Jun 17, 2009

6) The Third of Three Ideas that could Transform Corrections.....

June 17, 2009 Madrid

Here is the last of the three ideas. For this one, I have to give credit to an old friend from high school, Dr. Ron Needham, who on hearing the first two ideas, gave me the kernel for this third one. I have added to what he suggested and at this point can't distinguish where his ideas left off and mine began. Suffice to say, without his input, this idea never would have happened.

Whereas the previous two ideas are simple and could be implemented without great cost or disruption, this idea requires a complete re-write of the Criminal Justice System - and so the probability of seeing this happen is beyond slim. Nevertheless, it is good sometimes to examine what might be possible in order to give direction to the evolution of the system.

Victim-Based Corrections - a system based on compensation to victims as the basis for incarceration. In this scheme, for every crime there is an identifiable victim. (If no victim can be identified, it isn't a crime. That would eliminate all of the people who self-medicate in order to tolerate their lives - so long as they don't steal a TV to support their medication. This part of the idea merits it's own essay, but let's stay on topic). If there is a victim, then there is a financial cost that can be assessed in order to restore the victim to his/her condition before the crime. The first phase of a criminal trial is the same as it is now - the establishment of guilt. But in the second phase, arguments are heard to establish a dollar amount of compensation required to make the victim "whole" again. In the case of murder, that is likely to be a very large amount.

Once a restitution amount is set, the convicted criminal either is granted probation to allow him/her to pay restitution while working in the community or is sentenced to prison. In the first case, probation remains in effect until restitution is paid and perhaps longer.

In the event the offender is sentenced to prison, he will not be released until the restitution is paid, no matter how long that might take. In the reception facility, he is given the opportunity to apply for work within the prison system. Vocational tests are available to help him evaluate his own skills and to demonstrate them to potential employers (within the system). More on employment in a minute....

I digress to note however that "will not be released" does not necessarily mean permanently living within concrete walls. There is no reason why prisoners who have demonstrated success at their jobs and lives could be transferred to sleep in half-way houses or other forms of independent living as they progress through the program. Now, back to the main theme...

At this point, I illuminate another key element of this plan - the partnership between corrections and business. Almost every prison would be built around a work facility (or multiple work facilities) run for profit by American businesses. But where would all the jobs come from? Well, most of them would come home from Mexico, China, Thailand, etc. where they had previously been "outsourced". The prisoners would earn less than they would earn in a comparable job outside the prison in order to make the program attractive to businesses. But the earnings would still be sufficient to make good progress on the restitution account. The discussion of how to make this attractive to business while still benefiting the inmates would create a very long essay on it's own, but for today let's just touch on it lightly.

The inmates, once "hired", move into residence into the facility attached to their work location. They are oriented and begin working. But before they can put money into their restitution accounts, they have to pay their room and board! (Yes, the prison system is intended to be "revenue-neutral"!) And next, they have to pay child support for any children that they may have left behind them. And then finally, money goes into their restitution account. Of course, there are other ways that they may chose to use their money. Educational programs would be available in the evening should they wish to improve their skills. By so doing, they could ultimately get themselves promoted and thereby earn more money in the long run.

So now we have a link between successful employment and ultimately being released through payment of restitution. The most important purpose of this is to finally provide socialization to a class of individuals who do not know how to function as non-Outlaws or who have chosen not to function as non-Outlaws. The inmates would have to get themselves up every morning, report to work, and deal with the kind of frustrations that work produces - boredom, work politics, acceptance of the authority of those whom one may not respect, etc. Thus far in their lives, they have not been able to do these things. They may be profoundly uneducated and may need their night school to qualify for anything more than menial work. Outside prison, Outlaw activity was far more attractive, but now they must actually confront and become successful at behavior that is actually functional.

In short, they are forced to behave in a way that would work for them when they are free. It may not be easy for them. Their employers are free to fire, demote, or otherwise discipline the workers just as they would outside the prison. If fired, they have to go back to the reception facility and apply for another job. They can also be returned to the reception facility for demonstrating the kind of behavior now seen conventional prisons - aggressive behavior toward other inmates or staff or any of a number of Outlaw behaviors.

Another benefit: when the inmate finally pays off his restitution account, he has already got an employment track record and references. He might chose to remain with his current employer, but as a free person now. Otherwise, he can seek another job, but he knows how to do it and knows how to function in a work environment. Those with limited contact with Outlaws may not appreciate how hard it is for them to function in a conventional setting.

For those who have some experience with our current system, you know that there are a certain number of hard cases who want nothing more than to get some new tattoos, lift weights, and play prison games generally. Fine, for those types there would be maximum security prisons like California's Pelican Bay facility. There they can go and act like prison goons all day long. However, they make no progress on their restitution accounts and every day they are going deeper into debt on their room and board. And so, it is unlikely that they will be seen on the streets anytime in the foreseeable future. And that is how it should be. These are people who have chosen antisocial behavior as a way of life.

But for the rest of the inmate population, without the pressure from the goons, the gang activity goes away. The only kind of behavior that gets an inmate released is functional behavior, work, and payment of restitution debt. Suddenly inmates are receptive to counselling and education. It could be possible in the last portion of an inmate's residence to have his family join him in a special family housing area, thereby making the entire family available for services (at a cost, of course).

There are many more possibilities than I have sketched out here, but at the very least we are talking about a prison system that only releases inmates who have demonstrated their ability to function as a non-Outlaw and who have actual job skills, leading to a much higher probability of social success. In addition, the cost of operating prisons would be less due to the requirement for inmates to pay for services provided by the system. Business would benefit by having a work force available in the US and a steady stream of trained employees on a career path. Unions, in industries typically unionized like the Electricians' Union, could provide training programs within the institution to prepare future union members.

And the fact that victims are compensated for their losses adds a whole new dimension to the idea of Criminal Justice. I realize that I have asked you to put on rose-colored glasses for this conversation, but so did Martin Luther King 40 years ago, and look who is our president!

Jun 16, 2009

5) The Second of Three Ideas that could Transform Corrections...

June 16, 2009 Madrid
If you have time, I recommend reading the first 3 short essays as background for this essay. But I will try to make it self-contained for the busy reader.

We've already discussed the enormous costs of running the correctional system and the relatively poor success that we get for our money. This article deals with an idea for increasing the effectiveness of our prisons in terms of actual rehabilitation.

Keeping Score - you can't get a result if you don't measure for it. Actual rehabilitation in prisons is such a hopeless subject that the professionals don't really want to discuss it. Wardens running our prisons are concerned with 1) staying inside the budget; 2) keeping staff and inmates from getting hurt; and 3) staying out of the newspapers. Changing the inmates values and goals is not a part of the plan - it is considered impossible, or nearly so.

It must be impossible; after all, didn't we make the effort back in the 70's and 80's when we threw our most powerful behavior altering tool, psychology, into the prison system. And psychology simply didn't make the difference that we had hoped for. So with shrinking budgets and ever more new prisons to build, we fell back to mere "warehousing" of prisoners - just holding them off the streets so that they couldn't commit crimes.

Once "warehousing" became the dominant operating mode, then other changes emerged from that (or perhaps just returned to an earlier mode used in the days before psychology was tried). To prevent staff injuries, the relationship between staff and inmates became more formal and much more separate. As staff became more and more established as guards rather than counselors, then the two distinct cultures within the prison became hardened - each with a negative definition of the other.

In the staff culture, the older guards trained the newer ones to be wary of the convicts and promoted the notion that "there is nothing that can be done for these people". Because staff were no longer involved in counseling, their educational requirements were reduced along with their pay (given the budget crises). As a result, the staff culture became a bit less idealistic. Being a guard was a job, not a calling.

In the inmate culture, the guards just became the unsmiling face of the non-Outlaw culture. As Outlaws will do, the inmates hoarded every injustice as proof of the inherent antagonism of the non-Outlaw culture. The result has been prisons where the Outlaws primarily relate to other Outlaws. Healthy interaction between staff and Outlaws became the exception.

Now let's get to the heart of the second idea: we don't really measure effectively the success and failure rate of each of our institutions. At the national level, we collect data on individual criminals and their arrests. This is done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. There has been an effort to continually improve this record keeping, especially since the data has been computerized. It would not be all that hard to add a few new fields to the database and track the institutions where the criminal has spent time.

The reason for doing this would be to be able to rank all the correctional institutions in the nation in order of their success in releasing inmates who remain free of arrests. If such a list were published every six months, each of the wardens could see the comparative effectiveness of their own institutions. Let's imagine that there is some prison in Huntsville, Alabama that happens to be Number One in effectiveness. The other wardens would have to ask, "What are they doing that we aren't doing?" That is a question that isn't being asked today!

I assert that effectiveness in treating Outlaws will turn out to be based on the quality of non-Outlaw relationships available to the Outlaw as well as the availability of socialization to teach the Outlaws how to function in the non-Outlaw society. But once we start keeping accurate measurements of success, we may all be surprised at what works. Until we have the measurements, we are really just guessing.

The beauty of this idea is that it doesn't really cost very much. It doesn't add new bureaucracy. We already collect data - there would be a little clerical effort involved in reporting what inmates are in what institutions, but the amount of time required is fairly trivial. This is the heart of this second idea.

Now the correctional professionals reading this will at this point be eager to point out that any given inmate will probably spend time in a variety of institutions during his criminal career. It can legitimately be questioned how responsibility for the criminal's success or failure could be fairly apportioned between the various institutions.

Further, there are a variety of types of institutions ranging from open forestry camps to maximum security prisons. The forestry camps get relatively low-risk inmates, perhaps convicted of lesser crimes. The maximum security prisons get the members of prison gangs, violent and unsocialized individuals, and inmates convicted of serious crimes. How can a maximum security prison be forced to compete fairly with a forestry camp? The maximum security prison would expect a much higher failure rate given the pathology of it's inmates.

These two problems illustrate the difficulty of fairly comparing the effectiveness of different institutions. Difficult, but not a sufficient reason to abandon the idea. I assert that an enterprising graduate student in criminal statistics might very well take on as a PhD. project the development of an algorithm that would apportion responsibilty to each of the institutions that an inmate passes through. And it would clearly be necessary to establish classes of institutions so that maximum security prisons are fairly compared with other maximum security prisons and not with forestry camps. The algorithms used could be continually improved over time, but of course would need to be insulated to ensure that they are not subject to political pressures.

I remember as an undergraduate in Sociology, the Western Electric Study in which it was discovered that the mere act of measurement alters the behavior of an institution. How can we go on throwing 80 BILLION dollars a year at a system for which we have no measurement of effectiveness?

Jun 14, 2009

4) The First of Three Ideas that could Transform Corrections....

June 15, 2009 Madrid
I recommend reading the three previous essays for background if you have time. But given the fast pace of modern life, I'll try to make this essay stand on it's own legs.

The first of the Three Ideas to Transform Corrections deals with improving the success rate of inmates who have finally "graduated" back onto the streets. Currently 65 to 70 percent of them are re-arrested and go back into the criminal justice system. Given the high cost of incarceration, that is just not an acceptable level of success.

Before we get to a proposed solution, let's take a closer look at the problem. Imagine Alonzo, a fictional 29 year old inmate who has been in and out of institutions since adolescence. He is now being released on parole after 5 years inside. Alonzo completed his high school equivalency while in prison and took a variety of vocational courses. He has the idea that he will at least "try" to stay out this time.

He leaves prison with $200 in cash and a bus ticket to Los Angeles, his home town, where he will meet his Parole Officer. On the way home, he spends $10 on food. On arrival in LA, he finds a room in a run-down neighborhood. By taking a weekly rate, he only spends $10 a night, but he has to pay for the week in advance. By the time he pays that and has dinner, he has $110 left in his pocket.

Alonzo never had friends who weren't Outlaws. Being lonely, he looks a few of them up. They, knowing how little money he has, immediately offer some ideas for revenue. Maybe a drug dealer offers to "front" him some drugs to get started selling or other scams may be offered. Certainly his release will merit some celebration - drinking and drugs being a part of that. This will probably be the most fun he has had in years. The chances are nearly 100% that, by the morning of his second day of freedom, he will have committed some kind of crime. If Alonzo is a member of a street gang or a prison gang, his option to avoid Outlaw behavior will be even more limited.

Now he has to report to his Parole Officer. He goes to the office and waits his turn. Eventually he meets the officer who asks a lot of questions about where he will live and work. The officer will probably provide some written resources for employment, counseling, and lodging. However, the officer has probably around 300 cases and is far too busy to be a counselor or mentor. The parole officer spends the most time on "violations", either dealing with clients who have been re-arrested or writing court reports.

So now Alonzo has to try to find employment. Having been inside for five years, he is very self-conscious in the non-Outlaw world. He can feel the disapproval from secretaries and others who know that he is an ex-con. In fact, he feels that they can tell his status just by looking at him. And the street-wise people actually can.

At this point we leave our fictional Alonzo at the point of making a decision. Does he face the fear, rejection, and wariness of the non-Outlaw world in order to get a menial job that he finds totally uninteresting and that pays only enough for bare survival? Or does he return to his old friends and join in their scams for quick cash and a lifestyle he finds comfortable?

Although some released inmates in the real world may have more available resources and different circumstances, our fictional Alonzo illustrates the kinds of all-too-typical challenges faced by a released convict. So now it is time for the First Idea:

ConAnon - a voluntary 12-step program for released inmates run totally by successful, employed ex-cons for the benefit of themselves and newly released inmates. Employed ex-cons meet at least once a week and sponsor "new graduates" through the difficult transition into non-Outlaw life. The sponsors know very well what the new guy is going through - all the temptations from the "homeboys", the pressure from gangs, and the fear of the unknown in the non-Outlaw world. There is an old saying, "You can't con a con". The sponsors are not going to buy into any lame excuses.

Each ConAnon chapter would need a public meeting room - there are many of these available for the various other "anons". This would be the only expense of the program. They would meet weekly or more often as they decide. The meetings are based on established 12-step principles and stress personal responsibility and supporting one another to break the addiction to the Outlaw lifestyle. The employed cons might be able to provide an introduction to employment opportunities where they themselves work and could mentor their new guys right into a job. The employers would have the comfort of knowing that their new employee has an extra set of eyes following him all day.

Parole Officers could recommend ConAnon for new releases and provide a schedule for the meetings, but there would be no direct communication between ConAnon and the Parole Office. For ex-cons to trust ConAnon, they would have to able to feel that they could speak honestly and openly about what is happening with them.

For the first time, released inmates would actually have a support group for non-Outlaw behavior. I am not aware of any other institution or organization that provides this service although certainly there must be something in some localities.

To establish such a 12-step program would require recruitment of leadership -successful ex-cons who are willing to commit themselves to this challenge. National attention could be raised by the involvement of celebrity ex-cons from the worlds of music and television. When a core group of successful ex-cons is found, a pilot chapter would be formed and the basic 12-step principles modified for the needs of this group. Once the chapter is established, ConAnon needs to establish a national center, recruit leaders for chapters all over the country, and print/distribute written materials to support the chapters. This phase of organization will require funding through grants and the national headquarters will require secure ongoing funding. Alcoholics Anonymous could provide a model for the organization.

This idea could be developed into a much longer essay but my intention is to sow the seed, not to complete the idea. It can be seen that this would be an inexpensive and effective way to reduce the failure rate for released inmates. What is needed now is a group of ex-cons willing to take the idea and make it happen in their own community.....

Jun 8, 2009

3) Crime and Corrections - what is the problem?

June 9, 2009 Rota, Spain

Corrections - the running of prison systems - talking about this is one of those "hopeless" topics that leaves the average citizen with eyes glazed over within the first 5 minuntes. We all sort of know that the prison system is not a pleasant place to live; that it is brutal and violent; that it is dominated by prison gangs; that it is a dangerous environment for guards as well as prisoners; that it rarely succeeds in rehabilitating the prisoners; and that it is very expensive to operate.

Those shared understandings are pretty close to the mark. Maybe just a few numbers will help to put things further into focus.
1) I have read that one out of every 165 Americans are in some kind of confinement.
2) In 2002, the reported annueal cost of the prison system was 60 BILLION dollars. I'm not sure that included the costs of probation departments or the criminal court system. It certainly doesn't include the costs of crime to its victims. Today, I believe the annual costs exceed 80 BILLION!
3) In 2002, 67% of released prisoners were rearrested, not exactly a triumph for this very expensive system...and I fear this number may be on the low side.

Historically, there have been periodic attempts to improve prison conditions and to make them more effective. During the 1960's and 1970's, there was money available for new methods in corrections and some very dedicated professionals attempted to use what has thus far been the strongest medicine for dysfunctional behavior - psychology.

A variety of techniques were introduced into prisons - group therapy and individual counselling were made available. Staff sensitivity training was added in many facilities. Alas, in the 1980's and 1990's, budgets became tighter and there were ever more prisoners as "get tough on crime" legislation gave the courts less freedom to bypass incarceration. Building new prisons ate up operating funds and the psychological programs were phased out in place of a new philosophy of "warehousing".

But what really doomed the psychological programs was that statistically they failed to convince that they had any impact. I worked in corrections during this era and there was a lot of "feel-good" activity - we really felt that we were making a difference. We felt that we had connected with our clients. But they continued to fail and get rearrested.

What went wrong? I think the psychological approach works when an individual is in distress and seeks relief. Unfortunately Outlaws have made a successful adaptation to their environment and are not really in distress. They participated eagerly in the psychological programs - perhaps believing it might be a way to qualify for earlier release. Certainly, some of them came away with new insights into their own behavior. But what I now see, few of them came away with the confidence and ability to avoid the Outlaw lifestyle for the rest of their lives. The power of that lifestyle and the difficulty of re-entering a non-Outlaw world where they are seen as dangerous and untrustworthy usually proves definitive. In the next essay, I will address that difficult transition in more depth.

But, after psychology had it's run and failed to convince, the prisons fell back to "warehousing" prisoners - trying to keep them safe and secure while keeping them off the streets. The amount of "safe and secure" that could be provided was linked to the budget and as overcrowding and understaffing became the norm, things were not all that "safe and secure". Wardens saw that what the public demanded of them was that they 1) stay in the budget; and 2) stay out of the newspapers.

Rehabilitation became seen as hopeless, so internal policies shifted towards minimal contact between staff and inmates, to keep staff from getting "conned" or injured. The inmate now found himself in an environment where he had 100% Outlaw contacts.

And the hope for rehabilition and permanent change of Outlaw behavior seems just as remote as it has ever been. It's true that Outlaws eventually outgrow prisons. The fact of aging seems to be the most effective factor causing prisoners to stop committing crimes. They get to where they just don't want to go back "inside" and find some accomodation where they can live without being arrested. But there seems to be no shortage of the young, aggressive inmates.

So the question we raised in the beginning - what is the problem? Well, we're spending a fortune on corrections and it isn't doing much correcting. Prisoners who are locked up don't commit crimes while in prison - that is the only saving grace for the system. If we could lock them all up indefinitely, well then I guess that would pretty well handle the crime problem. But given the size of our underclass and the number of Outlaws, that is beyond our budget many times over - to say nothing of the humanitarian issues.

And so, are prisons destined to forever be a hopeless topic? Is there no hope? Well, maybe. The next essays will contain some ideas for increasing the effectiveness of the existing system.

Jun 5, 2009

2) Crime - Why do they do it?

June 5, 2009 Rota, Spain
When I was an undergraduate, I took all the Criminology courses that were offered. At that time there was a debate about the causes of crime and I don't even remember all the details now, but it was all about the impact of genetics and environment. There was a strong theme that lack of jobs, breakdown of the family, drugs and alcohol, the existence of a large permanent underclass, and other similar factors were the primary causal factors of crime.

I don't disagree with all of that, but after working with criminals, I found that there was another factor that I had never heard mentioned that was perhaps the most powerful of all. I am referring to the criminal subculture. I will call these folks "Outlaws".

Being an Outlaw is a way of life. It is a sometimes glamorous alternative lifestyle that is open and always recruiting. It provides emotional and psychological support for its members. Membership is open to any and all who support the basic rules and beliefs of the subculture. Here is a quick list as they popped into my mind:
1) Outlaws never "snitch" - they don't talk to police or other non-outlaws.
2) Outlaws are smarter because they don't have to work 9 to 5 jobs for lousy pay.
3) Outlaws help other outlaws when possible. There is an "us-against-them" element.
4) Outlaws know how to do time - jail is just another place to be and one's ability to do time well earns respect.
5) The Outlaw life is more glamorous. (There is a certain selective amnesia at work here because a holding cell on Saturday night lacks glamour. So do gang rapes in prison). Nowadays, Outlaws are supported in this belief by the fact that non-outlaws imitate their fashions (slang, backwards baseball caps, baggy clothes, etc.)
6)Outlaws accept very marginal individuals - borderline retarded, poorly socialized, and of course, sociopaths and psychopaths. Individual Outlaws may not let the marginal members into their inner circles, but they relate to them as fellow Outlaws.
7) Outlaws are justified in their actions against the larger society because of all of the many corruptions and injustices of the larger society. They can recite a litany of these.

Outlaws of course are more visible in lower socio-economic communities - virtually all the young people in poor neighborhoods know who are the dealers, the gangsters, etc. The young there have to go to considerable lengths to avoid getting caught up in the Outlaw world. Gangs routinely harass book-carrying minority kids - and the weaker of those often join a gang to stop the harassment and to get "backup".

In middle-class communities, Outlaws are virtually invisible but still present. Unhappy middle-class youths have no trouble finding Outlaw companions. If they are angry at their families, drug use is a quick introduction to the Outlaw world. Not working and staying high all day finds them lots of Outlaw company. Supporting a drug habit will quickly lead to criminal activity.

In addition to the active Outlaws, there are a lot of other supporters of the Outlaw lifestyle. Family members and female companions may avoid overt criminal activity, but still support many of the basic beliefs of the Outlaw subculture and choose to relate mostly to Outlaws.

When I was working with delinquents, I read a book that had a profound influence on the way I perceived my clients. It was "Manchild in the Promised Land" by Claude Brown. Having grown up in a middle-class home with little Outlaw contact, I always thought that going to jail was about the worst thing that could happen. It never ocurred to me that some people would chose to go to jail for a variety of reasons, none of which were valid to me: to add to their prestige with other Outlaws; to join a group of "homeboys" on the inside; to avoid some kind of danger on the streets; etc. Another fabulous source for background on Outlaws is the movie "American Me" starring Edward James Olmos, one of my personal heros. This movie, still in rental stores, is an accurate portrayal of life in prison and the difficulty of making a transition back into non-Outlaw life.

Once I realized how little understanding I had for this subculture, I began to seriously investigate it. And that led to an awareness of the degree to which our correctional institutions have failed to fully appreciate the power of the Outlaw culture in the lives of the prisoners whom they hoped to rehabilitate.

During the 1960's and 1970's, there was plenty of money for corrections and we threw at the problem of crime the most powerful tool we knew at the time for modifying disfunctional behavior - psychotherapy. And it was a miserable failure. The Outlaws ran a huge con on the therapists and the counsellors. The Outlaws didn't need to plan that; they were just being themselves and following their own values. Perhaps it isn't fair to say so, but to me it seems that the most effective part of psychotherapy is the price tag. At $100 per hour, clients take their behavior and thinking very seriously. If it were free, I wonder if it would have the same effect. I'm afraid it is probably most effective on the profoundly unhappy person. And Outlaws do not fall into that category. They have found an adjustment that allows them to function. It is hard for them to imagine changing lifestyles.

From the standpoint of corrections, that is the most difficult part. Corrections deals with individuals who are established in the Outlaw subculture and, while incarcerated, are living in a 100% Outlaw environment. Corrections asks the outlaw to turn his back on his Outlaw associates; to enter an alien world where he is poorly socialized to function - the world of non-outlaws; and to try to find a job in that world - which is thoroughly prejudiced against him. The Outlaw commonly has nowhere to turn; no non-outlaw friends for support; poor social skills after having been out of circulation for so long; and the fear that everyone who looks at him can see him as a prisoner. It is no surprise that the failure rate is above 70%.

Today the Outlaw culture is as strong as ever - perhaps moreso in that many elements of Outlaw culture have become glamorous - hip-hop music, gangsta rap, baggy clothes are a part of non-outlaw youth culture. If parents knew the sources of some of these strange clothing fads, they might not be so quick to buy them for junior.

As a digression, I have always held that one of the main reasons for drug use is that individuals don't really have a future that they are looking forward to. Young people may not really want to grow up to be their parents - it is not a failing of the parents, but of our culture that has become so materialistic that the future looks so much like collecting and maintaining "stuff" and making the payments on it all. And the individual is reduced to being a "consuming unit". Young people who can't wait to get up in the morning because they are pursuing a dream are not at risk for drugs or crime.

I have necessarily overgeneralized in this essay. It could easily have been a book. I am trying to establish a foundation for a series of essays on things that we can do to make the correctional industry work better. Stay tuned....

1) Welcome to my essays...

June 5, 2009 Rota, Spain
I've been meaning to start this blog for a long time because I've acquired some ideas over the years that I really need to get into circulation, especially in the area of criminology. Having spent years working in corrections and later serving on the Board of Prison Possibilities, Inc., I've kept my thinking focused on the seemingly impossible challenges of our correctional system.

I have three ideas that could transform corrections as we know it. Best of all, the first two of them cost almost nothing, do not require additions to government agencies (or almost none) and the cost to the taxpayer would be minimal. But I will get to those ideas in due course.

First I just want to welcome you and give you a little of my qualifications, humble as they might be. My education is a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California at Riverside followed by a year of law school. So I am hardly an academic. In fact, in the essays that follow I do not intend to be academically rigorous. My interest is to inspire and to sow the seeds of new ideas not yet current. To do that, I need to keep it short and readable. Those who find value in my ideas can easily enough pursue the further ramifications. Those who wish to invalidate me will find it easy enough. Then they can move on to invalidate someone else - no point in wasting their time with me.

My real education, at least for the topic of corrections, came to me courtesy of countless young men who I came to know in the Juvenile Justice System during the 20 years that I worked for the Los Angeles County Probation Department. Being less sophisticated and more open than they would be after they reached adult prisons, I found that they would open themselves to me if I could resist being judgemental and "preaching" to them. In many cases, they had never had the chance to talk deeply with an adult and generously shared their experiences.

Some of them actually made it out of the system - one, the former leader of a black street gang, actually made it through law school. The ideas that I will share with you are based on what I learned from them. These ideas differ from what I learned in my Criminology classes, which is why I feel the need to express them.