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32 Chapter 2 The Setting Driving past a small collection of mid-1970s split-level private homes just off the main road struck us as odd, given our destination: one of the county’s only juvenile correctional facilities. Leaving the neighborhood behind, we turned up a tree-lined driveway and drove another quarter-mile or so up to the facility. Passing the facility’s welcome sign and large, open recreation fields including one with a baseball diamond, we noted the absence of the customary cultural markers associated with prisons. With no encircling fence, security booth, or visible means of surveillance, the setting spoke more to a residential school than a juvenile jail. Leaving the car in a small visitors-only parking lot, we took note of the surroundings as we approached the main administrative building for our first introduction to the facility. One large, brick-faced administrative building with a tiny and claustrophobic secure foyer dominated the upper part of the grounds, with two wings, clearly added in subsequent remodels, which housed the dorms and school facilities. We were buzzed through the secure front door into a small lobby as we waited for the head of the institution who would lead us on our first tour of Wildwood House. Our year in the life of Unit C had begun. Wildwood House is a contemporary juvenile correctional facility for young men located just a few miles from the downtown core of a major urban center. Founded in the early 1900s as a community response to truant and incorrigible youth, the facility has a longstanding history in its community. Over the course of the twentieth century, the institution passed through several incarnations and transformations, most often paralleling larger national trends in the management of youth offenders. In the mid 1970s the program adopted its current treatment model, combining features of rehabilitation and insight-oriented treatment with personal and collective accountability for criminal conduct. And although the mechanisms and programs used to achieve these goals have evolved in the thirty years since the program’s implementation, it has remained largely consistent in its orientation toward rehabilitation. Interested in understanding more about the experiences of The Setting 33 youth and staff inside such an institution, we were fortunate to be allowed entry—and eventually welcomed—into Wildwood House. At the time of our study, Wildwood House served up to seventy-five young men at any given time, ranging in age from thirteen to eighteen and divided into three age segregated units also referred to as dorms. Accountable to the courts that sentenced these youth, the institution housed young men with criminal histories that deemed them unfit for less restrictive placements (such as group homes or house arrests), but who were also determined to be good candidates for a treatment-oriented correctional program rather than a more punitive state facility. Generally, residents’ criminal histories included charges ranging from serial misdemeanors and probation violations to felonies such as crimes against persons or property. Wildwood House residents remained under the legal custody of the juvenile court during their four- to six-month stay and their additional three months of aftercare status upon their release. One of only a handful of publicly funded juvenile correctional institutions in a major urban area, the institution filled a specific niche in the system because of its explicit commitment to blending the system’s twin goals of rehabilitation and punishment. The facility director described Wildwood as more of a residential treatment center than a correctional facility, and spoke with pride about the institution’s successful rehabilitation and school programming. Physical Structure Physically, Wildwood House’s exterior bore almost no resemblance to the caricatures of juvenile jails popularized in contemporary media. Far from wire fences and barred windows, the institution’s exterior shared more in common with a residential school than a prison and was not completely locked or electronically monitored. The facility consisted of a complex of buildings set on a large campus, complete with athletic fields, a full gymnasium , and picnic tables set up on the lawn. The institution’s central building contained administrative offices, a lobby, and meeting rooms to support its general operations. Immediately inside a small, claustrophobic foyer was a narrow lobby furnished with uncomfortable and industrial chairs, sports- and fishing-oriented magazines, and a reception area where all visitors were required to sign in. With the exception of a mural on one wall, the lobby was sterile and impersonal; with its 1950s-style gleaming asbestos tile on...

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