Monday, November 19, 2007

A Costly and Harmful Failure

Jim Austin’s organization has come out with a report that won’t surprise anyone who knows Jim’s past work, calling our current prison system a “costly and harmful failure.” It also won’t surprise anyone to discover that the report was funded by the Soros folks. Not really much new for those of you who read blogs like this, but it’s getting a little media attention. We’ll see what impact it makes, which will also be a good sign of how much impact the publications of the Pew Initiative on corrections and sentencing will have. I can’t help wishing Soros and Pew would start putting their funds into the same strategy that conservative donors did to establish a perpetual media presence with “scholars” and pundits available at all hours for all public forums (fora?) rather than the more common publication outbursts and occasional quotes or interviews. Jim Austin and Adam Gelb are exceptional spokespeople for the two orgs and should be front and center on news shows and “bestsellers” just like the folks for the conservative groups. The impact would be longer and stronger than the occasional ripple of a published report.

Meanwhile, “I think we're creating a generation of criminals," he said. "An authority has told these kids -- regardless of your maturity level and your ability to tell right from wrong -- you're an adult. You're going to emulate adults who don't have good decision-making skills. What you learn on the pods is how to commit better crimes, how to get away with more, how to beat the system and how to sell drugs." Sorry, that’s not something Jim said. It’s a quote from a warden in PA, the top state in the nation in locking away juveniles as adults in a nation that does more of that than the rest of the world combined. But how could a warden know more about criminals than policymakers? Oh, yeah, then there’s this from a researcher: Her nonprofit advocacy group looked at government data on incarcerated youths and found that teenagers were 36 times more likely to commit suicide in adult jails than in juvenile facilities, and they were 34 times more likely to re-offend if they had been tried as adults. Youths made up 1 percent of the incarcerated population, but they made up 21 percent of "substantiated victims" of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence in 2005, the study found. But they have it coming, and, those who reoffend? Those who do, man, we’ll show them what for over and over and over and over until they get it into their heads because that’s what we’re all about.

[For a nice example of a state’s efforts to stop recidivism, see this feature on MN (Minnesota, not Maine. Or Montana. Or Michigan.]

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