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Looking Up: Lili Ramos ’22, ’26 Wins National Science Foundation Fellowship

“Research is central to our mission to educate for justice,” said President Karol V. Mason. Research by our faculty, students and alumni impacts our advocacy for a fairer world. Our “Research on the Rise” series features their work.

Lili Ramos ’22, ’26, a doctoral student in John Jay’s clinical psychology program, was one of only two CUNY students to win a National Science Foundation Fellowship, which will support her research into the challenges facing teenagers face during their probation and how it impacts their success. “Through this research, we hope to learn what specific probation conditions and circumstances contribute to adolescent violations,” says Ramos, who will work closely with his mentor, assistant professor Emily Haney-Caron, Ph.D., on the project.

What led you to research the juvenile justice system?
The juvenile justice system fails to capture what we know about adolescent development and experiences. My motivation comes from the fact that we recognize how much we do a disservice to children by not having policies and practices that reflect their real experiences. There is plenty of room for change.

“My motivation comes from recognizing how we are doing children a disservice by not having policies and practices that reflect their real experiences.” —Lili Ramos ’22, ’26

Why is probation such a problematic area for minors?
Most teenagers charged in delinquency cases are placed on probation. When teens are on probation, they are tasked with completing different mandates, up to 30 different tasks, including drug testing, curfew, and school attendance. That’s a ton of things a teenager has to go through to meet their probation requirements. From what we know about adolescent development, this can be particularly difficult. Brain and behavior research shows that adolescents are still developing their decision-making skills. Thus, adolescents are more likely to act based on immediate gratification, immediacy of reward, and impulse. They are less likely to consider the long-term consequences of their actions.

“Adolescents are more likely to act based on immediate gratification, immediacy of reward, and impulse. They are less likely to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. —Lili Ramos ’22, ’26

What can you tell us about your research project?
We create a model that captures different factors that might go into the adolescent experience on probation. We look at three different areas: young people, parents and the family environment and the neighborhood. This is a survey-based study where we will be recruiting adolescents and caregivers. We want to center their voices and hear about their probation experiences and the factors that contributed to their barriers.

What are some of the questions you will ask?
We will ask teens questions about their experiences with mental health, addictions and emotional well-being. For parents or caregivers, we will ask about their own experiences with mental health and substance use, recognizing that their experience may impact their ability to support the youth on probation. We will also take into account parental practices and family functioning, which we know have an impact on the behavior of adolescents.

“We need a bigger push for diversion programs so kids aren’t on probation in the first place.” —Lili Ramos ’22, ’26

What policy changes would you like to see?
Reduce probation periods to keep fewer children involved in the system. We need a bigger push for diversion programs so kids aren’t on probation in the first place, and generally more support for families and their kids. We are seeing a very high rate of mental health issues among children and parents who are involved in juvenile probation, so increasing support and access to resources will have a huge impact.