In Europe, as is the case in North America, homogenisation is the rule when it comes to considering care for delinquent adolescents. A few exceptions aside, isolating and putting together young people with similar problems are still the key words. In her doctoral thesis, which focuses on the influence of peers in the development of normative and antisocial behaviour, Cécile Mathys opts for heterogeneity by mixing delinquent and non-delinquent adolescents within the framework of a group discussion activity.
Experimenting with difference
What’s original about the point of view adopted by Cécile Mathys is that she decided to leave the beaten track by mixing delinquent (having committed offences) and non-delinquent adolescents, by experimenting with this type of mix within a group of peers, “a system we only come across very rarely, whether it be on an empirical or practical level”, she points out. Even if it is true that on a community level some measures concerning delinquency tend towards heterogeneity – for instance, community services, mediation with the victim or allowing the delinquent to stay with his/her family under certain conditions –, when offences reach a certain degree of severity and require admission to an institution, this still tends to be homogenous. “My research provided the opportunity to experiment with something else, to see mixing as a means to achieve positive results among delinquent adolescents. Exclusion and isolation are certainly not the best solutions.” This thought has been in a corner of the young PhD student’s mind since she worked in a young offenders’ institution as a clinical psychologist. “Even if the institution tries to provide the most suitable answers to these adolescents’ difficulties, we often observe some kind of attempt among them to outdo each other owing to the fact that they are inevitably interacting continuously, comparing and sharing their own experiences. This isolation therefore tends to reinforce deviant behaviour. The peer group is even likely to counterbalance the positive effects of the care provided: some of the things they’re taught don’t work simply because when learning them, if they don’t match the values of the other group members, the individual risks exclusion.”