Evis Muhameti ’12 interviews juvenile offenders for John C. Young project
Evis Muhameti ’12 is committed to reducing recidivism in juvenile offenders. Through a John C. Young scholarship project, Muhameti is conducting research on the effectiveness of youth centers as a means of preventing recently released juvenile offenders from offending again.
“About 70 percent of juvenile offenders re-offend,” Muhameti says. “I want to figure out what these youth centers aren’t doing and what kinds of resources these youth need once they get out to keep them from offending again.”
Working with juvenile offenders has long been a passion of Muhameti’s, but she hadn’t thought of making her work a research project until talking with associate professor of sociology Sarah Goodrum.
“When I took Introduction to Sociology with Prof. Goodrum, I talked to her about how I had such a connection with this population — I’d seen so many young men and women lose their lives to violence and prison,” Muhameti says. “Prof. Goodrum said, ‘Maybe you could figure out a way to make this a John C. Young project.’ With her help, I was able to structure the thoughts I’d been having and turn it into a research project.”
The John C. Young Scholars program is designed to give highly motivated seniors a chance to engage in independent study, research or artistic work they might not otherwise be able to complete.
Muhameti interviewed 27 court-involved youth at a center in inner-city Boston, where she has volunteered and worked in a variety of capacities since she was 16. The interviews did not always go smoothly.
“Some people had very high defenses — the minute I brought out my tape recorder, many of them just walked out of the interview without another word,” she says.
During her interviews at the youth center, Muhameti and the youth discussed how the center has or hasn’t helped them, how many times they’ve offended and other aspects of their lives — often with interesting results.
“Many of these youth are heavily gang-affiliated. For them, not having weapons on them makes them feel naked — it’s like not having a cell phone,” she says. “Some of them have aspirations for the future, but a lot of times, they don’t have much hope for themselves. One student said there are only two ways he saw himself in the future: either in prison or dead.”
Muhameti was sometimes surprised by the answers to her questions.
“When I asked the gang members if they would recruit a 13-year-old, they said no, that it’s not the right way to live,” Muhameti says. “They want other young people to get money a different way, to go to school.”
The interview process showed Muhameti that these juvenile offenders are ultimately not much different from their peers, no matter how different their lives are.
“A lot of people pre-judge these youth. At the end of the day, they’re the same as other young people,” she says. “It’s sad to hear their reasons why they’ve offended — they’ve been put in situations where they have to make money by doing things like selling cocaine to survive.”
Throughout the rest of the year, Muhameti will continue to cull and study her data, which she plans to put to good use even after the John C. Young project is complete.
“I hope to work with at-risk populations after Centre, so this is a great segue for me and will help me understand better where these youth are coming from,” she says.
Muhameti is glad the John C. Young program has allowed her to explore her areas of interest further, and encourages other students to consider the program as a way to pursue their own passions.
“I wanted to do something my senior year that meant a lot to me,” she says. “With the John C. Young, I’ve been given the opportunity to study something I’m really interested in, that I wouldn’t have had the chance to do otherwise.”