American's Law Institute

The essence of the Youth Authority plan, which John R. Ellingston, special youth adviser to the American Law Institute, declares "is the irresistible outcome of a hundred years of evolution in the correctional field," is simply stated. It utterly rejects the notion that, by exacting an eye-for-an-eye penalty from a youngster who breaks the rules of society, the youngster can be made to sin no more. In place of this harsh concept, a youth board —it goes by different names in different states- is set up.

The youth board strives, first, through preventive programs aimed at the breeding places of juvenile delinquency, to prevent the evil before it occurs. In Alexandria, Minnesota, for example, a potentially dangerous situation was headed off after an irate high-school boy wrote a blistering letter to Gov. Luther W. Youngdahl. The youngster lambasted his home town for its lack of organized recreation for teen-agers and pointed out that there was no spot for the youngsters to congregate except in adult places, where they weren't wanted, or in the alleys, where they would get in trouble.

Local officers confirmed a report that a juvenile gang was breeding in Alexandria. The governor promptly sent a Youth Conservation Commission team, which drew on the resources of four state departments, to Alexandria to work with local civic leaders and to study the town's recreational needs. As a result of the schoolboy's letter, the town, now generally awake to its problem, is using the findings of the survey as a guide to welding all recreational, health, law-enforcement, school, welfare and church facilities into an instrument for the betterment of youth.

Also, on the physical side, a youth canteen has been set up at the Alexandria golf club. When preventive measures fail and a youngster does get in trouble, the youth board again steps in. Under the Youth Authority plan, the young offender is committed by the juvenile court not to a jail but to the youth board, which receives the errant youngster with an understanding approach. Before deciding the youngster's fate, the board studies him for weeks in a diagnostic clinic staffed by case workers trained in psychiatry or psychology.

All facets of the youngster's environment, mentality and attitude—all causes, such as broken homes, poverty, even physical ailments which can warp a youngster's outlook—are carefully weighed. (Champion, 2005) Few would argue that community corrections should somehow exempt itself from the kind of intense self-scrutiny that the reinventing process requires. There is ample evidence that, absent significant reform, the future of probation and parole is bleak.

The recent federal crime control legislation has all but eliminated consideration of probation and parole, and funding levels have remained stagnant nationally during a period when the community corrections population has soared. Spiritual Renewal For many juveniles on parole, some sort of spiritual experience can turn the direction of their lives. So in paying full homage to the power of good parenting, education, counseling, real justice, community support, and economic opportunity, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the power of a spiritual community or teacher to restore a boy's moral compass to working order.

For some bad boys, what finally grabs them is their specific culture's pride and spirit. For example, urban “hip-hop” music is finding its way into church gospel music, much to the chagrin of conservative congregations. But when their generation's culture is honored, more young people feel drawn into the church because they feel more accepted than rejected for their unique expression of spirit. (George, 1951) If it's away from illiteracy, poverty, guns, crime, hard drugs, hopelessness, and violence, and closer to spirit, in whatever form it is understood, it's most likely right.

Even if we don't fully understand the method, let's look at the results. If the method turns out imperfect, a boy and his guides can always change course. Any move toward hope, however, undercuts the entropic pull of the past and increases developmental momentum toward life. For many young men a felony conviction is tantamount to a lifetime sentence to poverty. In this computer age, it stays on record, forever. Every time police officers run a record check for a traffic stop they learn they have a felon. They are thus likely to more extensively investigate him.

This makes felons subject to more scrutiny, search, and arrest than the average citizen who may also be in violation of some law. (George, 1951) Anyone with a criminal record, from a teenage joy ride to a simple drug possession, faces a lifelong paradox: (1) Lie and risk being subsequently fired, losing a hard-won professional license, being charged with false representation, or having parole violated if found out; or (2) tell the truth and risk never being hired. Today tens of millions of American men bear such identifying pockmarks from bouts with our incarceration epidemic.

Gradual Transformation Creates Lasting Change During educational years, through social osmosis many gradually acquired a new identity. Though some make miraculous turns on a dime, most personal growth happens incrementally. An acorn becomes a sapling. It adds annual rings of growth. Then, bang, there's an oak with acorns of its own to give back to the earth. It's taken years of education, meditation, therapy, spiritual inquiry, recovery work, and self-reflection to work through the trauma of adolescent immersion in the American Gulag.

Due perhaps to familiarity with that world, juveniles can catch the peculiar scent in cultural wind of being hurled into its fiery. Helping “marked” men become good men generally requires a thoughtful, well-developed, committed plan of action; leaders who work well with challenging clients; wide access to resources; and vigorous support from community institutions. One such program, for prisoners returning to community from the Louisiana state prison system, embodies the best of these elements. The Road to Return Inmate literacy has leaped.

Their reading ability rose, on average, a whole grade level every seven weeks. This far exceeds literacy experts' predictions, who view this population as somewhat intractable. The brutal slave labor system in Louisiana pays for half that state's corrections budget. Prisoners were therefore offered no incentives to learn new skills. Eventually, prison staff sabotaged the project. Working together as a self-help community offers ex-offenders opportunities to address the serious emotional challenges often common to bad boys and angry young men.

For most, this is the first forum in which they have been able to critically examine their lives while receiving the appropriate support needed to change course. Community Coalitions Integrated after-care, with a spectrum of services implemented by bad boy–sensitive providers, is essential to break the chain of criminality and despair in the previously incarcerated. Integrated pre-care for those at risk for incarceration is equally imperative to divert young men from the prison road. Some Ways to Help Bad Boys Become Good Men

Some of the influences that can help juveniles transform their life are •     Access to affordable education and working hard thereafter. •     Job and financial skills acquisition that led to employment above the minimum wage. •     Introduction to meditation and other healthy practices that helped mitigate the traumatic impact of drugs and abuse on my nervous system. •     Association with “normal” people at work and school. This changed my core identity from a survival-driven affiliation with the criminal class to one defined by learning, caring, creativity, and productivity.

•     The attention of older men—teachers, mentors, healers, and social servants—who believed in me and treated me with respect. •     Spiritual experiences, alone and in community, that raised hope and buoyed me against the downward pull of the past. •     Psychological work that lent insight into reasons behind my behavior, helped me become accountable for my actions, and directed me toward alternative ways of being. •     Alcohol and drug recovery through Twelve-Step programs. •     The sealing of my juvenile records, thus giving me a fresh start and allowing me to mainstream.

•     The compassion and support of friends, lovers, spouses, teachers, and the miraculous kindness of strangers. One-shot programs rarely work. Brash get-tough laws with sound-bite slogans do not breed justice. Half-hearted interventions foster more disappointment and cynicism than they cure. Every time a mentor, teacher, parent, or social servant walks away from a young man in trouble, for whatever reason, they drive another nail in his coffin. Real change usually takes time and a dedicated team. Conclusion Almost all human services in America have followed a similar course of development.

When faced with a social problem, institutional solution is considered as first solution. The problems presented by children have been no exception. Early in our national development we had to face the phenomenon of child dependency, and we built orphanages. When children stole we put them in jails, filthy places where the sight of them incensed pioneer prison reformers. They turned to a model already common in Europe where congregate facilities, often under the auspices of religious groups, cared for both dependent and delinquent children.

Institutions for the delinquent child usually have vastly different characteristics than those holding adults. Often they are located on a campus spreading over many acres. The housing units provide quarters for smaller groups, invariably less than 60 and frequently less than 20. Often they also provide apartments for cottage staff. Dining frequently is a function of cottage life, eliminating the need for the large central dining rooms. Grilles seldom are found on the cottage doors and windows, although sometimes they are covered by detention screens.

Security is not the staff's major preoccupation.

References Altschuler, David M. and Troy L. Armstrong (2001). "Reintegrating High-Risk Juvenile Offenders into Communities: Experiences and Prospects. " Corrections Management Quarterly 5:72-88. APPA Perspectives (2004). "Project Safe Neighborhoods: Incorporating and Training Probation and Parole Professionals to Reduce Gun Crime. " APPA Perspectives 28:9. Champion, Dean J. (2005). Probation, Parole, and Community Corrections, 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.