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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Filtering by Tag: criminality

Post-Prison: How has higher education helped change my life?

Nickie Phillips

Guest Contributer: Johnny Perez

The question of how higher education has changed my life is a question of not only cause and effect, but one of light versus darkness. I see ignorance as a state of darkness and education the illuminating light that so often eliminates it. My relationship with higher education has been an example of this battle; however, to truly appreciate the cure one must first understand the disease.

The worse part of living in a state of ignorance is not knowing about it. That was the situation I found myself in for many years, oblivious of the fact that I did not know that I did not know! As a result, I applied criminal solutions to my problems, reacted aggressively when confronted by others, and often gave up on myself when challenged beyond my comfort zone. Eventually, at the tender age of twenty-one, my self-defeating behaviors restricted me to a concrete cell for the following fifteen years.

I would like to say that receiving such an unbearable sentence served as a catalyst for change in my life, but I cannot. Like any pattern of behavior that takes shape over the course of many years, I continued to break the law despite the contradictory evidence against it around me. It’s important to understand that at the time I did not see my behavior in a negative light. This was mainly because I always shifted responsibility of my actions to others. As a result, I felt justified in my actions and that only served to perpetuate my behavior.

It wasn’t until I tried to do the right thing for the wrong reason that I received the right results. I signed up for the prison’s college program with the idea of spinning a positive light on all the negative behavior I was involved in. Instantly, I knew that I was in a different arena, but instead of quitting like my past indicated, the thought of leaving prison early motivated me enough to continue in the program. Before going to college I was not interested in education. School was were the squares and smart white people went to become lawyers and doctors. I never completed the tenth grade and my General Equivalency Diploma was the result of paying someone ten packs of unfiltered Marlboro Reds to pass the exam for me.

In prison, having reading material is the armor that protects you from the second-by-second attack on your soul that constant repetition can sometimes be. College gave me more protection from monotony that I could have ever hoped for. Within the first semester I traveled the world from inside my cell. I travelled alongside Martin Luther King Jr.; cried with Holocaust survivors; argued the philosophy of laissez-faire with Adam Smith, and even visited the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I also learned the meaning of new words and terms like multi-generational poverty, culture of violence, and synapse. Before college, I thought serendipity was a dancer at a gentlemen’s club, and a dichotomy was a type of surgery.

After some time, the funniest thing happened…I began to pull my pants up! I started to see opportunities where before I only saw challenges; stepping stones where before only obstacles were in sight; and college where before I only saw prison. I guess you can say that my paradigm shifted. The more I learned, the more I realized that I needed to learn more. The more I began to know, the more I came to the conclusion that I did not know anything at all. More importantly I began to see my behavior through the lens of responsible people, and slowly I became uncomfortable with some of the irresponsible behavior that I once felt so at home with. I could no longer use the N-word because I was conscious of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. I refused to continue smoking marijuana because I now knew the effects on the brain, and above all else, I felt compelled to break the cycle of ignorance and poverty within my family by being the first to complete a college education!

It has been elleven months now since the sound of steel gates slamming shut has filled my ears every night before I fell asleep. Today, I am a non-attorney mental health advocate at a well-known law firm. I’m responsible for connecting clients, who are reentering society from prison or hospitals, with services like medical treatment, housing, and yes, education. Sometimes, when I visit them prior to their release, they stare down at the handcuffs restricting the movement of their wrists and say, “You have no idea what it is to be in this hell hole.” I usually don’t self-disclose my past to clients, but the hopelessness in their eyes, the frustration painted on their faces, and the smell of their fear motivates me to tell them my story. As I share my past experiences with them I can see their eyes begin to widen with hope, their shoulders raise in confidence, and their smiles shine with joy as they come to realize that I am a living example of the past not dictating the future. An example that nothing is impossible.

So when I’m asked by anyone, how has higher education helped change my life? I can sincerely say that it has changed my life by changing who I am. I could not be a better father, employee, son, volunteer, advocate, or student, if I had not become a better person first. And as a result of higher education changing my life, it has also changed the life of the people who I come I contact with.

Mr. Perez will moderate the panel "'In my neighborhood'…First-hand Stories of Police Interactions" at SFC on September 29, 2015.

Johnny Perez is a non-attorney mental health advocate for the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project, a law firm providing pro-bono legal representation to underserved populations affected by social justice issues.

When he is not advocating on behalf of New York’s most vulnerable populations, Mr. Perez works to change the status quo of unjust policies and practices as a member of pro-social groups including the Jails Action Coalition, the Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (CAIC), and the New York Reentry Education Network. Johnny is also a member of the Bar Association’s Correction and Reentry Committee.

Student Post: Youth Crime: Is Imprisonment a Suitable and Effective Solution? 

David Patton

Issues surrounding youth crime and justice are one of the longest-standing and most highly debated areas within criminology.  There are many arguments surrounding the imprisonment of children and young offenders, particularly in relation to custodial sentences and whether they are appropriate and effective. There is no single, definitive principle of youth justice in the UK, but according to Hall, the philosophies of youth justice are four-fold and include welfare, punishment, rehabilitation and education.  There is much controversy surrounding the punishment of young offenders in particular, and emphasis is placed on different factors according to changes in time and politics.  This is particularly significant in recent years with the ‘punitive shift’.

As a result of this punitive shift since the 1990’s, the UK has seen considerable focus on punitive approaches in managing youth crime driven by an intense desire for stricter punishment and responsibilisation of young offenders.  According to Goldson, however, the imprisonment of children and young offenders is merely a matter of political convenience and the result of incompetent responses to, and failure to manage, youth crime through other methods.  This approach is supported by current government plans to build a super-prison to manage over 300 children and young offenders.  According to the Howard League, however, children’s prisons are volatile and dangerous environments which are ineffective at rehabilitating young offenders and are not suitable environments for young people. It is argued, therefore, that more emphasis should be placed on alternatives and that imprisonment is not an appropriate response to youth crime.

During a recent visit to East Moor Secure Children’s Unit, it appears that the four philosophies underpinning youth justice are attempting to be implemented in practice; but how effective are these philosophies in reducing youth crime?

According to the statistics for East Moor, 70% of young offenders released from the unit re-offend within the first year and many are subsequently returned to the unit.  Much emphasis is placed on education at East Moor and on getting the young people to address their offending behavior. However, if recidivism rates remain this high, it has to be asked how effective the imprisonment of young offenders is, particularly in relation to rehabilitation and how this can be addressed. The cost, (per person/per annum) of detaining a young person in an institute such as East Moor is up to £220,000. As a result, if the risk of a young person leaving the institute and reoffending is so high, arguably, imprisonment is not an effective method of rehabilitation and the money could be better spent on identifying and implementing alternative strategies.

During the visit, it was also highlighted that 90% of young offenders admitted to East Moor come from families with a recent history of offending behavior.  Perhaps, this highlights the ‘welfare’ philosophy of youth crime and therefore more emphasis should be placed on managing the welfare of young people and addressing the external factors which may contribute to them committing crimes and ending up in institutions. If a young person is admitted to East Moor, or a similar institute, then returned to the same environment and circumstances which may have contributed to their initial offending their chances of re-offending remain high.

Another factor for consideration when addressing the welfare of young offenders surrounds the disproportionately high number of children in these units suffering from mental health or conduct disorders which may be a significant contributory factor in offending.  The resources at East Moor are good, with medical and mental health professionals available as required. However, 20% of the young people there have self-harmed and, as a result, it can be argued that locking up young people with such issues is only going to exacerbate the problems, therefore ethical implications surrounding the welfare needs of young offenders need addressing. It may be more appropriate for these issues to be addressed in the community, and incidentally, by concentrating on treating these underlying problems, the risk of repeat offending would reduce as a result.

The punitive shift may explain why recidivism rates for youth crime remain high despite the education and support provided by institutes such as East Moor.  Perhaps, Goldson’s claim that prison is a political convenience - a result of failure to manage youth crime through other means - may offer some insight into what the focus should be in order to change the future of youth justice for the better.  However, the government’s plans to introduce a super-prison for youths would only exacerbate the problem, continuing to focus on punitive approaches, and avoid dealing with the underlying issues surrounding youth crime and justice and finding suitable alternatives.

Questions:

  1. What are your views on the government’s plans to introduce a super-prison for young offenders?
  2. Do you think that punishment is an appropriate way of managing youth crime or should more focus be placed on alternatives?

 

Post by Rebecca Baird-Parker

 

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by  sakhorn38

Student Post: Should We Lock Children Up? – A reflection from a trip to East Moor Secure Children’s Centre

David Patton

There has been debate over recent years about whether or not it is acceptable or effective to give custodial sentences to children and young people under the age of 18. Earlier this month I had the privilege to visit East Moor which is a local Secure Children’s Centre and only one of twelve in the United Kingdom. The visit taught me a lot about children in custody and it was completely not what I had expected.  

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The site at East Moor is unique in Europe due to the fact that it has three custodial centres from past to future all on the same site. There is an old reformatory from the 1800s still present very close to the current centre which was built in the 1970s and refurbished in 1997, although it is not in use anymore but it gives us an insight into the history of custodial centres for young people.  As well as this, they are presently in the process of building a brand new centre for September 2014 which will house both boys and girls and be an improvement on the facilities in use today. One thing that was mentioned that was significantly negative was the presence of pillars throughout some of the communal areas which meant that the children were not always visible to the members of staff, and they said that pillars would not be built into the new facility for this reason.

East Moor is a male only centre and has a school on site that teaches things from Maths to Design Technology and Art. The classes tend to be with two teachers/members of staff and usually two pupils but no more than four at a time. The centre has incident alarms that can be set off by any member of staff by something attached to their belt at any time, and this was set off during our visit – it is certainly an effective alarm sound! This is so that the members of staff can sound this if any incident happens that means that they require assistance or presence of another member of staff. The centre has both a new and old ‘block’ in which the bedrooms are situated, and part of the old block is not in use at all except for one room which is used as a segregation room when needed.

The average length of stay at East Moor in 2013/14 was 107 days for a detention or training order, 42 days for remands, and 353 days for those serving long term sentences. In the past few years there has been a decline in youth custody and this is partially due to judges becoming more comfortable with giving community options to the young offenders, and at East Moor they have seen a decline in the amount of offenders staying there which is why the new centre will have even less bedrooms.

Reasons for locking children up:

  • For their own safety.
  • To prevent crime.
  • As a last resort if no other options have worked when a crime has been committed.
  • Breach of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order.
  • Access to education which they may not have outside.
  • To encourage attitudinal change and not behavioural which should prevent reoffending.
  • To give them positive role models and influences which they may not have outside.

Reasons against locking children up:

  • Imprisonment may damage children both emotionally and psychologically.
  • Mental health issues – imprisonment could make these worse.
  • They are held too far away from family home and society.
  • Expensive option.
  • Centres not always a good enough standard according to Ofsted and HMP.
  • Bad to put kids together – may be bad influences on each other.
  • Violence from other children and also possibly staff.
  • Short lengths of sentences are more damaging for the child and not long enough to help.
  • Criminal record could mean they cannot get jobs in the future.
  • Institutionalisation.
  • Suicide rates can be high in custody.

 

There are many alternatives for locking children up in these kind of custodial sentences. These alternatives will be for their own good and the good of their families as well as saving the government a lot of money as places at East Moor can cost between £200k and £220k per person per annum. Some of the alternatives have focus on the families as well as the offender themselves in order to tackle the cause of offending as the family often have an influence on this.  90% of the admissions to East Moor in the past three years have a family history of reoffending and 39% of admissions to custody had been on the child protection register or had experienced harm, abuse or neglect.

Alternatives:

  • Community options.
  • Counselling for both children and their families.
  • Preventative methods e.gg youth centres.
  • Restorative justice.
  • Don’t prosecute them in the first place – is our criminal age of responsibility right?
  • Community penalties e.g. litter picking.
  • Tags – cheaper and less emotionally and psychologically harming.

 

Questions:

  1. What do you think about locking children up?
  2. Do you think that custodial sentences for children and young people are a good or bad thing?
  3. What do you think should happen in the future?

 

Post by Zoe Cox

Image Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net by Naypong