I arrived at the Anamosa Iowa Men’s Reformatory in October 1992. I can still remember riding in the van, wearing a set of cold steel shackles and handcuffs attached to a long dog chain that went around my waist and attached to a black box. The black box was padlocked around the cuffs, immobilizing my hands.
Edward Mulvey, the principal investigator on the study, said the idea that adolescents respond to the certainty of punishment, not severity, has found an audience with some policymakers. They are asking whether states should have to justify why the criminal justice system should hold an adolescent offender for a long time.
Golfers love being on the leader board. Corrections officials, not so much as there is nothing to celebrate about Georgia being the national leader with the highest percentage of its adults under corrections system supervision. The ratio is 1-in-13 and it is the worst in the country.
Not only does it cost lots of money -– more than $1 billion per year in state dollars to run prisons -– but lofty incarceration, probation and parole statistics send the wrong message nationally and internationally when Georgia tries to market itself as a leading edge economy and destination.
Over the next several months you will hear extensive discussion about adult corrections system reform. A commission created by the 2011 General Assembly was told to develop proposals to streamline Georgia corrections without an adverse impact on public safety. The report is due to Gov. Nathan Deal in seven weeks, with legislation possible next year.
Not much of the process is being conducted in public -– there have been just three public meetings -– and the process does not include a juvenile justice system review. That is an unfortunate and perhaps costly oversight. Doesn’t it make sense that a high percentage of adults who commit felonies and fill our prisons began their criminal careers as troubled youths?
“It seems to me that if we were to concentrate a lot of our efforts more in the juvenile justice arena then we might have greater success later in terms of reducing the crime rate,” said Judge Cynthia Wright, chief judge of the Fulton County Superior Court. Wright appeared on a public safety panel hosted by Women in Leadership last week at The Commerce Club in Atlanta.
States that are looking for ways to reduce the costs of keeping young offenders in prison are taking a fresh look at the Missouri Model. Missouri abandoned the traditional approach to prison in the 1980s. The state adopted a system of small, regional treatment centers that provide education, job training and 24-hour counseling, aimed at helping kids turn their lives around. As a result, Missouri has cut its recidivism rate for parolees down to 10%. A report from WBEZ radio in Chicago gives us a peak inside a youth prison that has adopted the Missouri Model. --Photo courtesy WBEZ radio and Rob Wildeboer