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Compassionate Confinement

Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C

Laura S. Abrams
Ben Anderson-Nathe
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 188
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  • Book Info
    Compassionate Confinement
    Book Description:

    To date, knowledge of the everyday world of the juvenile correction institution has been extremely sparse.Compassionate Confinementbrings to light the challenges and complexities inherent in the U.S. system of juvenile corrections. Building on over a year of field work at a boys' residential facility, Laura S. Abrams and Ben Anderson-Nathe provide a context for contemporary institutions and highlight some of the system's most troubling tensions.This ethnographic text utilizes narratives, observations, and case examples to illustrate the strain between treatment and correctional paradigms and the mixed messages regarding gender identity and masculinity that the youths are expected to navigate. Within this context, the authors use the boys' stories to show various and unexpected pathways toward behavior change. While some residents clearly seized opportunities for self-transformation, others manipulated their way toward release, and faced substantial challenges when they returned home.

    Compassionate Confinementconcludes with recommendations for rehabilitating this notoriously troubled system in light of the experiences of its most vulnerable stakeholders.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5414-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Mike A. Males

    Unless we live in the end-time of ultimate enlightenment, the coveted truths we now hold most self-evident, the products of our best science, will not only seem outdated and wrong in a few decades, but laughable. Of the candidates for ridicule by a future Stephen Jay Gould, I would nominate early twenty-first century notions of youth violence and juvenile crime founded in developmental-stage and brain-maturity science that hasn’t advanced much in a century.

    I suspect that today’s generic notion that crime prone youth engage in adolescent risk taking due to impulse-wired teen brains spurred by always-negative peer pressures will seem...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Juvenile incarceration has been legally institutionalized for over a hundred years. Yet still today, the public is mired in debate about the use of secure confinement to solve the problem of youth crime. In spite of broad consensus that the system is neither effectively helping youth nor protecting society from future harm, there is little agreement about the locus of responsibility for these failures or where to look for greater accountability. Conservative and victims’ rights organizations have charged the juvenile justice system with being too soft on juvenile crime, an accusation that contributed to a major shift in the 1990s...

  6. Chapter 1 History and Current Tensions in Juvenile Corrections
    (pp. 8-31)

    Wildwood House, the facility where we conducted our fieldwork, did not exist in a vacuum. Nor do we believe it was unique in composition, challenges, or successes. By all accounts, this institution, like other juvenile correctional facilities across the United States, grappled with the push and pull of competing demands and measures of success from several different audiences and stakeholders. The young men who spent four to six months in the program, and the staff who supervised, challenged, and offered treatment support to them all, lived under the shadow of society’s ambivalence about the proper uses of juvenile incarceration. In...

  7. Chapter 2 The Setting
    (pp. 32-48)

    Wildwood House is a contemporary juvenile correctional facility for young men located just a few miles from the downtown core of a major urban center. Founded in the early 1900s as a community response to truant and incorrigible youth, the facility has a longstanding history in its community. Over the course of the twentieth century, the institution passed through several incarnations and transformations, most often paralleling larger national trends in the management of youth offenders. In the mid 1970s the program adopted its current treatment model, combining features of rehabilitation and insight-oriented treatment with personal and collective accountability for criminal...

  8. Chapter 3 Mixed Messages: “Therapy Speak” in a Correctional Milieu
    (pp. 49-68)

    Twenty boys milled about the common room of Unit C, the commotion of their interactions filling the room with active and comfortable background noise. A group of Hmong youth sat together at one table, engaged in a competitive card game of Spades, while some of their peers—predominantly white youth—took pity on a visitor to the dorm in a game of foosball. Another pair of youth sat together at a folding table, supporting one another in writing their treatment contracts, brainstorming word choice and selection of examples to illustrate their personal growth. One youth stood by the second-story window,...

  9. Chapter 4 “Take It Like a Man”: Masculinities, Treatment, and Crime
    (pp. 69-89)

    We walked into Unit C during gym time, finding the boys engaged in a heated debate about a volleyball game. One of the boys complained, “every time I miss a shot, they [the other team] say something, but when they miss, we just don’t say nothing, like no big deal. They make a big deal when we don’t get the ball.” Mr. Connelly, one of the regular staff members on duty, assured the residents that it was “just a game, guys! Why would you make such a big deal over a volleyball game? Tomorrow, will you even remember who won...

  10. Chapter 5 “Jumping through Hoops”: Identity, Self-Preservation, and Change
    (pp. 90-110)

    Late afternoon on a weekday, a resident named Mark was standing near the office door holding a dictionary. This occurred shortly after staff had heard and rejected his appeal in a violation hearing, unanimously assigning him a consequence for manipulation and saying what people wanted to hear, or what staff and youth called “faking it.” Since we had observed the violation hearing and were invested in knowing what he was thinking, we approached Mark and asked him what he was doing. “I’m looking up the word ‘manipulation,’” he said, “so I can find out what it really means. It’s one...

  11. Chapter 6 On the Outs
    (pp. 111-128)

    The success of any juvenile correctional program, whether punitive or rehabilitative in its orientation, is typically measured by what happens to the youth when they return to society. Will they become law-abiding citizens or will they continue to commit crimes? Irrespective of one’s political position on how to best address youth crime, the general consensus appears to be that correctional programs work when they prevent repeat offending, and as long as that end is achieved, the methods employed along the way are less relevant. As indicated by the persistence of high rearrest and reincarceration rates among formerly incarcerated youth (see...

  12. Chapter 7 Rehabilitating Rehabilitation: What We Learned from Unit C
    (pp. 129-138)

    We began this book by raising critical questions about juvenile incarceration in American society, noting the major paradigm shifts and fractured opinions surrounding the appropriate goals and orientation of this system. If juvenile corrections has indeed—as many critics have charged—failed to fulfill its mission of rehabilitating youth and protecting society, is it worth ongoing investment in relatively expensive facilities purely for the sake of punishment? What balance of punishment and rehabilitation is needed to effectively change the attitudes and behaviors of young offenders? In pondering this concluding chapter, we wish that we could offer the perfect answer, one...

  13. Appendix: Behind the Scenes: Reflections on Field Research in Action
    (pp. 139-150)
  14. References
    (pp. 151-160)
  15. Index
    (pp. 161-170)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 171-174)