In case you missed it, many criminologists are now arguing that we should empty our prisons or, at a minimum, reduce the number of people in prison by 50 percent. Prisons don't work, they say, and they make people worse.
Nowhere has this movement been more succesful than in the juvenile justice system. A large cabal of left-leaning academics and their financial backers have pushed for states to close ALL juvenile institutions. These institutions, they argue, cut off future opportunities, make minor offenders into monsters, and are home to horrible abuses.
States are receptive to this rhetoric. They see it as a way to save $$ and to show how "evidence based" they are. They are also hyper-sensitive to the politics of incarceration, which manages to wrap together into one big ugly package matters of race, oppression, harm, and discrimination.
Not long ago I was speaking to the head of corrections in a neaby stated. Off the record he told me that they were releasing kids back into the community who had committed serious crimes, including murder and rape, and that they were hamstrung to do anything more to protect the community. I could tell this pained the guy. He went on to tell me about the craziness of the current movement to close down all institutions. Some kids, he argued, needed to be placed in a facility where they could get the help they needed, while others were simply too dangerous to leave in the community.
Personally, I see incarceration of adults and youth as 1) a proper and restrained response to serious and continual violations of the criminal law, as 2) a resource that shouldn't be abused (used too much), and 3) as a way to effectively protect the public.
Unfortunately, if you have studied the history of corrections you know that we bounce from one extreme to the other--always with grand promises that hardly ever pan out. So it is with offering "kids" who have committed some really aweful crimes a 2cd, 3rd, or 10th chance.
A large body of criminological literature shows that criminal participation is relatively stable over time and situation and that young people who commit serious crimes are most at risk of becoming life-course persistent offenders. They will go on to sell drugs, to rape and rob, and maybe even kill someone.
But in today's correctional climate, few want to admit that these "brute facts" matter. Instead, advocates are more than willing to place serious offenders back into your neighborhood. To them, putting people in jail or prison brings harm to them--to the offenders--and they are more than willing to overlook or to ignore or to explain away the crimes they commit when placed back into your neighborhood. Remember, the sociologists at Harvard and other universities that adovate for these policies don't have to live with the consequences of their policies--only you do.
The Washington Post recently ran an investigatory piece on DC's use of the "second chance" law. You have to read their analysis to beleive that intelligent people, including judges, not only act with abandon when it comes to protecting the community but do so by mindlessly mimicing the rhetoric of anti-incarceration advocates.
You can read the story here:
John Paul Wright and Matt DeLisi
Professors of Crime and Criminology