The Code of the Street and the eye contact problem in juvenile offender job seeking

In the last chapter of her book Falling Back:  Incarceration and Transitions to Adulthood among Urban Youth,” TempleUniversity Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Jamie Fader gives a perfect example of an employment challenge likely to be encountered by juvenile offenders socialized to the Code of the Street unless addressed in preparation for post-discharge employment seeking while in a residential treatment setting.  Her observation is based on her three years of intensive tracking of fifteen graduate from one of Pennsylvania’s most highly regarded residential treatment programs.

The Eye Contact Problem

In the bit more than two months since I have owned and been attempting to offer (again at no charge, courtesy of the OVR) a vocational education program specifically oriented to a juvenile justice population I have been frantically backfilling to build a research basis for the concept of “juvenile justice-population specific programming” and for identifying research derived examples of its content.

‘…I noted in chapter 5 that the young men I followed rarely made eye contact with prospective employers during interviews.  In inner-city neighborhoods continuous eye contact is considered aggressive and can be interpreted by others as a physical challenge.  From an employer’s perspective, failure to make eye contact suggests a job candidate may be less than trustworthy.  Practicing eye contact and handshakes, then might make young people feel more confident when they are seeking work in setting where they are feel out of their element.   (p. 226)

Cognitive Behavioral or Motivational Interviewing application of this Code of the Street insight into juvenile offender motivation

Juvenile offenders socialized to the Code of the Street are not consciously aware of every aspect of street code programming and not necessarily able to access the logic of the Code in explaining their adhering to it a given situation. So they are unlikely to even be aware of not making eye contact when asking for an application or in an interview.  But after, 1) it is pointed out that they are not making eye contact in these situations (or that they are likely not to), and, 2) after connecting this with their not doing so on the street to avoid an unsought physical confrontation, they are free to recognize its not only being unnecessary when talking to potential employer but counterproductive to do so. In fact when they are informed that most employers will read lack of eye contact as due to being untrustworthy or even their being afraid to “look them in the eye” their choosing to make eye contact in this situation becomes a way to take control of the situation and assert their worthiness of respect—arguments known to be carry weight due to insight into the Code of the Street.