Youth development focuses on the positive, but the most vulnerable still face long odds
In 1998, Michelle Inderbitzin decided to conduct a study of youth in a detention center for violent offenders. Almost every Saturday morning for 15 months, the University of Washington graduate student in sociology made the 90-minute drive from Seattle to an “end-of-the-line training school” for boys convicted of multiple property crimes, armed robberies, violent and/or sexual assaults and homicides. In the “cottage” where she worked, most of the 20 or so inmates, many of them gang members from poor urban neighborhoods, had been sentenced for robberies and “drug deals gone bad.” She was little older than the center’s residents.
Field studies in juvenile centers are rare. So Inderbitzin wanted to observe and talk with the boys, to evaluate their stories against the background of theories on delinquency and criminal justice. She hung out in a common room where residents talked, played games and watched TV, taking notes only after she left.
Her work will continue to inspire research in the new Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families at OSU.