Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Good Intentions

All of the best intentions cannot excuse the harm that results from the type of programmatic approaches typified by this one in Washington DC, reported on by the Washington Post.

Too often the good intentions are combined with a tremendous lack of knowledge about the interiority of the predatory criminals who inhabit the criminal world, often causing great harm to the innocent public they see as prey.

The youth who will benefit from this type of approach are those who generally spin out of the criminal justice system after one or two encounters under the traditional normal conditions anyway, partly because those traditional 'normal' conditions are rather severe.

An excerpt.

“Inside Oak Hill's barbed-wire perimeter in Laurel, harsh punishment for the District's juvenile offenders is out. Therapy is in.

“The dingy cellblock where the most unruly were sequestered, where they scribbled shout-outs to dead homies and angry threats on the walls, is abandoned. The cellblocks now have carpeting and cushioned furniture.

“Striking an officer, smoking marijuana or destroying property no longer gets a young offender thrown into a dark cell to stew. Now, they call a meeting.

“It's part of an evolving, controversial effort by the District to deter young delinquents from becoming career criminals by keeping fewer behind bars and surrounding the rest with counselors, drug rehabilitation and social workers at their homes to strengthen broken families.

“Vincent Schiraldi is the outspoken architect of change. As director of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services since 2005, Schiraldi rejects physical punishment and isolation to teach lessons. Instead, he dispatches his charges to camp in the desert, to rebuild houses destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and to perform Shakespeare for the mayor.

"You have got to lock up as few as possible," he said. "The ones you do lock up, you have got to treat them in a way that can turn their lives around and not create the self-concept that the next stop is D.C. jail and the federal Bureau of Prisons."

“But Schiraldi's stand has provoked an argument about reconciling the needs of damaged youths with the public's need to be protected from them.

“Fierce opposition has come from law enforcement and residents in neighborhoods including Shaw, Columbia Heights and Capitol Hill who feel endangered by the young robbers and thieves whom Schiraldi has let out on probation. Critics point to his failures: An average of six youths a year killed in street violence while under his care (about the same as before he arrived) and an embarrassing escape of one youth from Schiraldi's house during a party for staff workers and young inmates.

“The head of the local Fraternal Order of Police has accused the city of adopting a "hug and release" policy. Even those who agree with Schiraldi's desire to stanch the disproportionate flow of black boys into the criminal justice system contend that it's better to send some teenagers to the adult system rather than to Schiraldi's care.”