Foreward to Drifters


I fell in love with the field of criminal justice shortly after discovering it. Today I am enjoying a career that now spans over 30 years. I’ve had a variety of powerful experiences which includes working with at-risk kids in a community setting and assisting the efforts of incarcerated offenders who made attempts at rehabilitation. I also worked as a Hearing Officer for the New Jersey State Parole Board for over 10 years. For the past 20 years, I’ve been in academia, teaching a variety of courses.

It is this background that allows me to fully appreciate the work of Jack Hobson and his book, Drifters. You see, our paths are similar. His experience as a practitioner also superseded his own voyage into academia. Jack first worked as a police officer coming face to face with those who had entered the world of crime; he then became a School Resource Officer (SRO), engaging with students on the cusp of delinquency and criminality.

I came to know Jack after he moved into academia, while I was Criminal Justice Department Chairperson at Bridgewater State University. Appreciating his experience in law enforcement and his reflective insights as an instructor, I did a very smart thing and recruited him to become a Visiting Professor for our department. He has been an invaluable colleague and instructor ever since.

Jack is the complete package in my view. He possesses both street and book knowledge. He knows how to make the best use of both. He is also a caring and compassionate person about many things, and his life’s work has been about helping young people, improving the criminal justice system, enforcing ethical principles in police work, establishing fairness, and emphasizing the respect and dignity of others.

Due to his professional experiences and unique perspective, readers of Drifters can be assured that this book is written by someone who understands the integrated world of public schools, troubled youth, the reach of the juvenile justice system and the potential of the School Resource Officer.

With increased concern about school violence, School Resource Officers (SRO) have become more commonplace in the public school system. Quelling violence in our schools is a high priority. With the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, fresh in our minds, we all wish to see the threat of violence in our schools reduced to zero.  But more common than mass shootings are young people walking precariously on the edge of delinquency, criminality and yes, violence. As an SRO, Jack Hobson saw his role as going beyond crisis management and providing security. It was also about delinquency and crime prevention. He took on the challenge of changing an ominous trajectory of some students before they catapulted into the juvenile or adult criminal justice system. He took on the challenge of confronting drift.

This is a unique and important book. Not because it announces the next hopeful crime theory or program that promises to rid our society of the evils of juvenile delinquency. No. The contribution of this book is a revelation.  It makes explicit the ever-changing mindset of teenagers and it takes the concept of drift and animates it through the lives of the young people who came across Hobson’s path as an SRO. Drift theory contends that juveniles who hold to conventional values, ideals and practices will periodically engage in delinquent behavior which runs counter to these values. They justify their law violating (or delinquent) behavior with specific arguments or neutralization’s that allow them to suspend pro-social values and legitimize delinquent behavior. Jack puts a face and personality on kids that drift as he describes his various encounters.

The subjects of Hobson’s book are those kids living out a drift period in their lives. They were not raised in ‘Leave it to Beaver’ households but neither were their homes totally dysfunctional. Likewise his subjects are not perfect kids, but neither do they have one way tickets to state prison. They are, however, in states of drift.

As a SRO, Jack did more than merely go on auto pilot and apply the letter of the law to students for their missteps. His book describes his efforts to yank some of these students out of drift and into a place where they became more positive about themselves, and in which they began setting goals and meeting expectations (even if they were small ones).

This book will leave the reader with a true sense of hope. Today’s youth are living in a far different world than previous generations. Their world goes at a much faster pace, risk taking is not viewed by them as risky at all and younger and younger students are engaged with issues and problems that, many years ago, were dealt with only by adults.

Too often some youth feel increasingly isolated even in the age of Face Book, Twitter and other social media that makes public one’s most intimate thoughts and experiences.  Moreover, they are too often exposed to the use of violence as a means to settle conflict. The consequences of all these dynamics for this generation are far more impactful. Drift itself can have serious implications

What is needed are more professionals who understand these dynamics and are able and willing to stand in the gap and intervene in this vortex. Hobson stood in that gap and hopefully many others will as well. He is the right individual to pen this book and share his insights.

Who should read this book?

  • Academics interested in visual manifestations of drift described from the SRO’s  perspective;
  • School Administrators who may be interested in the critique of school disciplinary policies from the SRO perspective;
  • Parents with children involved in the public school system who are not aware of good kids and not so good kids engaging in drift;
  • Law Enforcement Officers who serve as SROs;
  • Teachers who are interested in gaining more insight into how students on the edge of drift think and how teachers might gain their attention;
  • Anyone who enjoys interesting books about real problems

This book honors thinking out of the box and getting out of one’s comfort zone. It is about not merely enforcing rules and policies, but investing in the lives of young people. For those of you who are interested in alternatives to business as usual—you will be happy you read this book. Not much is written about School Resource Officers from their perspectives. Drifters is an eye-opening account about the world of the public school student—its innocence, turbulence and potential for both good and bad and the SRO as an agent of change. School Resource Officers are a critical resource to both students and school administrators. I am grateful that Jack wrote this book.  Personally I hope that there are many more Jack Hobson’s out there—standing in the gap—saving as much as possible the future of our youth who find themselves in drift.

Carolyn Petrosino, Ph.D., Professor, Criminal Justice, Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Massachusetts, June 2013, Co-author of American Corrections – The Brief Cengage