Crime adversely affects each member of society, either directly or indirectly, be it rape, murder, arson, or theft. Whether it’s the emotional cost of recovering from victimization or the financial costs of higher insurance rates or that of the corrections system, compounded by the lack of prisoners’ contributions to society, we all pay. Oddly enough, criminals know more about the law than honest citizens. High recidivism rates prove that we are not realizing a reasonable return on investment by simply building more prisons.

The question: would it be more advantageous for society to provide a legal overview to an individual before he or she learns the law as a result of being convicted in the criminal justice system? Research has led Youth Vault Inc to believe that such is the case and we are not alone. There is broad consensus among respected organizations like the World Health Organization and the United Nations: governments are incentivized to transcend traditional law enforcement by addressing factors that cause crime because it is more cost efficient and beneficial to society. In fact, every $1 devoted to prevention can save up to $3 in correction.

Supporting Research

Supported by research, Youth Vault Inc. 501(c)3 believes in the benefit of providing legal instruction supplemented with a positive role model program as a preventative measure against juveniles committing crime. The program provides youth with knowledge of what a crime is and its repercussions prior to acting. This is important because science has proven that children 16 and under are missing the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex in their brain- it plays a crucial role in a teens’ decision-making and understanding of future consequences. This does not fully develop until their 20s.

When caught in the heat of passion or the tempest of anger, their decision making can be further impaired and must be supplemented prior to acting. Additionally, while crime has trended flat, some sects are bucking the trend. The primary difference is seen racially with juveniles ages 14 to 17.

“In 2000, 539 white and 851 black juveniles committed murder, according to analysis of federal data. In 2007, the number for whites, 547, had barely changed, while that for blacks was 1,142, up 34 percent (Fox, Swatt 2008).”

Heightening the problem of juvenile crime is the lack of real-life role models, and a juvenile’s substituted use of pop-culture, Icons for role models. Utilizing preliminary patterns detected in Dr. Frank F. Furstenberg’s (the Zellerbach Sociology Professor at the University of Pennsylvania) Philadelphia Educational Longitudinal Study (PELS), YVI explored the relations and effects on a youth’s transition to adulthood, as they interchange real time role models with pop-culture icons.

Research shows that: an individual’s behavior is largely influenced by a circle of relations: family and colleagues as well as their personal and natural environment. The current generation of parents, the primary mentors, spends less time in the household than its predecessors. This is significant despite most of the 1000 children, age 8 to 18, polled in 2002 by Ellen Galinsky, Executive Editor of Work & Family Life, reporting that they did not ask for more time with their parents, but more ‘focused’ time, citing work-related stress as a source of interference.

Meanwhile, the avenues of textual influence for youths (magazines, TV, films, music videos, commercials and gaming) have increased with the introduction of MTV and video games that demand undivided attention. Moreover, TV and media, in general, pressure youths to become the image that they see. They portray TV icons as role models although a lot of what they see on TV about these role models is the ‘good life’ and they ignore the behind-the-scenes footage” (Fanous, 2002). Yet, American children watch an average of 3 hours of TV each day while only spending an average of 2.5 hours with their fathers each weekday (CNN, 2004 / Univ. of Michigan, 1999).

Research shows that as adolescents seek independence from their parents, they start to spend an increasing amount of time with their peers, participating in past times that are important within their peer sphere. “Their reliance on peers for social support is coupled with increasing pressures to attain social status. Toughness and aggressiveness are important status considerations for boys, while appearance is a central determinant of social status among girls” (ERIC /CASS Virtual Library, 2000). Consequently, the (media, sport and gaming) icons our youths choose to emulate are selected because they reinforce the characteristics these youths would like to assume.

By showcasing an Icon’s brush with crime via, YVI captivates then educates Juveniles on the tenants of criminal law, as well as the repercussions of criminal acts, so a ‘mind map’ can be referenced should a similar situation present itself -and a more reasonable choice be made. YVI won’t stop there; we provide avenues for juveniles to learn criminal law and to be further influenced by positive role models.