbs.aspx

Development and Philosophy of the Juvenile Court

The juvenile justice system has been critiqued and criticized numerous times since its inception. Examining the works of Mack (1909), Platt (1969), Caldwell (1961), and Fox (1996) reveals that, although development of the court has taken various shapes and has often been rooted in differing ideals and guiding principles, the overall philosophical view of the purpose of the juvenile court has remained relatively unchanged and, surprisingly, was not unique or pioneered by the creation of the juvenile court. Over time, however, reforms have changed the juvenile court from the original concept of a hybrid between a court of law and a social agency charged with the protection and stewardship of juveniles to, for all intents and purposes, simply a court of law with additional flexibility in the sentencing of youthful offenders.

In order to best understand the path the development of the juvenile court has taken it is best to begin with the reasons for its creation. While there is some debate on the official origin of the juvenile court, it is widely accepted that its formation is credited to Chicago in 1899. According to Mack (1909) the court was formed as a result of society's general question of: “why is the state not bound by duty to protect and guard, and subsequently care for and guide, the children that reside within its borders when those children have committed an act in violation of the law or socially acceptable moral behavior?” This idea is expounded upon and reinforced by Platt's (1969) analysis of the rise of the “child-saving” movement, is reaffirmed yet again by Caldwell (1961) as he provides background on the development of the juvenile court and poses questions on how the system must change to effectively achieve the standards set forth by the United States Children's Bureau, and though Fox (1996) debates the origin of this perspective, the admission is present that the underlying theme played a crucial role in the development of the juvenile court. It can therefore be surmised that the development of a separate juvenile court was driven by a need for society to intervene in the lives of youthful offenders who, without the intervention of an authority, would either continue along a path of delinquency and criminality that posed further dangers to the safety and preservation of society or would be in danger due to the shortcomings of their parents or guardians.

The most concise presentation of the guiding principles for the development of the juvenile court were those set forth by Katherine Lenroot, who was then chief of the United States Children's Bureau (Caldwell, 1961). Those standards, in summary, stated that a juvenile court should have broad jurisdiction over persons under the age of eighteen, be presided over by a specially trained judge, maintain informal procedure and private hearings, keep detention at a minimum and preferably in private boarding homes, be comprised of a highly qualified probation staff, have resources for individual and specialized treatment at its disposal, be supervised by the state, and maintain an adequate record system safe-guarded against indiscriminate public viewing. Although Lenroot's guidelines were not presented until 1949, attempts were made in separating the adult and child correctional and rehabilitative institutions as early as 1824, when the New York legislature passed a law authorizing a House of Refuge for youth who were deemed reformable by the court (Fox, 1996). With the exception of maintaining informal procedure, these guidelines are just as important today as they were in 1949.

Among the chief concerns raised surrounding the juvenile court is the need for formalized procedures that maintain equitable and justifiable sanctions while retaining an informal setting. This concern was raised by Mack (1909) when he discusses the importance of the personality of the judge and their necessity to preserve the legal and natural rights of men and children, and was heavily examined, discussed, and expounded upon by Caldwell (1961) along with his analysis of what must change to provide structure within the juvenile court.

In stark contrast to the other authors referenced, Fox (1996) presents a scathing commentary on the failures of the juvenile court with regards to properly caring for youth through boarding homes and private programs versus simply incarcerating them with mere differences in terminology and aesthetics. In fact, Fox states that the only unique aspect of the juvenile court, and the one aspect that set it apart from other courts, was directly tied to the chief concern previously mentioned: the development of a personal and intimate rapport between the court, in this case the judge, and the youth referred to the court. This innovation has since faded, and the juvenile court has become, and later officially reinforced as, purely a court of law.

For the current incarnation of the juvenile court to maintain its goal of specialized, individualized justice, the return of forming a more intimate relationship between judge and offender must be a priority. Until such time as the court resumes a more parental role in the disposition of sentencing, the concerns presented above remain moot. However, if the juvenile court once again moves in such a direction, the aforementioned concerns must be taken into consideration in the development of formalized guidelines for the adjudication of delinquents in order to ensure fair and equitable treatment in all juvenile courts.

Sources:

Caldwell, R.G. (1961). The Juvenile court: its development and some major problems. TheJournal of Criminal Law & Criminology 51: 493-511.

Fox, S. (1996). The early history of the court. The Future of Children 6: 29-39.

Mack, J. (1909). The juvenile court. Harvard Law Review 23: 104-122.

Platt, A. (1969). The rise of the child-saving movement: a study in social policy and correctionalreform. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 381:21-38.

A Dual-Classification of Antisocial Individuals

In 1993, Terrie Moffitt posited the theory that juvenile delinquents as a population of study are comprised of two distinctly different types of individuals: the life-course-persistent antisocial individual and the adolescence-limited antisocial individual. Moffitt's theory provides a number of insights into the nature of delinquency, as well as important implications for juvenile justice policy and procedure.In order to best understand the implications of Moffitt's theory for juvenile justice policy and practice, it is best to begin with an overview of the differences between the two types of antisocial individuals presented and the difficulties inherent in distinguishing between the two groups. In summarized form, life-course-persistent antisocial individuals are those whose behavioral problems begin in childhood, remain consistent through adolescence, and persevere through adulthood. Adolescence-limited antisocial individuals, however, go through a temporary, situationally behaviorally problematic period that generally occurs between the time of pubescent maturity and young adulthood. It is important to note that, according to Moffitt (1993), adolescent newcomers to antisocial behaviors, despite a lack of prior experience, equal their preschool-onset peers with regards to the variety and frequency of laws broken as well as the number of times referred to juvenile court. Therefore, based on the commonly used indexes of adolescent delinquency, and when viewed through cross-sectional studies by researchers, the two groups become indistinguishable.With regards to distinguishing between the two groups, especially as related to the way in which antisocial youth are seen by the juvenile justice system, it becomes imperative to obtain knowledge of an adolescent's behavior from early childhood through the current time-frame. Without such knowledge, a differential diagnosis between the two types of antisocial individuals is impossible, and successful intervention and treatment then becomes less likely depending upon the type of offender and the sanctions imposed. As an example, many adolescence-limited youths will receive sanctions that will serve to maintain their delinquent behaviors instead of providing them with opportunities to “age out” of their delinquent behavior, such as incarceration, an interrupted education, the formation of a drug habit, or teen parenthood. In addition, interventions with life-course-persistent adolescents are typically met with lackluster results due to their proclivity to turn positive opportunities into ways in which they can maintain continuity with their antisocial behavior. An example of this behavior includes turning residential treatment programs into opportunities to learn from and associate with criminal peers.Further exacerbating the need to gain knowledge of an adolescent's pre-adolescent behavior when taking into account juvenile justice practices, Moffit explains that adolescence-limited youths' antisocial behavior is normative, not abnormal. In fact, Moffitt references a study by Farrington, Ohlin, and Wilson in 1986 in which it is stated that four fifths of males have some contact with police for a minor infringement during their adolescent years. Based on self-report data, it is statistically abnormal to refrain from engaging in some type of antisocial or delinquent behavior.The aforementioned data points provide interesting insights into the nature of delinquency among adolescents. Approximately five percent of offenders have been repeatedly shown to be responsible for around fifty percent of known crimes. Moffitt's taxonomy suggests that this five percent is primarily comprised of life-course-persistent adolescents, and that these youth act as the gateway to delinquent behavior for adolescence-limited youths. It should be noted, however, that the theoretical causes for delinquent behavior between these two groups is quite different. Life-course-persistent antisocial individuals exhibit a number of characteristics that suggest psychopathology, with the root causes being related to subtle or underlying cognitive or neuropsychological deficiencies that become problematic through physical, social, and environmental influences. Adolescence-limited antisocial individuals, on the other hand, develop problematic behaviors as a result of a lack of socially ascribed maturity at a time when they develop biological maturity, and look to delinquent behavior as a way of achieving mature status.Taking into account the summarization provided, juvenile justice policies and practices must be flexible enough to account for two distinctly different types of antisocial individuals when considering sanctions. Such flexibility can only be achieved by successfully compiling data on juvenile offenders from as early in the life course as possible, preferably using multiple types of risk assessments from different sources, such as parents, caregivers, and educators. In addition, to truly intervene successfully in the lives of potential life-course-persistent antisocial persons, possible social, environmental, and physical influences must be identified when assessments indicate possible neuropsychological or physical deficiencies that have been shown to be linked to the development of criminal behavior. Such assessments would provide historical data regarding the levels of antisocial behaviors exhibited in youth across their developmental years and into adolescence, and would assist the juvenile justice system greatly in forming intervention and treatment plans that prove most successful without increasing the likelihood of antisocial continuity.SourcesMoffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-Limited and Life-Course-Persistent Antisocial Behavior: A Developmental Taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100(4), 674-701.

Trends in Juvenile Delinquency and Justice

Author's Note: I started graduate school, so a lot of my writing time is impeded by having to actually write for classes. Once my essays are complete and graded, I'll post them here so that you all at least have something to read if I do not get to write other pieces for fun for a little bit. Enjoy!


Public perception and concern over the emergence of a new breed of juvenile delinquent, namely the violent predator, fueled Snyder's analysis of the Maricopa County juvenile population in 1998. This study resulted in some very interesting findings, especially with regards to the effectiveness of the system and the types of offenses committed by youths. In addition, Snyder's findings help shed light on ways to reevaluate, and potentially improve, the policies and practices of the juvenile justice system.The Maricopa County study looked at the “graduating classes” of officially recognized juvenile delinquents from 1980 to 1995. These cohorts were identified by using the entire youth population that turned eighteen and aged out of the juvenile system in their respective years. In all, 151,209 youth were identified as officially recognized by the juvenile system during this timeframe, which accounted for a combined 325,259 referrals to the court. Three categories of offenses were used to identify each juvenile career type: nonserious nonviolent offenses, serious nonviolent offenses, and violent offenses.In order to best understand what Snyder's findings mean, it is important to note some of the key statistical data that provide the basis for interpreting the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system and the potential ways in which reevaluating policy and practice are affected. The average age at which a youth's first delinquent offense occurred remained fairly constant across all sixteen cohorts, and ranged between 15.2 and 15.8 years of age. The average number of referrals to the system increased from 1980 to 1995 by approximately 55%. It is important to note that this increase in referrals is greater than the increase in the size of the groups, which means that the 1995 cohort had more referrals per career than the 1980 cohort. Finally, a large majority of youth referred to the system, approximately 60% in fact, were referred only once.While the preceding data alone does not present a complete understanding of Snyder's findings, it does provide a baseline from which further analysis yields interesting insights. In examining the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system the rate of recidivism provides the most important data point. In addition to noting that the majority of youth were referred only once, only 1% of the population studied was referred more than once for violent offenses. This indicates that successful intervention by the system early in the career of an offending youth is absolutely critical in preventing further delinquent activities. Snyder also found that each referral to the system increased the likelihood of an offender being referred for a violent offense. This further emphasizes that early, successful intervention is crucial in lowering violent crime among the juvenile population, and provides a clear goal in reevaluating the practices and policies related to intervening in the careers of juvenile offenders as early as possible.As noted earlier, the number of referrals from 1980 to 1995 increased, with the proportion of chronic offenders averaging 13% in the eighties and 17% in the nineties. The records show that this increase was a result of more chronic offenders, not more active, serious, or violent offenders. This increase could be explained by the expanded reach of the juvenile justice system, as Snyder mentions, but could also indicate a growing trend of unsuccessful intervention the first time a youth is referred to the court. Since chronic offenders of any type (nonserious, serious, and violent) only made up 14.6% of the entire population studied, or 22,112 of the 151,209 cases studied, and the proportion of chronic offenders averaged 17% at its peak, the explanation that a larger number of juveniles involved in repeat referrals as a result of an expanded reach of the system makes the most sense.These points illustrate that rethinking intervention strategies in an effort to lower the number of referrals among juveniles should be an ongoing process. One flaw easily recognized in understanding the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system, however, is that no clear data is available on how many juveniles are not referred to the courts or who are referred directly to the adult justice system due to changes in policy and law. In order to best understand whether the juvenile justice system is actually largely meeting its goals as Snyder indicates, another study that tracks these same cohorts across the rest of their careers up to the present is necessary. In addition, analysis of intake records for the adult court system over the same time-frame should be studied to ensure additional juveniles were not overlooked in the original study.Overall, Snyder's findings indicate positive trends in juvenile justice and delinquency. Continued expansion of programs designed to intervene in the lives of at-risk juveniles, as well as expansion of programs designed to intervene at the point of first contact with the juvenile system, are cornerstones of an effective, proactive approach to lowering both initial referrals and repeat referrals to the courts. It is clear, however, that sufficient data on juvenile delinquency does not exist at present.Sources:Snyder, H.N. (1998). Serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders—an assessment of the extent of and trends in officially recognized serious criminal behavior in a delinquent population. In: Loeber, R., & Farrington, D. (Eds), Serious & violent juvenile offenders: risk factors and successful interventions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

I Believe

I believe we have come upon a proverbial fork in the road where the choices we make now will either plummet us into an ever-darkening decent toward chaos or, if we wake up and act, lead us to the society we proclaim to be the ideal we yearn to achieve. The time has come for us to alter our course. Continuing with the status quo is no longer viable, and will only lead us further into darkness.

Yes, those are dire words. Yes, they invoke imagery that many will challenge as over-dramatized and simply used as an attempt to gain attention. Let us explore, somewhat briefly, a handful of the key points that support such a foreboding tone:

American Rights / Human Rights

“To count by race, to use the means of numerical equality to achieve the end of moral equality, is counterproductive, for to count by race is to deny the end by virtue of the means. The means of race counting will not, cannot, issue in an end where race does not matter.” -- William Bennet and Terry Eastland, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (source)

Until we remove from our vocabulary such ridiculous phrases as "Black Rights," "African-American Rights," "Women's Rights," "Children's Rights," and any other moniker that is not simply Human Rights (or, I suppose, we could continue to use "American" or "Civil"), we will never truly achieve any progress in eliminating racism, bigotry, or whatever term of bias you would like to use. It simply cannot happen. Do you get that? It is impossible to eliminate bias when we introduce it simply by describing some sort of bias in the name. The same holds true for organizations, entertainment, media, clubs, pageants... any introduction of a separate item specifically catering to one group and excluding any other group, by its very nature, perpetuates bias. It is time for change.

Political Agendas and Government Failures

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." -- John Adams, from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations

Our government was founded on a set of ideals that we have effectively destroyed: a government of the people, for the people, by the people. We now have a system of government that is run of the elite, by the elite, for the elite. Further compounding the issue, we now have such a complex and over-reaching governmental "machination" that even those with the best intentions merely become absorbed into the bureaucracy. It is time for change.

Education and Intelligence

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." -- Plutarch, from Wikiquote

Our approach to education is far too singularly focused on memorization and attempting to pass national standardized tests. Throughout my entire academic career I found only a couple of classes that attempted to stimulate the mind, and those were merely the result of teachers who understood the concept of true education as opposed to any guidelines or attempts by the institutions to fulfill their true purpose. It is time for change.

Common Sense and the Loss of Innocence

"That's what it takes to be a hero, a little gem of innocence inside you that makes you want to believe that there still exists a right and wrong, that decency will somehow triumph in the end." -- Lise Hand, quoted in The Truth in Words : Inspiring Quotes for the Reflective Mind (2002)

We live in a constant state of self/socially-induced naiveté. We prefer to think of it as a state of innocence, and yet I can honestly say that we have lost our collective "innocence." We see right and wrong in action every day and, for the most part, we pretend it doesn't exist or we look the other way. We see the problems with racism, with the state of human rights, with the actions and inactions of organizations and our government, and we still hold to the misguided notion that someone else will come forward and solve our problems for us. We must act. We must step forward and become the heroes we long so desperately for in these times. It is time for change.

Challenging the Status Quo

"Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." -- Apple Inc.

There really is nothing to add beyond the idea this quote captures. To borrow another line from the same marketing campaign, the concept is that we must "Think Different" if we are to move forward.

Remarks

I do not believe I have all of the answers. I do not believe any one person has even half of the answers. I do believe, however, that it is time for us to quit sitting idly by and watching our nation, our society, our communities, and in many cases even our own households continue along the slow, downward spiral we find ourselves upon now. It is time for change.

Racism

Source Link - http://www.myfoxal.com/story/21863703/birmingham


BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC)

The Honda-Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will not get financial support from the city of Birmingham.

On Tuesday, Mayor William Bell withdrew a request for $300,000 to host and promote the race at the Barber Motorsports Park.

Last week, the council deadlocked on a vote over that request. Councilman Steven Hoyt questioned why a city with a black majority should continue to give money to support the Barber Motorsport track, saying decisions at Barber were not made by anyone who "looked like him."

Mayor Bell's office did not comment on the withdrawal.


I want you to reread this line: Councilman Steven Hoyt questioned why a city with a black majority should continue to give money to support the Barber Motorsport track, saying decisions at Barber were not made by anyone who "looked like him."

Forgetting for a moment that this is an obviously incorrect mindset in the first place, as a white male, if I made that statement I would be immediately branded a racist and become the subject of any number of potential legal actions. I want to ask the following questions:

  • Why has this news been "swept under the rug" instead of being made publicly known to the residents of the area?
  • Why is the councilman still in office when it is obvious there is a mindset that does not align with the duties of the office?

This sparks a lot more that I want to write about, but honestly my first priority is now getting the information out. Please spread the word.

I Am...

  • ... analytical.
  • ... brave.
  • ... complex.
  • ... determined.
  • ... enigmatic.
  • ... frank.
  • ... geeky.
  • ... honorable.
  • ... inquisitive.
  • ... jovial.
  • ... knightly.
  • ... loyal.
  • ... moderate.
  • ... nerdy.
  • ... observant.
  • ... psychoanalytical.
  • ... quiet.
  • ... respected.
  • ... stubborn.
  • ... tech-savvy.
  • ... unyielding.
  • ... vigilant.
  • ... whimsical.
  • ... X.
  • ... youthful.
  • ... z.

Why You Shouldn't Listen To Person X

I've written, to some extent, about this topic already, but it is tough not to come back to it in light of so many people clamoring to have their opinion heard and judged "correct" by the masses. The concept is simple:

[W]e’re beyond choosing by number. Choose an OS/Hardware combination that appeals to you based on the experience provided.

Anyone, henceforth labeled "Person X," who is a "fan" or "evangelist" of any company or technology will only see the good about their preference, and will view any opposition as negative (feel free to go look up the psychology behind it, as it is quite fascinating. Here's a link to get you started - Why Changing Somebody’s Mind, or Yours, is Hard to Do.). For our purposes, the above statement will serve well as a basis for understanding the rest of this post.</p.

Apple

Apple is a bit of a unique case for this discussion, because it is the only company that controls the hardware and software for their entire product line-up. This is, in no small part, a large reason for both the negative viewpoint and the positive viewpoint possible in any discussion involving the company and its products.

Google

Google is often looked upon as the antithesis to Apple's approach, choosing to work with hardware vendors to bring its operating system to the masses instead of direct control and release of products. Of note is the collaboration between Google and Samsung to provide a curated hardware/software solution that is, perhaps, the closest we've seen to a complete "Google" solution.

Microsoft

Microsoft is an interesting blend of two approaches. Initially, Microsoft only supplied software and worked with vendors to supply hardware. Recently, with the Surface specifically, Microsoft has started working on a simultaneous approach of providing software for those manufacturers who want to build hardware for their operating system, while also pursuing the path of developing their own hardware/software solution. In many ways, Microsoft and Google still share the same approach.

Note: The above summaries are brief and not necessarily completely accurate across all product lines. This is aimed to provide a general starting point for the discussion that follows.</p.

Person X

We all know one (or maybe a few dozen) person that constantly reminds us of how great a particular product is, or of how a particular product can do something "better" than the way implemented in the competing product(s). We tend to smile and focus on something else while they rant, eventually realizing we have to say something to reassure them that their position is understood and valid if we want them to finally move on to another topic. Typically, however, this person really doesn't care about whether their "solution" is actually better for what you are trying to do, they only want to get you to look at their solution as the only one that makes sense.

Before I elaborate further, I'm going to reiterate the one piece that you need to remember throughout all of these scenarios/discussion:

[W]e’re beyond choosing by number. Choose an OS/Hardware combination that appeals to you based on the experience provided.

Personal Notes

Anyone who knows me knows that I prefer the Apple/iOS platform, both for my home computer and for my mobile devices. Most do not realize I also have a Windows PC, a Linux notebook, and work with Linux and Windows workstations and servers at work. I've used a handful of Android devices (specifically the Motorola Atrix, the Samsung Galaxy SII, the Samsung Galaxy SIII, and the HTC One X+), and I have no hands-on experience with Windows Phone 7/8.

When I originally set out to determine which platform worked for me, it was while I worked for a small computer repair shop in Columbus, Georgia. I was a die-hard Windows user, and nothing could convince me to even look at what could be done on any other platform. When my laptop of the time died, I was suckered into purchasing an Apple PowerBook (G4, running OS 9.2). I loved the aesthetic design and attention to detail, so I finally decided to give in. After receiving the laptop I was disappointed, primarily because I could not do anything without fighting the operating system (I was trying to approach it as though it was Windows, which I was used to). After getting frustrated and shelving the unit for six months, I finally decided to give it an open-minded, objective shot.

Fast forward a bit, and the Mac became my preferred platform for everything other than computer gaming. Cell phones were still just phones, and the big feature on a phone of the day was a color screen, I started looking a little closer at Linux as an option for the home, but I never really made any progress. It made more sense to just have my Mac and a Windows PC as a backup/gaming machine.

Fast forward a while later and I picked up a brand new Blackberry on the Nextel network (this was the big silver one with the Java-based OS, I can't remember the model number). I really liked the ability to get email on the go, as I was an IT Manager for a regional institution at that time, and while it worked it was, truly, a horrid experience most of the time. We're going to gloss over this portion, and jump ahead again to 2007.

When the iPhone launched I was instantly interested. Here was a device that was nice and slim (the Blackberry was far too cumbersome not to wear it in a holster), and seemed far more pleasing to use for my needs. Within a month, I bought one.

Since then I have grown to appreciate looking at solutions for their worth, and seeing if a platform or device compliments my workflow, just alters it, or hinders it. For me, the Mac/iOS combination is the best feature set, most seamless experience, and all around most pleasing to use. I like aspects of the other platforms that I've looked at, and I believe the Android OS has come a long way from when it was first introduced. What irritates me is when someone proclaims a device better for something that isn't actually true, or isn't something that matters to me.

Do yourself a favor, evaluate what works for you and make a choice based on that, not on "Person X" trying to sway you with their opinions.

Relationship Strength

There have been hundreds and hundreds and hundreds (and another few thousand) of articles about building and maintaining strong relationships. Typically the same rhetoric is involved (trust, communication, social circles, etc.) and the article praises the merits of maintaining these key traits in order to survive the apocalyptic world of separation/break-ups/divorce. While there are some pieces in each of these articles that are based on solid advice, the portion that each article typically lacks is the most important part: the how/why.

Before delving into the topic any further, one other piece must be understood: what makes a relationship good? Simply stated, a good relationship is one where the couple has a strong sense of each of them as individuals, as well as a strong sense of the two of them as one unit. Further, a good relationship is also one wherein the couple shares a feeling of connectedness, of safety and security, and a desire to make the other happy while maintaining the distinct understanding that each person is responsible for their own feelings (an observation that often goes ignored, with significant others blaming themselves for the way their partner feels).

To summarize further, a good relationship is one where two people feel connected to each other, feel safe and secure with each other, and share a desire to make each other happy.

This leads to the question of "how do we form such a relationship?" There are three basic pieces that every successful/strong relationship must possess, otherwise it will not last: trust, commitment, and vulnerability. For the sake of clarity, each of these is defined briefly here:

  • Trust - the feeling and knowledge of relying on another, and knowing that person is honest, caring, and supportive of us.
  • Commitment - the simple understanding that no matter what happens, we are in this together.
  • Vulnerability - the openness and sharing of the genuine, emotional self.

Trust

Building trust, especially when a person's past is full of situations or scenarios where trust has been broken, is perhaps one of the most difficult things to accomplish. Try not to target the big topics exclusively and remember that often the small things accomplish more than they get credit for. For instance, the simple act of calling or texting a significant other when running late, regardless of the reason, lets that person know that you understand their desire to make certain you are safe and that you want to alleviate fear. Taking a moment to send a message during the day letting your significant other know you are thinking of them is too often overlooked as a method of reassurance.

Maintaining boundaries that the two of you agree upon is also vital, such as being alone with a person that your significant other might view as an uncomfortable arrangement or scenario. This one can be tricky depending upon the dynamics of the relationship and the societal norms you and your partner hold, but the idea remains consistent: if it causes unease or uncertainty between you and your significant other, it is not worth placing yourself in the situation. The clichéd examples of being alone with a member of the opposite sex by heterosexual men and women fall into this category. If it is a long-standing friendship in question, talk about it with your significant other and make certain they are comfortable with the relationship before it becomes a source of uncertainty or unease. Understanding commitment, and having that knowledge and security that comes with true commitment, goes a long way toward generating and maintaining trust.

Commitment

All too often commitment is forgotten as a necessary and vital part of forming, maintaining, and enjoying a strong relationship. Marriage is supposed to be our ultimate expression of commitment to another, and yet in today's society it is often ignored or tossed around as a buzz word instead of being an honest and heartfelt decision. To make a commitment, and thereby to be committed to another, means that two people have decided that they will proceed through life from a specific point in time until one or the other is no longer present. In short, "we are in this together, no matter what happens."

To commit to another is not a decision or action to be made lightly, and it is something that should only be broken under the most dire of circumstances (such as an abusive relationship, or a relationship wherein one's life is threatened). Knowing that one has placed their full trust in another, and has chosen to stand with their significant other no matter what happens throughout life, is absolutely necessary for a person to lower their defenses and become vulnerable.

Vulnerability

Vulnerability, like trust, is difficult for many people to willingly pursue (especially if their trust in another was broken at some point in their past), and yet it is perhaps the one aspect of interpersonal relationships that absolutely must be present for a relationship to thrive. This is also the one area that tends to be most difficult for logical thinkers (and from a gender stereotype perspective, males) to understand and accomplish.

Being vulnerable means you are willing to tell your significant other how you feel, without placing blame or deflecting your feelings onto something else. For example, being willing to say "I feel hurt" instead of "You hurt me." In essence, you provide a window for that person to see into your heart and mind in a way that allows the two of you to talk about both of your feelings, and how to go about the pursuit of positive feelings instead of negative ones.

While none of these are exhaustive analyses, they should provide a starting point for being able to build a healthy, strong relationship. To read more about this topic, the following two articles are another good place to begin (and are the articles that prompted this exploration into what is necessary to form a strong, enriching relationship).

Sources For More Reading

Why It Isn't Just One Thing

Typically I try to refrain from posting about overly controversial topics, especially those that deal with highly emotional or political topics. However, in light of so many ignorant comments, I felt a desire to try to provide a well-rounded account of the things that are currently issues that should be a focus of discussion when talking about how we move forward as a society when dealing with recent tragedies. In essence, I want to try to emphasize that there is not "just one thing" that is the problem, or that we can resolve. There are a number of things that we have to look at and address, some of which must be examined at various levels ranging from the individual to the nation as a whole.

Note that I do not proclaim to have the answers to each piece, and in complete honesty I offer no ideas on how to proceed. However, not to look at each area listed below is as much a folly as trying to latch on a single "cure-all" solution, and the point of this post is to shed light on the assorted pieces of the puzzle.

Gun Control

First and foremost, repealing the Second Amendment and banning all firearms is not synonymous with gun control. Regardless of your stance on an individual owning firearms and their legal right to own them, to immediately call for a sweeping ban and assume that such action is the answer is both immensely shortsighted and extremely ignorant. To call for a ban on assault rifles is certainly justifiable, and reflects at least a modicum of thought, but still does not address the root issue. On the other side of the debate, those that proclaim the cliched "guns don't kill people, people kill people" is also a ridiculous argument, though it is more to the point than calling for a repeal and ban of all firearms.

Regulating gun ownership and education is absolutely a stance that should be supported. Making it more difficult to acquire weaponry through illegal channels is also pertinent, and would be even more important when stronger gun control laws are evaluated and placed into effect. I, for one, would not have any issue with the requirement of background checks being mandated in all states, in addition to a psychological evaluation, for a prospective firearm owner. I do feel, however, that the right to own a firearm is a personal choice that should be retained as granted by the Second Amendment.

Bear in mind, though, that even stricter legislation and requirements do not necessarily affect the ability of someone to acquire weapons and use them, as is evident by the number of shootings in which the weapons were not actually purchased by the perpetrator. This aspect is specifically why the following items are so important to keep in consideration.

The State of Mental Health

Mental health is, perhaps, one of the most important topics that should be addressed. The current state of health care (in general) in the United States is rather appalling, and the measures we have taken to attempt to rectify that area are appallingly ridiculous. However, the purpose of this discussion is to emphasize the stigma and derogatory view of those who pursue psychological assistance instead of looking at health care in general.

The current mindset in America is one of instant gratification. This is especially evident by the flippant way we view looking to medication/drugs to solve problems, instead of investing the time and effort in actually understanding and solving the root issues. When a person goes to see a psychologist, psychiatrist, or even counselor, the focus should be on establishing a mental and emotional baseline followed by stabilization. To be fair, many times this does (and should) include medical assistance. However, all too often the most crucial aspect, the baseline and stability, is overlooked or rushed due to assorted constraints (insurance, resources, etc.). Further, those who do seek assistance are often looked upon in a derogatory manner by society (labeling theory) as being "mental" or "unstable." In short, the state of mental health care must be addressed.

The State of Emotional and Mental Support

Going along with the previous section, there is a significant issue with the state of support for those who need it. This ranges from the support an individual needs from social circles to the organizations designed to assist others through everything from the mundane (life coaching, stress counseling, etc.) to the extreme (correctional facilities, addiction recovery and counseling, etc.). Simply put, many people feel they have no place to turn for help, be it the need to talk to someone or the need to become involved in a specific program. Support for each other is crucial, and should be something that occurs at every level from the interpersonal to the inter-societal to international.

Socioeconomic and Sociocultural Issues

Strongly tied to the aforementioned two, as well as the next two in the list, socioeconomic and sociocultural issues affect all aspects of life. There is no reason to think they should be ignored in this type of discussion. Typically we view these discussions in terms of "class warfare" or in explorations of the population grouped by median income. These tie directly in to the availability of support and care, just as they tie into the values and ideals instilled during growth and development.

This is one area of discussion that simply cannot be further summarized, as volume upon volume of work and research has been put into how various aspects of each affects the mental, emotional, and social interaction of people. Suffice it to say, this is easily a broad range of topics that must be addressed in order for our society to move forward.

The American Ideal

Culturally, we've all heard the tales of America being the place for someone to be able to become whatever they dare to dream of becoming. We also, though, tend to view success according to the way we compare to others. The American Dream (a.k.a the American Ideal) is just as much an issue. The idea is really simple. We place burdens on the shoulders of others in measuring success according to wealth, owning a home or automobile, going to college right after high school, dating then marriage then kids... the list of concepts heard in reference to "being part of life" goes on and on (and in fairness is a part of the socioeconomic and sociocultural issues already referenced). I chose to emphasize this separately, however, because it is something that is quoted all too often in media.

Faith and Belief Structures

To those who proclaim we are seeing the result of "removing God from schools," your argument is just as flawed as those who believe a ban on all weapons will solve the issue. Our country was founded on the principle of each individual having the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You could paraphrase it in a much more direct manner: every person has the right to pursue individual freedoms, guaranteed to citizens by the Constitution, as long as those freedoms do not infringe on the freedoms of another. This distinction and understanding is important when we begin talking about religion, due to the lack of a state/national religious belief and the core principle of religious freedom. There is a counter argument that makes sense, however: this nation was founded as a Christian nation, with specific reference to God.

Quite honestly, this is a dilemma that cannot be dismissed or ignored, but also cannot be resolved. Instead, individuals and their communities should focus on bringing their faith and beliefs back into everyday life through living according to the teachings of their faith. I will not proclaim any religious belief as the "one and only answer." All of the major religions share core philosophies and ideals that are correct. While I choose to believe in what I know to be true, someone with differing beliefs will say the same thing. That is both the beauty and the frustration with religious freedom and tolerance, and it is a right I will not attempt to take away from anyone.

In the end, we simply need to take a step back and embrace the age-old facts: in order to change the world, we must believe and adhere to our faith. We must live according to the teachings, principles, and philosophies we hold dear. We must be the agent of good, and choose to reach out to help each other.

Closing Remarks

If anything is certain, it is that looking at each of the above pieces separately will not work. Singling out any one item and making it a platform for "fixing" a broken society will not work. Our society is broken because of the ways in which all of these things work together to create issues, and things will not change until each of them is properly addressed.

Here's the problem. Our government will attempt to address each one through legislation, which effectively further limits or removes freedoms. This is the crux of the matter. Without a significant change in thinking, without looking at every issue and trying to actually understand and resolve them, the only way our current system can attempt to address these issues is through the limitation and/or removal of individual freedoms. I don't have an answer. I just know that each piece of the puzzle has to be examined, and we have to shift our mindset to look at everything from a different perspective than simple regulation.

Gender Discussions

Preface:

Over the course of the past few weeks, I have seen a number of comments talking about wanting to know more about women's rights, women's views, or how women are viewed with regards to the political campaigns in the United States Presidential race. I normally try to avoid referencing politics at all here, but the topic reminds me a lot of a couple of things I have discussed in the past and that, as I see it, bear repeating (I highly recommend you look at the post Ethnicity, Gender, and Privilege that I previously wrote). Note that this is not a piece where I am discussing the state of equality or inequality between any groups, be it based on gender, race, age, height, weight, eye colour, hair colour, or any other descriptor that one can use. With that out of the way, I hope you'll join me for an interesting discussion.

Gender Discussions:

The key point I made in my previous post was that introducing a descriptor or characteristic of a person or group into a discussion immediately renders that discussion invalid with regards to rights, policies, laws, or other official statements. Note that general discussion is not included in this list, and that is because the understanding of a group requires examination of the differences between groups. Using the examples of the right to vote and the opposition to affirmative action, I presented the idea that these regulations were not only a source of inequality, but also reaffirmed bias in discussing these topics.

Let's take the concept a bit further today. When we discuss policies, laws, procedures, or rights, we tend to draw from our own experiences in an effort to present balanced discussion. This is normal behavior, but it also introduces an immediate lack of objectivity in the discussion. This is the reason sociologists and psychologists warn about the dangers of classification and labels, and yet we continue to approach topics as though we are all different species instead of merely posessing differing physical traits. Yes, there is a difficulty in explaining cultural and socio-cultural differences without examining those traits, but for the purposes of politics, rights, and laws these differences should be relatively negated when viewing the entire populace as a single classification: human.

Think about it this way, which of the following is actually an example of complete equality, and which ones introduce room for bias:

  • The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged to any citizen of the United States who has reached the legal age of majority.
  • The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged to any citizen of the United States, regardless of race, gender, or age, as long as they have reached the legal age of majority.
  • All citizens of the United States, whether male or female, shall not be denied the right to vote upon reaching the legal age of majority.

The only one that is written from a purely unbiased perspective is the first in the list. Once we start talking in terms of equality, instead of talking in terms of categories, then we might actually start making progress. Until then, welcome to continued inequalities and biases based on the labels we ascribe ourselves every day.

I get that people are concerned about the policies and issues they see as a result of someone viewing them through the lens of inequality. I understand the reason the feminist movement exists, and applaud the efforts taken in trying to promote viewing all people as equal. The issue, though, is still the same as it has been since day one: we still discuss topics through categories and labels. Until that changes, we will never have true equality.

The Religion Problem

Introduction

No title really seemed to fit quite perfectly, but the "problem" of religion is as good a title as any for the concept of deciphering the issue with distinguishing between religious beliefs, religious practices, spiritual beliefs, and life philosophies. Many describe themselves as "spiritual, but not religious" or "believers in a faith, but disillusioned with the institution." There is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed when a person is forced to contradict themselves in order to describe their belief in something, and that is the "religion problem."

Background

The Advanced English Dictionary defines religion and faith using the same definitions, though faith also encompasses a couple of other definitions not included for religion. How is it, then, that we have grown to use the two as though they can be (and often are) mutually exclusive? Part of the issue lies in the inappropriate use of English in general, as we struggle to find a way to explain concepts that are difficult to grasp or define in everyday language. Part of the issue lies in the use of "religion" in a manner that encompasses more than just what the definition actually entails. Yet another part of the issue lies in trying to categorize everything as either a religion or a philosophy, without accepting that a lot of things are not quite so simple to categorize. Perhaps most concerning of all, though, is the apparent issue that religious institutions have created a divide among those who share their core beliefs.

Core Issue: Manifest Destiny versus Free Will

Most debates surrounding the concept of being spiritual or religious tend to center around the difficulty with believing that our story is written, from birth to death, for us. This debate takes a number of forms, and is further compounded by examinations of nature versus nurture from the scientific realm. Generally speaking, we tend to state that those who classify themselves as religious believe in an all-powerful, all-encompassing deity who controls everything about our lives. Traditionally religious teachings emphasized these aspects of God, rendering those who questioned manifest destiny uncomfortable at best or categorized as outcasts at worst. Those who identified with the concept of being spiritual tend to accept that there is a deity who is responsible for the creation of life, but did not accept the notion of manifest destiny.

Core Issue: Rituals versus Belief

Other debates take a more intimate approach and focus on the personal beliefs and feelings of each person. These debates tend to center around the idea that traditional religious organizations have become burdened with simply going through the motions and no longer try to examine and understand the doctrine associated with their belief. We see this all too often in typical churches, where there is a default structure of service and a message based on nothing but the reading and scholarly interpretation of scripture. Again, those who classify themselves as spiritual tend to question the personal application and interpretation of such teachings, wanting to form an understanding of the writings and their meaning instead of simply accepting what someone tells them is right or wrong. This same debate is seen in discussions regarding morality and ethical behavior; as society grows more aware of other views and attempts to become more open-minded in accepting cultural differences, we also tend to question things that are "preached" instead of "explained."

Personal Journey and Interpretations

While this is certainly not even close to an all-encompassing discussion of the topics, the background above should help understand the observations and thoughts that follow.

I grew up in a traditional baptist church, and over time I explored a number of other environments when I became disillusioned with the traditional teachings and views presented. Eventually I left traditional settings behind and pursued self-study, looking at various religions and philosophies from all around the world in search of something that made sense. During that time I began to accept that I fell into the "spiritual, but not religious" crowd and tried to understand what it was that made me reject the traditional notions of any deity, and I found that the primary issues I could not seem to resolve internally lay in the realm of disagreement with moral and ethical choices throughout life versus the concept of manifest destiny.

I've often used the example of describing two different people to provide a basic idea of this dilemma: person one who lives in a manner that most accept as good and just, trying to help others and live according to the teachings of their faith, and person two who lives in a manner that most would consider vile, doing everything possible to hurt others and satisfy their desire for destruction. Person one commits a single act of violence in defense of a loved one, and feels no remorse and asks no forgiveness. Person two lies on their deathbed and asks for forgiveness, seemingly wanting to right the wrongs they have committed over their lifetime. According to traditional views, person one would be condemned while person two would be saved, and this has always been a point of view I could not accept.

While there are many ways to approach the above example, and a number of ways to justify or explain either side, the point is simply to think about what it truly means to be spiritual or religious. It isn't to attend services at an institution or to preach to others at every opportunity; it isn't to proclaim that one person is right and another person is wrong, and it certainly isn't to judge or condemn another person. The true goal of any religious organization, and therefore the definition of what it should mean to be religious or spiritual, is the acceptance and understanding of a deity and their guidance on how to make the difficult choices we face. To this end it should be fairly obvious that there exists, on many levels, a fundamental problem with religion as we have grown to define it through various institutions.

The iPhone 5

Now that I have had some time with the new iPhone, I decided it might be a good idea to try to offer an objective, tempered write-up about a few of the different things I keep hearing in assorted conversations. This is not designed to be a full review, as there are plenty of really detailed write-ups out there already. Instead, this is designed as a piece that reminds us all that everyone's experience with Apple's newest device is not necessarily equal.

Maps in iOS 6

This has to be the one topic that has garnered the most scrutiny and discussion I've seen since the "Antennagate" debacle that was blown way out of proportion. Let me be clear, I have no doubt that a number of users are experiencing the problems they are describing. What I want to remind everyone of is a simple concept, but one that every publication seems to overlook: your experience and my experience will differ, just as your experience is not necessarily the defacto experience everyone will have and neither is mine.

The new maps app in iOS 6 has been absolutely phenomenal for me. I've had more accurate results than what I had with the old maps app in iOS 5. I know that my experience isn't the same as everyone else, but I really would like to know just how many people are having a frustrating experience versus how many are having a phenomenal experience.

As a quick and limited experiment, I took an iPhone 4 that I still have, my Garmin nuvi, and my iPhone 5 and compared basic usage (finding my current location and searching for a couple of places) and had basically the same results across the board. The Garmin and the iPhone 5 pinpointed my location slightly more accurately, and the iPhone 4 returned a couple of additional results that were unrelated to what I was looking for, but overall the result was pretty much the same. I'm not a heavy maps user, but the key takeaway is simple: each users' experience will differ.

Aesthetics and Design

The other point I wanted to emphasize is the one thing that no picture or write-up can truly explain: the iPhone 5 is absolutely gorgeous. The device reminds me of what makes Apple products so appealing to some - the care and detail taken in manufacturing a beautiful, functional, and classy device. For some of us, this is what attracted us to Apple products a long time ago (the only reason I initially bought an Apple laptop was because of how sexy the titanium PowerBook was, and it was from that point forward that I slowly became a complete convert to Apple and OSX).

Seriously, I cannot describe the iPhone in a way that will do it justice. Everything from the look and feel of the device at first glance, to the scrutiny and appreciation of an up-close and personal examination of each and every detail of the phone is a beauty to behold. Remember when the MacBook Pro went to an unibody chassis? Yeah, that type of appreciation for aesthetics in manufacturing simply cannot be described.

Apple versus Samsung/Google versus Nokia/Windows

Without going into any of the legal battles going on, and without biasing any thoughts based on experiences with different devices, I want to emphasize one other key point about the assorted devices now or soon to be available to consumers: everyone prefers a different experience (gee, sounds a lot like the maps concept above, doesn't it?).

My platform of choice is Apple/iOS/OSX. I have a laundry list of reasons for my choice, but the overall idea is simply that I prefer the experience and workflow those devices provide me over any alternatives I have explored. I like a lot of aspects of the Android operating system, and some of the phones out there running the Android OS are pretty nice. I like the concepts shown to us with Windows Phone 8, and if I were looking at going with something other than an iPhone the Nokia Lumia 920 is a very appealing device aesthetically. There are great devices and reasons out there for each platform. Figure out what you need and make the choice based on that, not on the ridiculous notion that you have to compare the specs between devices a, b, c, d, and e and choose based on a number.

In short, we're beyond choosing by number. Choose an OS/Hardware combination that appeals to you based on the experience provided.

Death of the Consumer's Interests

I generally choose not to write about the state of AT&T, Verizon, or any other carrier. There have been a couple of occasional rants (specifically, my post about Wireless Carriers and Fair Use comes to mind), but I tend to look at wireless carriers as a necessary evil if I choose to utilize the capabilities of current technology.

Today, however, marks a perfect illustration of why I have decided to leave AT&T after being with them since the initial iPhone.

I have an unlimited data plan with AT&T at the moment. This morning, I received the following message:

ATT Free Msg: Your data usage has reached 3GB this month. Using more than 3GB in future billing cycles will result in reduced speeds. You can use Wi-Fi to help avoid reduced speeds. Visit www.att.com/datainfo or call 866-344-7584 for more info.

While I realize that most carriers are trying to move everyone off of their unlimited data plans, this has simply reached a point of taking it too far. First, I cannot take advantage of the hotspot feature of my phone because I am on an unlimited plan, then it is announced that FaceTime will not be available over the cellular network because I have an unlimited plan, and now the unlimited plan doesn't even allot me the ability to go over 3GB of data usage (a first for me, actually) without penalties when AT&T sells bundles of data up to 10GB in size without such a penalty.

Goodbye AT&T. The last straw was the FaceTime deal. This just reaffirms that I'm making the right choice. Verizon may not be much better about the phasing out of unlimited data plans, but at least they're being up-front and honest about the way they are handling business. If I'm going to be forced off of my unlimited plan, I'm going to make sure my money goes to a company that openly states "it's your data, use it how you want."

Social Karma

Karmic justice is often used as an expression of one "getting what they deserve" or "reaping what they sow." More often than not, the phrase is used when one person feels wronged by another and hopes for some sort of vengeance. While understandable how this mentality has proliferated common thought, it is a misguided interpretation at best. Karma is an elegant idea, and is perhaps best summarized in the following excerpt:

The Pali term Karma literally means action or doing. Any kind of intentional action whether mental, verbal, or physical, is regarded as Karma. It covers all that is included in the phrase "thought, word and deed". Generally speaking, all good and bad action constitutes Karma. In its ultimate sense Karma means all moral and immoral volition. Involuntary, unintentional or unconscious actions, though technically deeds, do not constitute Karma, because volition, the most important factor in determining Karma, is absent. (source - http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/karma.htm - Removed direct link due to being flagged for malware by Google.)

This leads to the principle of "social karma," and applies to every interaction between people. While it may seem a bit redundant, the focus for this concept lies in the realm of social interaction, and not other deeds, thoughts, or actions that apply only to the self. This ties in with the previously posted concept of social reciprocity, but takes it a step further. In essence, the idea is to create a space that welcomes others, whether virtual or physical, and conveys the moral and ethical mindset and ideals of the creator of said space.

The challenge becomes simplistic at this point: do you convey an attitude of "people get what they deserve" in your sphere of influence, or do you convey the attitude of "this is how I want the world to be, and so this is how express myself?" In other words, do you look for others to seek you out and join in your endeavors because of your statements and actions, or do you simply state that others will reap the consequences of their statements and actions?

This approach is the way I have attempted to grow a community around each iteration of weblog that I have created. Up until now it has been quite successful. With Renegade Noble I am starting to see an upward trend in people who view the site, but I still haven't broken that magical barrier of silence from most visitors. Honestly, I'm not sure if it is really feasible to create that conversational atmosphere here, but I will not stop trying. It may be that the assorted topics here are too diverse, or that I simply have not hit upon that one topic that really draws someone in to comment. It may be that those who do visit simply read and go about their day, uninterested in the concept of conversation through a blog interface. Regardless of the root cause, I still adhere to the concept described above: I will continue to create a place wherein the expression of ideas, the discussion of topics, and the overall feeling of being able to freely converse is maintained.

I would like to request some feedback as well, especially in an effort to try to break that magical silence:

  • What draws you to Renegade Noble?
  • What topics interest you?
  • What makes you take the time to comment on something?
  • Is the site easy to navigate, and can you find what you are looking for?
  • Is there anything else you would like to say?

Feel free to comment here, or email me, or seek me out on Twitter... all of the assorted ways to contact me can be found at the top and bottom of the site, and hopefully are showing up properly in the RSS feed.

Understanding Security Basics

The story of how Wired Magazine's Mat Honan was hacked (link to his article on Wired.com) has become quite a scary story. There is credit to the notion that security measures in place across various cloud-based services should be better aligned and standardized, but that is not the topic for this post. The underlying issue that everyone needs to be aware of, is that security is not necesarily about stopping an attack from being able to occur, but about mitigating the damage that can occur as the result of an attack.

Using a strong password, and a different password for each system or site you access, is the standard "best practices" approach that should be explained by anyone with an IT background. The part that is often glossed over, though, is that a strong password is only one piece of the puzzle. Most successful attacks are not the result of cracked passwords, but of the ability for a person to socially engineer the information they need to gain access to some piece of information that proves vital. As in the case of Mr. Honan's unfortunate experience, social engineering was successful again.

How could this have been avoided, then? Certainly better security practices would have assisted in this case, but that comes with the reliance on the vendor of the product or service in question. Is there anything an individual could do on their own to help mitigate such a disaster? Yes.

Mr. Honan mentions the key piece of information that IT professionals have been preaching for years: back up your data. While this would not have stopped the attck from occuring, nor would it have alleviated the stress and headache of dealing with such a nightmare, it would have at least provided a way for Mr. Honan to restore everything that was lost during the attack.

This is the one piece of information I want to emphasize: if you feel it is important, back it up.

In the above case, I do feel as though Mr. Honan has a very legitimate point that everyone should also be aware of:

But what happened to me exposes vital security flaws in several customer service systems, most notably Apple’s and Amazon’s. Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information — a partial credit card number — that Apple used to release information. In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification. The disconnect exposes flaws in data management policies endemic to the entire technology industry, and points to a looming nightmare as we enter the era of cloud computing and connected devices.