Rehabilitation became a dirty word

Juveniles sentenced to institutions no longer receive offers of help, only punishment, according to Jerry Agee, former Director of the Colorado Division of Youth Services, who retired after 42 years of trying to ensure the system did not loose its focus on helping.  

Jerry Agee

“Now we fill up more and more prisons.  It used to be we couldn’t put a juvenile in a jail.  Now we lock kids up we would never have locked up in years past.  No counseling, only punishment.  We used to train the staff who worked with the kids to help, to counsel;  to give the kids a new perspective and a second chance.   Most of that is gone,” Agee said.

“Study after study has shown that teaching a person to think about the perspective of others and stop thinking only about himself starts the change process.  We saw it work.  But the public and the legislators today want retribution.  Now we have more prisons than we’ve ever had and nothing is changing in the life of the kid.

“We had a great deal of success with such change.  In Ohio I had a group of 42 of the worst juvenile offenders.  Rape.  Robbery.  Murder.  We worked with them, retrained them, gave them vocational skills and got them interested for the first time.  Their  rate of return to crime was very low.”

Agee ran youth programs in Ohio and Georgia in addition to Colorado.  For 10 years, he taught one of the few correctional officer training programs that introduced helping skills.

“The change started in the late 1970s.  Sociologists published theories about punishment and declared the juvenile justice system a failure.  Not one in 100 had ever talked to a juvenile delinquent or convict.  They didn’t even talk to staff at institutions.  Legislators bought it and started changing the system.  Rehabilitation became a dirty word.

“Lawmakers became enamored of the idea of mandatory sentencing laws.  This took away all discretion from the people who had to work with the offenders.  It forced us, as an example, to take a 17-year old who had sex with his 16-year old girlfriend and declare him a sex offender.  Why would we do that to someone if we thought he would benefit more from counseling and a second chance?”

“There are some very bad juveniles who deserve punishment.  But that is not an indication of a trend that can only be corrected by mandatory jail time.”

For more information on this subject try these links:

Thoughts on “Restorative Justice” for youth 

Studies by Yochelson and Samenow

Documentary film:  Race to Nowhere

Juvenile crime statistics

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About Chas

Publisher of Tributary. One Flows Into Another. A tribute to interesting people and their reflections. Web content writer at SHOW&TELL.

One comment

  1. Bob

    Thanks for the insights, Chas. Jerry lived up the hill from us but I never discussed his work with him.

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