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Chapter 3 Mixed Messages “Therapy Speak” in a Correctional Milieu Twenty boys milled about the common room of Unit C, the commotion of their interactions filling the room with active and comfortable background noise. A group of Hmong youth sat together at one table, engaged in a competitive card game of Spades, while some of their peers—predominantly white youth—took pity on a visitor to the dorm in a game of foosball. Another pair of youth sat together at a folding table, supporting one another in writing their treatment contracts, brainstorming word choice and selection of examples to illustrate their personal growth. One youth stood by the second-story window, looking out at a parking lot, large grassy field, and the woods beyond. Dorm staff lingered on the periphery of the room, loosely monitoring the boys’ activity. In all, the environment, though clearly institutional and somewhat stark, was comfortable. Suddenly, one of the staff called to another and pointed to the door leading from the dorm to the hallway, and from there outside. The door was standing open—a clear security hazard. Immediately, the mood in the common room shifted. Mr. Robbins, one of the regular dorm staff stood and called out over the noise and commotion to the boys, “Gentlemen, take a seat!” In an instant, chatter and conversation came to a halt. All the youth rushed to the couches and sat, their foosball match ended and the game of Spades interrupted without comment. The staff conducted a head count, revealing three missing youth. Residents chimed in, calling out the names of their absent peers in support of the staff, even at the risk of ratting out their dorm-mates. Within minutes, the missing youth were accounted for (in meetings or taking a sick day), the crisis passed, and the boys were released back to their previous activities. This scene belies Unit C’s central tension, a tension reflected throughout juvenile correctional institutions across the country. On one hand, Wildwood House serves as a site to facilitate rehabilitation; it must offer the youth in its care opportunities for reflection, for the development of new insights into 49 their behaviors and thinking, and for the cultivation of pro-social interaction skills. On the other hand, these institutions must also fulfill an accountability and correctional role, providing consequences for criminal attitudes and behaviors and offering structure for offenders and eventually, protection for communities. Mr. McClatchy, a seven-year employee of Unit C, summarized this central tension well: “I see my job as mostly treatment, but I know that I have to enforce the rules as well.” How does the correctional staff manage these competing responsibilities? How do the youth who are placed in these facilities experience and navigate this hybrid system, bouncing between playing cards with their friends in one moment and possibly selling out other peers in a military-style roll call the next? Like Wildwood House, many residential programs in the US housing court-mandated youth incorporate a blend of treatment and correctional mechanisms to support the overall goals of attitude and behavior change. Treatment approaches with this population are varied, yet share a common mission of addressing some of the empirically linked underlying causes of delinquency, such as mental health issues, psychological traumas, child abuse and neglect, and substance abuse (Thornberry, Huzinga, and Loeber 1995). Treatment modalities used to address these root causes include psychological counseling (group or one-on-one psychotherapy), CBT (short-term focused therapy designed to teach thought control), and specialized therapies, such as for substance abuse or sex offending (Ruddell and Thomas 2009). As described in chapter 2, many of these treatment modalities were a mandatory part of a resident’s individualized plan for progress and release, and they required not only individual therapeutic work but also active engagement in what the facility dubbed “positive peer culture.” Central to the program’s therapeutic efforts was the recognition that shifts in individual conduct and cognition are made possible only within contexts that support these changes. The institution as a whole therefore made a concerted effort to facilitate a culture in each dorm in which residents worked on their own individual treatment and behavioral goals within the larger setting of a therapeutic community involving peer support and accountability. In support of the more punitive side of the correctional mission, juvenile facilities often use a quasi-military model of discipline, drill, and ceremony in the day-to-day operations of the institution (MacKenzie 1997). Mirroring the...


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MARC Record
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