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Introduction Juvenile incarceration has been legally institutionalized for over a hundred years. Yet still today, the public is mired in debate about the use of secure confinement to solve the problem of youth crime. In spite of broad consensus that the system is neither effectively helping youth nor protecting society from future harm, there is little agreement about the locus of responsibility for these failures or where to look for greater accountability. Conservative and victims’ rights organizations have charged the juvenile justice system with being too soft on juvenile crime, an accusation that contributed to a major shift in the 1990s toward harsher and longer sentences for youth. In response to these trends, liberal and youth advocacy groups have argued that juvenile corrections has mistakenly abandoned its core rehabilitative mission and, due to cruel conditions and developmentally inappropriate punitive practices, ends up making youth worse. While experts, advocates, and politicians continue to engage in public debates over the uses and misuses of juvenile incarceration, the voices and experiences of the people who live and work in these institutions have seldom been brought to bear on this discussion. In this book, we draw upon the perspectives of incarcerated youth and correctional staff to offer fresh insight into a system that frustrates everyone and satisfies no one. These are the voices perhaps best positioned to offer commentary on the system, but they are also those most routinely absent from these larger discussions. The confusion and struggle experienced by many youth moving through correctional institutions and the perspectives of the staff working with them are critical for educators, reformers, policy makers, and others to understand if the system is to be redeemed and fulfill its social charge. To that end, we came to this project as scholars and practitioners dedicated to centering the voices of those people closest to the experience of juvenile corrections and bringing them into sharper focus in academic and public discourse. We spent more than a year immersed in “Wildwood House” (a pseudonym), a contemporary rehabilitation-oriented juvenile correctional facility for young men, observing and participating in its day-to-day functioning, meeting formally and informally with residents and staff, and reviewing the residents’ records. Through hundreds of hours of engagement 1 with the facility and the people who comprised it, we witnessed how the correctional staff managed the competing goals of punishment and rehabilitation and began to appreciate how the residents navigated their identities as young men in a system of compassionate confinement seeking to reconstruct their sense of self and reshape their futures. The Juvenile Corrections System in Context Founded by progressive social reformers in the early part of the twentieth century, the juvenile justice system is held publicly responsible for achieving the often competing goals of punishment and rehabilitation. For some youth, the punishment side of this equation is accomplished through mandated sentences to out-of-home placements, which are typically reserved for more severe crimes or repeat offenders, representing just 8.9 percent of court dispositions among all adjudicated minors in 2007 (Sickmund, Sladky, and Kang 2010). The system’s rehabilitation goals are addressed through an array of community and home-based youth services, often focusing on first-time and lower-level offenders with the hope of diverting more significant involvement in crime. Still, rehabilitation is also accomplished through court-ordered placements; institutions as diverse as publicly funded juvenile correctional facilities, wilderness boot camps, community-based group homes, and privately funded residential treatment centers are responsible for providing programs geared toward rehabilitation . These services often include individual, group, and family therapies, as well as more specialized interventions for mental health, substance abuse, and other problems associated with offending behavior (Ruddell and Thomas 2009). Although facilities housing court-mandated youth maintain different balances of punishment and rehabilitation, most seek to accomplish both. Nearly 160,000 youth are sentenced to correctional placements annually in the United States (Puzzanchera, Adams, and Sickmund 2011), with an average cost of $241 per youth per day—nearly four times the average for an adult due to lower staff-to-youth ratios and more intensive rehabilitation programming (Pew Center on the States 2008). Yet this extensive and expensive system of juvenile corrections tends to be viewed from all angles of the political spectrum as unsuccessful. This is because at least half of incarcerated youth—and even as many as 85 percent according to some studies—wind up reinvolved in juvenile or adult criminal justice systems within two to five years of their...

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