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Chapter 7 Rehabilitating Rehabilitation What We Learned from Unit C We began this book by raising critical questions about juvenile incarceration in American society, noting the major paradigm shifts and fractured opinions surrounding the appropriate goals and orientation of this system. If juvenile corrections has indeed—as many critics have charged—failed to fulfill its mission of rehabilitating youth and protecting society, is it worth ongoing investment in relatively expensive facilities purely for the sake of punishment? What balance of punishment and rehabilitation is needed to effectively change the attitudes and behaviors of young offenders? In pondering this concluding chapter, we wish that we could offer the perfect answer, one that would ensure that all youth in the system could be rehabilitated given the right blend of treatment, fear of returning to incarceration, and access to community-based supports upon reentry. Yet we know that if a magic cure existed, it would have been discovered before us. Still, the perfect cannot be the enemy of the better; our inability to offer the ideal solution to the dilemmas facing juvenile corrections cannot unilaterally discredit attempts toward improvement. Therefore, in this chapter we will use the experiences and voices of the youth and staff we came to know at Wildwood House to comment on what we view as pathways to better policies and practices than those currently in place. Can Youth Benefit from a Separate Juvenile System? Chapter 1 presented a broad-brush history of juvenile corrections in the United States and identified some of the antecedents of significant policy changes occurring during the 1980s and 1990s that chipped away at a separate system of criminal justice for juveniles. In a fear-based response to rising trends in youth crime, greatly exaggerated by popular media and academic discourses, all US states ushered in statutes permitting the transfer or waiver of youth to adult criminal courts, and some juvenile correctional facilities began to resemble the punitive orientation of adult prisons. Responding to these major changes, concerned advocates have launched a movement 129 to revert to a system of juvenile corrections modeled after its original ideal: with caring and homelike facilities that first and foremost provide the youth in their care with the opportunity for rehabilitation. Underlying this position is the belief that youth are quite malleable to change, and as such should not be subjected to the punitive orientation or the problems with abuse and violence that are rampant in adult penal facilities. Although our book did not directly address the transfer of youth to the adult criminal justice system, this very current debate is intermingled with fundamental questions about the ability of the juvenile system to adequately respond to youth who have been charged with crimes of a more serious nature. Is there a compelling social reason to turn youth over to the adult system, when overwhelming evidence has shown that these practices do more harm than good? Based on our experiences at Wildwood House and in consideration of this growing body of evidence (Ryan and Ziedenberg 2007), we argue that young people whose court involvement warrants out-of-home sentencing deserve the opportunity for rehabilitation in a specifically designated juvenile justice system. The adult correctional system, with its focus primarily oriented toward punitive consequence as the means to deterrence, is not the place for youth offenders. Admittedly, this position becomes murkier in cases of severe and disturbing crimes such as murder or rape. But since these represent the overwhelming minority of young people’s criminal activity, we will keep our focus here on the larger pool. Among the Wildwood House youth, Trevor and Brad, even given their significant differences in backgrounds and responses to the program, provide evidence in favor of our argument to not give up on a separate juvenile system . Both had long rap sheets at intake, including felony-level offenses, and extremely poor psychosocial assessments in regard to the potential for rehabilitation . As Trevor described, even at age fourteen, Wildwood house was his last chance before being certified to stand trial as an adult. Both also described family situations warranting other types of early interventions that unfortunately—and for whatever unknown reasons—were not provided. Despite these poor prospects and lack of external safety nets, follow-up at eighteen and twenty-four months after their release showed that neither of these youth had been charged with or convicted of new crimes. Given Brad’s very negative attitude toward Wildwood House, his change is much less clearly linked to...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780813554143
Related ISBN
9780813554129
MARC Record
OCLC
825179534
Pages
188
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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