Who serves time? Breaking down stereotypes about juvenile offenders
A lesson plan based on “Doing Time” in the January-February 2002 issue of L.A. Youth, in which a teenager describes his life inside juvenile hall and how he got there.
By Sue Doyle, Associate Editor
Subjects: Language arts, social studies, psychology
Suggested time allowance: 45 min. – 1 hr.
Overview of lesson plan: In this lesson, students learn about the juvenile justice system, juvenile hall and discuss stereotypes of young offenders.
1. Define the juvenile justice system
2. Discuss juvenile offenders
3. Evaluate juvenile hall
4. Suggest changes to the system
Resources and materials:
— pens, paper
— copies of L.A. Youth article “Doing Time” (one per student)
— classroom blackboard
1. WARM-UP: On the board write “The juvenile justice system is…”
Ask students to define the juvenile justice system. In other words, what do they think it is? Ask students to read their answers aloud and write them on the board. Look for similarities in the different responses, as it will give you a look at what their general consensus is. Choose a final definition that the class can agree on. The definition should include that it’s a legal system similar to adult court, but created specifically for youth charged with crimes.
Continue the discussion by asking students to define juvenile hall. What is it? What does it look like? What is it like to stay there? Ask students to write their definitions on their papers. When done, encourage students to read their responses aloud. Write their answers on the board. Choose a definition that students agree on.
Complete the warm-up by asking the class to describe three characteristics of teens in jail. What do they look like? Are they poor? Rich? From bad or good homes? What types of people instantly come to mind? Ask students to write down their responses on a separate sheet of paper. Tell students they don’t have to write their names on the paper. Collect the papers and write the responses on the board. Circle the three most repetitive answers—it gives light to stereotypes of “juvenile offender” etched in students’ minds. Discuss those three responses. How do they feel about them? Do stereotypes help or hurt people? How?
2. As a class, read and discuss the L.A. Youth article “Doing Time,” and focus on the following questions:
a. Peter has concerns and misses many things about life outside of Juvenile Hall. What are they?
— Growing up and starting a family
— Going to the beach with friends
— Hanging around with his family
b. Peter describes his lack of freedom and independence while living in Juvenile Hall throughout the story. What activities of Peter’s are controlled?
— A guard wakes him up yelling to get dressed and washed up.
— Someone tells Peter when he can eat, drink and use the bathroom.
— He can talk to his parents on the phone for10 minutes a week.
— His family can only visit for one hour a week.
c. Describe Peter’s life before Juvenile Hall.
— He played classical music on the piano and was a child prodigy
— He had a good childhood.
— He never had a criminal past.
— People referred to him as a well-mannered, polite and smart kid.
— He was friends with everyone and liked to make people laugh.
d. What does Peter say about his alleged crime and the juvenile justice system?
— He was arrested and charged with a home invasion robbery with possession of a firearm.
— He faces a maximum 30-year sentence in state prison.
— He will plead guilty and take a lesser sentence of 12 years in prison.
— This is his first offence and he’s surprised at the harsh punishment.
— He will live with being labeled a criminal for the rest of his life.
e. How did Peter respond when they charged him with the crime?
— He laughed and thought it was a big joke.
— He thought it was the dumbest thing he ever heard.
f. How does Peter stay positive in jail?
— He participates in many classes.
— He expresses his feelings through writing and essays.
3. After reading the story, revisit the definitions of juvenile justice and juvenile hall written on the blackboard. Ask students how they feel about the juvenile justice system since they read the story and if they want to add or change their previous definition? Do the same for the class definition of juvenile hall.
4. Look again at the top three stereotypes of juvenile offenders written on the blackboard. Do any characteristics match Peter? Have their opinions of juvenile offenders changed since reading this story?
5. WRAP-UP: In class, ask students to think about Peter’s situation. His sentence surprises him, since the alleged home invasion robbery was his first offence. He faces 12 years in prison. Is this fair? Is the sentence too harsh? Or is his sentence not long enough? Students need to decide and then write down their arguments defending their opinions. Have students read their arguments aloud.
Evaluation and assessment:
Students will be evaluated based upon their class participation and written work.
• Based on students’ arguments about Peter’s sentence, how should the juvenile justice system change? Should the rules inside juvenile hall change? How? Will Peter be better off after serving his sentence? Describe.
• Have students write their answers on a sheet of paper.