The youth lived in 45 separate self-contained treatment/classroom groups, each with its own interdisciplinary staff team. This enabled researcher to study the impact of these different treatment environments. Thus, though all programs used peer group treatments, they differed on variables such as the amount of autonomy given to youth and the closeness of the staff and youth relationships. Variations in the group culture were related to success in the program and in the community after release.
Gold and Osgood reviewed prior research showing that homogeneous settings for aggressive youth typically spawn strongly negative youth countercultures. Instead of cooperating with treatment goals, students resist adult control, develop a code of silence against informing on one another, go underground to circumvent institutional rules, and use physical coercion to maintain a peer subculture committed to delinquent values and behavior. An ongoing debate in the research literature is considering why these negative subcultures form. Two competing explanations have been proposed:
1. Negative youth traits: Delinquent youth “import” into the reeducation setting their dysfunctional character traits. This is a collective example of the “bad apple” notion.
2. Negative Institutional Milieu: Depriving environments create aggressive countercultures, harsh, coercive settings strip youth of autonomy and decision making, this fostering rebellion.
Contrary to what might have been expected, Gold and Osgood found that delinquents in the Michigan settings regularly viewed their environments as safe and supportive. Although full consideration of their exhaustive study is beyond the scope of our current discussion here, we highlight their findings related to the principles of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity.
Belonging: The more troubled and beset youth are, the more they need close personal attachments to reconstruct their lives. Adults who do not form these bonds distance themselves from delinquent youth and thereby diminish their ability to influence them.
Mastery: Delinquent behavior often is provoked by scholastic failure. Teachers in successful school programs give students “uncommonly warm emotional support” and prevent them from failing. Youth who become interested in school and make achievement gains have better subsequent community adjustment.
Independence: Involving delinquent youth in decision-making, even in highly secure settings, fosters the turn-around to prosocial behavior. Adult domination and authoritarian control feeds negative peer subcultures, which sabotage treatment goals.
Generosity: High value is placed on caring in peer-helping programs and a key measure of progress is showing concern for other group members. Students who adopt prosocial norms have more positive experiences during treatment and gain access to more prosocial reference groups after leaving the program.
EDMS 512, Hood