The Impact of Supervision on First-Time Drug Possession Offenders in the USA

Drug use is one of the leading problems that many American teenagers face. According to a report by Cohn (2016), drug use is very popular among adolescents growing up in crime-prone ghettos of major urban centers in the country. The government has come up with various initiatives to fight drug smuggling and its use in the country but the problem persists. Those who are found in possession of drugs, whether it is for sale or consumption, may be sentenced to a jail term as enshrined in-laws of the country. However, an emerging trend where more juveniles are found in possession of these drugs has raised questions about the effectiveness of using jail terms as a way of punishment.

Leech (2016) observes that some parents, family members, or family friends are using teenagers to smuggle drugs. Some of these minors have also embraced the use of drugs because of early exposure. In the past, judges would sentence first-time drug possession offenders to a short jail term in juvenile prisons. However, recent studies suggest a jail term for first-time drug possession offenders may not be the best approach to dealing with the problem (Williams & Smalls, 2015). In many cases, these minors get into contact with hardened criminals while in prison. Instead of reforming into better citizens, they get indoctrinated into the world of crime where they learn to use violence to get what they want. Scholars have strongly supported out-of-jail punishments as a way of correcting these first-time offenders. In this paper, the researcher seeks to determine the impact of supervision (probation) on first-time juvenile drug possession offenders in the United States.

Research Question

The study focuses on the specific issue of using probation as a way of punishing juveniles who are found to have drugs for the first time. It seeks to determine if probation is a better alternative than sending them to serve terms in prison. It was considered crucial to develop research questions that would help in collecting the relevant data. The following question will guide the entire process of data collection:

What is the impact of probation on the rehabilitation of first-time juvenile offenders accused of drug possession in the United States?

The researcher will use data from both primary and secondary sources to answer the above question.

Literature Review

The United States federal government, through the Drugs Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other law enforcement agencies, has been keen on cracking down on the use and sale of drugs within the country. Those found in possession of drugs may face a long time in prison, especially if they had committed the same crime before. However, Leech (2016) notes that a new challenge is emerging in the fight against drug use and possession. Some of those who are arrested and charged with possession are minors who are first-time offenders. In many cases, they are naïve individuals who fall prey to cartels to help in the distribution of drugs. Sending them to jail may not be the best form of punishment because they may be exposed to hardened criminals who may indoctrinate them to a life of major crimes. Geiman (2018) argues that they can come out of prison more dangerous criminals than they were before serving time in jail. This issue has made it necessary for the government to reconsider alternative forms of punishment that are more effective when handling first-time juvenile offenders.

Comparing First-Time Offenders and Multiple Offenders

When a suspect is brought before a judge for possession of drugs, one of the most important factors that must be taken into consideration is whether the person is a first-time or multiple offender. Of interest to the presiding judge is whether the accused has the habit of selling and using drugs or if it was a possible misjudgment that can be corrected through other means (Maynard, Salas-Wright, & Vaughn, 2015). A first-time drug possession offender will always be treated differently from a repeat offender. When it is established that an accused had been charged with possession in the past, then it may be an indication that he has developed a habit of using or selling drugs. In such cases, a more serious form of punishment may be necessary.

Such a repeat offender may need to be taken to correctional facilities to help them transform into better citizens. Allowing them back to the streets without having them serve jail terms may not be an effective way of punishment. However, first-time offenders can be considered victims of circumstances (Cohn, 2016). It may be possible that they were manipulated by their friends or family members into having drugs. Leech (2016) says that sometimes one may be set up by peers to have them serve jail terms. Given the many possibilities that such an offender is not a keen user or distributor of drugs, a more lenient punishment than jail term may be necessary (Williams & Smalls, 2015). The punishment should be a reminder to them that they have to stay clean and avoid companies and avenues that can land them in similar problems in the future.

Role of Race in Determining the Method of Disciplining Offenders

According to Williams and Smalls (2015), the race is a major factor when dealing with the problem of drug use and possession in the United States. African Americans are considered more likely to have drugs than any other race in the country (Weinrath, Donatelli, & Murchison, 2016). It is important to note that the problem is not genetic but social. First, the type of neighborhood where most African Americans grow up exposes them to drug use and smuggling at a very tender age. In these dangerous neighborhoods, drug smuggling is one of the main ways of earning quick money for many teenagers. It is easy to access drugs in these areas. The people that these minors interact with also make it simple for them to use and be engaged in the sale of drugs. Poverty is another problem that still affects many African Americans because of the social structure of the country. A study by Snyder (2016) found out that African Americans are less likely to get a decent job than white colleagues with similar qualifications. Some of them resort to the smuggling of drugs because of frustrations.

The method of disciplining offenders should always be purely based on the crime committed and what the law says, not the color of the skin of the offender. However, it is unfortunate that sometimes race determines the method of disciplining the offenders, as Cohn (2016) observes. Discrimination is still a major problem in the United States’ judicial system. It is common to find cases where the same judge pronounces different sentences to different individuals who have committed the same crime purely based on their race. African Americans are more likely to be sent to jail as first-time drug possession offenders than any other race in the country because of the societal perception that they are leading in the sale and possession of drugs (Chang-Bae & Schulenberg, 2010). The stereotype clouds the judgment of many magistrates who then fail to be objective in assessing the case presented before them before making their judgment. According to Leech (2016), some judges consider sending juveniles accused of owning drugs to jail as a way of taking them away from a corrupt environment. When it is established that such an offender is likely to get back to the same habits if he is released with a warning, a judge may opt to send them to juvenile correctional facilities as a way of protecting them. Such cases are more common among African Americans who are brought up in crime-prone neighborhoods than whites.

Effect and Efficiency of Probation on First Time Juvenile Offenders

The choice of probation is becoming popular when handling first-time juvenile offenders found to have drugs. According to Leech (2016), probation is a superior approach to serving a jail term for juveniles. One of the biggest advantages of probation is the fact that an offender is assigned a court official who will supervise and guide him in the entire period of the service. Many teenagers get into crime because they lack mentors (Hirsch, Dierkhising, & Herz, 2018). Some of them have parents who are never at home to offer the guidance that they need. Others are exposed to people who can only lead them towards a path of crime and self-destruction. Probation offers them a rare opportunity to be in constant contact with a person keen on guiding them towards a path of success in life. Probation is an efficient way of punishing these juveniles because the judicial officer can assess the environment within which the offenders live to determine if it is appropriate for their moral development.

The choice of probation means that such an offender will not be sent to correctional facilities. A study by Cohn (2016) shows that those who have been in jail are almost four times more likely to commit a crime than those who have never been incarcerated. It means that although correctional facilities are meant to transform prisoners into better individuals once they are released, little is always achieved in that regard. The problem, according to Leech (2016), is that in prison, one is exposed to all forms of criminals. They end up developing dangerous networks of criminal-minded individuals. Once they are released from prisons and they get together, most of their discussions will always revolve around getting back to their criminal ways of life. Williams and Smalls (2015) argue that the time they spend in jail and their criminal past makes it difficult for them to get decent jobs in society. Very few employers would be willing to hire people who have served time in jail.

Conceptual Framework

Juveniles who are found in possession of drugs for the first time should not be sent to prison. Instead, they need to be subjected to supervision so that they can be helped to overcome the habit and to transform into responsible citizens. The problem with juvenile correctional facilities is that these offenders may get into the wrong companies. Instead of learning to stay out of trouble, such minors may learn how to scale up their criminal activities. It becomes a vicious circle that benefits neither the government nor offenders. Figure 1 below shows a conceptual framework of the pattern that makes jail sentences inappropriate for first-time juveniles offenders:

The undesirable pattern of transforming a first-time juvenile offender into a hardened criminal.
Fig. 1. The undesirable pattern of transforming a first-time juvenile offender into a hardened criminal.

Research Gap

The concept of probation is increasingly becoming a popular topic in the field of criminal justice. It is largely considered a better alternative when handling juvenile offenders who are accused of drug use and possession (Williams, Ryan, Davis-Kean, McLoyd, & Schulenberg, 2017). The existing studies do not give a proper focus on the benefits of probation on African American juvenile offenders who are living in crime-prone neighborhoods. Although it may be dangerous to release these juveniles back to these neighborhoods when they have the right supervision and support of court officials they can overcome challenges in these neighborhoods. It is necessary to improve the existing knowledge on this issue. This study seeks to address this knowledge gap.

Hypothesis

The review of literature strongly suggests that probation is a more effective way of correcting first-time juvenile offenders found in possession of drugs in the United States. Based on the findings from secondary sources, the following hypothesis was developed in line with the research question. The researcher will analyze primary data to confirm this research hypothesis.

H1. Probation is an effective means of correction that may even be better than conventional punishments found in the criminal justice system.

Methodology

In this section, the focus will be to discuss methods used in collecting data, types of data collected, the analysis method, and the presentation approach. When conducting research, Geiman (2018) advises that one should come up with a clear method of collecting data. The methodology provides a detailed plan of activities that must be carried out to realize the objectives of the study. Data were collected from both primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources of data were obtained from scholarly articles and they formed the basis of the review of the literature. Primary data were obtained from a sample of respondents as discussed below.

Sampling and Sample Size

In this research, it was necessary to collect data from probation officers who are always engaged in supervising convicts sentenced to probation and community work. These officers can determine the efficiency of probation and whether it is the most appropriate form of punishment for first-time juvenile offenders found to have drugs. It was also necessary to talk to individuals who were sent to jail as juveniles and those who were sentenced to probation because of various crimes they committed, especially those who were found guilty of having drugs. Analyzing the path that these individuals took after their first sentencing (whether they were sent to jail or sentenced to probation) can help in comparing the effectiveness of the two correctional methods. Given the limited time available for the study, it was necessary to select a manageable sample from the entire population to take part in the study. Stratified sampling was considered an appropriate approach for the research. It made it possible to select officers and individuals who went through the juvenile justice system because of their criminal activities as minors. The researcher sampled 50 participants in the study.

Data Collection Instrument

It was necessary to develop an instrument for collecting primary data from the sampled respondents. A questionnaire was considered the most appropriate tool for collecting standardized data from all participants. The questionnaire had three sections. The first section captured the demographics of the respondents. It was important to determine the age and experiences of the respondents. The second section of the questionnaire was meant to classify the respondents as probation officers or individuals who have been subjected to the juvenile criminal justice system in the country at a given stage of their lives. The last section of the questionnaire focused on specific questions to determine the effectiveness of probation and its superiority to the use of jail terms. A survey was used to collect data from the respondents.

Mixed-Method

In the analysis of the primary data, the researcher used a mixed-method because of the nature of the research questions. A quantitative method of analysis was necessary to determine the magnitude of the efficiency of probation in transforming first-time juvenile offenders found to have drugs. The analysis involved comparing a jail term and probation to determine which is the most appropriate when handling minors. As such, it was necessary to determine the magnitude of each regarding their benefits to minors and society. Data obtained from the respondents were assigned numerical values using the Lickert scale and coded in the excel spreadsheet. The outcome of the statistical analysis was presented in graphs and charts. It was also necessary to use qualitative analysis. Other than the mathematical findings, it was necessary to use descriptions of specific issues and events to enhance an understanding of the issue under investigation. The researcher was interested in understanding the narrative of the individuals who once went through the jail system and those who went through probation to understand how they were influenced. The mixed method of analysis makes it possible to come up with a comprehensive finding of the appropriateness of probation when punishing first-time juvenile offenders found in possession of hard drugs in the United States.

Limitations and Ethical Considerations

When conducting this study, the researcher encountered limitations that are worth discussing. One of the main issues that the researcher encountered was the limited time available for the research. The process of identifying the right literature, reviewing them, planning and collecting primary data, and analyzing the collected data was very demanding. Everything had to be completed within the timeframe provided by the school. The process of identifying and engaging participants was also another challenge that was encountered. Some of the participants declined to participate in the study. However, the researcher was able to identify the right number of respondents within a short time because of the support received from some of the probation officers.

When collecting data, the researcher had to observe various ethical issues. First, it was important to get permission from relevant authorities before collecting data from institutions. The researcher made a formal request to the management of the correctional facilities in the region to approve the collection of data from their employees and inmates. The respondents were only contacted after receiving the necessary approval. It was also crucial to ensure that the identity of participants was protected. The researcher assigned them pseudo names as a way of ensuring that they remained anonymous. It was also necessary to observe the rules and regulations set by the school regarding conducting research. Any form of plagiarism was avoided. Information obtained from external sources was properly referenced using American Psychological Association (APA) format. The completed document had to be delivered within the provided timeframe.

Results and Discussion

Results

The analysis section focused on presenting findings made from the primary data collected from the respondents. As explained in the methodology chapter above, the analysis took a mixed-method approach. The best way of answering the research question was to obtain the statistical figures to express the magnitude and description of benefits. The following was the primary question that had to be answered in the study.

What is the impact of probation on the rehabilitation of first-time juvenile offenders accused of drug possession in the UAS?

The respondents’ opinion on this issue was not skewed. There was a clear pattern that shows their support of probation as a way of punishing juvenile offenders found in possession of drugs for the first time. Respondents stated that one of the most important impacts of probation is its ability to transform offenders into law-abiding citizens. The probation officer will not only guide the offender towards a drug-free life but also on other issues that may land them back to the court. The officer will help the juvenile to understand how they can stay away from illegal activities such as robbery with violence, burglary, car theft, pick-pocketing, and other forms of crime. Another crucial impact of probation, according to respondents, is that it empowers juveniles. The probation officer also acts as a mentor. He can help the offender to realize their dreams of becoming successful people in society. When possible, these officers can arrange for physical meetings with people that these minors admire most in society so that they can get further help. Respondents also stated that probation shields minors from being in contact with hardened criminals who can influence them negatively. Participants have requested to state whether probation is an appropriate way of punishing first-time juvenile offenders found in possession of drugs. The graph below (figure 2) shows the outcome of the analysis of their response.

Appropriateness of probation in correcting juvenile offenders.
Fig. 2. Appropriateness of probation in correcting juvenile offenders.

The statistics show that 50 participants responded to the question. A significant majority (60%) strongly agreed with the use of probation as a means of dealing with juvenile delinquency in the United States. Another 32% also stated that they agree with the usefulness of this strategy. It means that an overwhelming majority (92%) believe that probation is an effective way of punishing minors found to have drugs for the first time. Only 4% of the respondents had a contrary opinion, stating that this approach may not be the best. Another 4% were not sure of the effectiveness of the method in dealing with juvenile delinquency.

When one is found guilty of possession of drugs for the first time, the presiding judge has three options to take. He may decide to issue a stern warning to the offender and release him without any other form of punishment. The option may be taken if it is established that it was a pure mistake and that the juvenile offender understands the seriousness of the crime hence is willing to do everything to avoid similar mistakes. However, this option was not given priority in the analysis. Of interest was to analyze the other two options which are a jail term and probation. Respondents were asked to compare the effectiveness of the two methods when punishing first-time drug possession offenders. Figure 3 below shows their response.

Comparing probation and jail-term as means of correcting juvenile offenders.
Fig. 3. Comparing probation and jail-term as means of correcting juvenile offenders.

As shown in the figure above, there was massive support for probation (88%) as a means of correcting minor offenders. Only 12% stated that they would support jail-term as an appropriate means of corrective minors found guilty of possession of drugs for the first time. On the other hand, a significant majority of respondents (76%) stated that they oppose the use of jail terms while 24% also voiced their opposition towards the use of probation. Based on the findings made above, it is clear that the hypothesis below was accepted.

H1. Probation is an effective means of correction that may even be better than conventional punishments found in the criminal justice system.

The respondents strongly support the use of probation as a way of dealing with first-time juvenile offenders. They highlighted numerous benefits that this method has over other available alternatives.

Discussion

Drug abuse is one of the biggest challenges that American society faces at the moment. According to Snyder (2016), the main issue is that people start using drugs and alcohol at a tender age, making it difficult to overcome the problem as they get addicted. Peer pressure has been cited as one of the main factors that drive teenagers to use hard drugs. Most of them access drugs at school through their colleagues. The current trend means that a new problem is emerging where minors are used to sell the substance. Given that law enforcement officers are always more lenient when dealing with minors than when handling adults, drug traffickers are opting to use teenagers to traffic and sell marijuana and cocaine in the country. After initiating colleagues into the use of drugs, they become regular buyers of the commodity, making these students perfect intermediaries in this illegal trade.

As Geiman (2018) notes, the law must take its course and when minors are arrested because of possession of drugs, age may not be a shield that can defend them from punishment. When it is established that the individual is a repeat offender who had been arrested and arraigned in court for a similar offense before, the judge may be forced to take more serious action against such a minor. The goal of the justice system in the United States is to transform people who have been convicted of a given crime. If the previous sentencing was light, such as a mere warning or probation, and the juvenile has made the same mistake, the judge may be forced to send such a person to jail. The length of the jail term depends on the magnitude of the offense and the number of times the person has been in courts for the same crime.

When dealing with first-time juvenile offenders, probation has been established to be the most effective way of punishment. When one is sentenced to a given period of probation, the presiding judge will be appreciating the fact that the individual can change. It is possible that their young age made it easy for them to be manipulated by unscrupulous people selling drugs. It may also be a case where the minor lacks a mentor who can guide him towards a path of success in life. The court official who will be assigned to supervise activities of the offender outside prison is expected to become the mentor that the minor needs to be successful in life.

According to Williams and Smalls (2015), one of the biggest benefits of probation is that the court official will try to investigate reasons why the minor was involved with the drug. Areas of focus will be the environment within which the minor was raised, the kind of family that the offender has, the friends he hangs out with, and the overall influence of the immediate environment. If it is established that the environment is not appropriate for such a child to get the right upbringing, the court official can make a recommendation on how to help the child. Snyder (2016) states that as a court officer, the person assigned to supervise the offender can work closely with police officers to deal with the problem of drug abuse in a given area. The constant visit and engagement with the minor will help the officer to understand the pattern of drug trade and consumption in the area. The main culprits can easily be identified and arrested so that the problem can be uprooted from the region.

Conclusion

Probation is the most effective method to discipline a first-time juvenile offender accused of drug possession. The primary data obtained from a sample of respondents and the review of the literature support the use of probation as a means of punishing first-time juvenile offenders. Serving a jail term is largely considered a less desirable strategy of punishment for these minors because they may be exposed to hardened criminals who may have a lasting influence on them. Instead of reforming into better citizens, they may become part of a serious crime web after being released from prisons. They may learn how to commit serious crimes in society, and they will always have the support of the friends gained while in prison. Probation is a safer way of reforming these minors. It ensures that they are not locked up in prisons where they can interact with other criminals, but at the same time can serve a sentence for their crime. The probation officers can offer them the necessary support that they need to lead a normal crime-free life in society.

References

Chang-Bae, L., & Schulenberg, J. L. (2010). The impact of race and youth cohort size: An analysis of juvenile drug possession arrest rates. Journal of Drug Issue, 40(3), 653-679.

Cohn, A. (2016). Juvenile focus. Federal Probation, 80(1), 64-70.

Geiman, D. (2018). An entire generation craves professional development. Corrections Today, 80(2), 94-96.

Hirsch, R., Dierkhising, C., & Herz, D. (2018). Educational risk, recidivism, and service access among youth involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Children & Youth Services Review, 85(1), 72-80.

Leech, J. (2016). Beyond collective supervision: Informal social control, pro-social investment, and juvenile offending in urban neighborhoods. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 26(3), 418-431.

Maynard, B., Salas-Wright, C., & Vaughn, M. (2015). High school dropouts in emerging adulthood: Substance use, mental health problems, and crime. Community Mental Health Journal, 51(3), 289-299.

Snyder, S. (2016). Serious juvenile offenders: The need for a third sentencing option in Wisconsin. Marquette Law Review, 100(1), 267-293.

Weinrath, M., Donatelli, G., & Murchison, J. (2016). Mentorship: A missing piece to manage juvenile intensive supervision programs and youth gangs? Canadian Journal of Criminology & Criminal Justice, 58(3), 291-321.

Williams, A., Ryan, J., Davis-Kean, P., McLoyd, C., & Schulenberg, J. (2017). The discontinuity of offending among African American youth in the juvenile justice system. Youth & Society, 49(5), 610-633.

Williams, G., & Smalls, W. (2015). Exploring a relationship between parental supervision and recidivism among juvenile offenders at a juvenile detention facility. International Social Science Review, 90(2), 1-22.

Questionnaire

The Demographics of the Respondents

  • What is your age? { }
  • What is your gender { }
  • Have you experienced the United States’ juvenile justice system?
    • Yes
    • No

Classification of the Respondents

  • Kindly select your appropriate classification (tick as appropriate)
    • I am a probation officer
    • I am an individual who has been subjected to the juvenile criminal justice system

Effectiveness of Probation in Punishing First-Time Juvenile Offenders

  • Do you believe probation is an effective way of punishing first-time juvenile offenders?
  • Do you believe probation is superior to serving a jail term when punishing juvenile offenders?
  • What is the impact of probation on the rehabilitation of first-time juvenile offenders accused of drug possession in the USA?