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Posts Tagged ‘young men’

My cousin Alex Frank is on a mission to reform the criminal justice system, starting with young men. She has worked in prisons on a variety of programs for some years now and is seeing measurable results.

A recent Boston Globe editorial expressed hope for the latest initiative. “Early next year, one of the most important criminal justice reform experiments in the country will spread to a stately brick jailhouse in Billerica.

“The Middlesex Jail and House of Correction will become one of the first in the nation to create a dedicated, service-rich cell block for young men.

“Inmates, ages 18 to 24, will gather in peace circles to talk through conflict. They’ll learn how to budget for rent and transportation. And they’ll get the chance to hold their children during visiting hours. ….

“The idea is that 19- and 24-year-olds are fundamentally different than 35- and 40-year-olds — less mature, yes, but also more malleable, and better positioned to change.

“It’s an idea borne out by decades of neuroscience research, which shows the brain is still developing into the mid-20s. And Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, who is launching the unit, understands that research intuitively.

“He calls himself a ‘recovering young adult,’ who was adrift as a young man and didn’t get serious until his mid-20s. …

“Koutoujian says it only makes sense to keep impressionable young offenders away from the older inmates they mix with now. … Tailored services, he says, can make a real difference. A separate unit he established for military veterans is showing strong early results and garnering national attention.

“For this new project, Koutoujian is leaning heavily on the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based organization that helped create the nation’s first comprehensive unit for young adults at a tough prison in Cheshire, Conn., known as ‘The Rock.’

“The Cheshire unit hasn’t had a single fight between prisoners or attack on a guard since it launched early this year, and just a fraction of the disciplinary issues that normally arise among young adults in prison.

“Alex Frank, a senior program associate at Vera who has worked on both the Connecticut and Middlesex projects, says any serious effort to reduce mass incarceration in this country ‘requires a focus on young adults.’

“Eighteen-to-24-year-olds account for 10 percent of the American population but 21 percent of prison admissions, she notes. And their recidivism rates are much higher than for other age groups. Whatever we’re doing now is clearly failing. …

“The most expedient approach may be creating the sort of separate cell block Koutoujian is preparing to launch in Middlesex in February. …

“UTEC, an impressive, Lowell-based organization already working to rehabilitate some of the toughest young men in the region, will play a central role. Gregg Croteau, the executive director of the nonprofit, says his group will aim to smooth the transition to the outside — offering job training in jail, for instance, followed by work at a UTEC-run cafe after release. More.

See also this Lowell Sun article, which quotes Alex: “This project goes beyond simply improving living conditions for young people, and seeks to transform facility culture for everyone who lives and works in their facility … By providing meaningful opportunities for young adults to be successful and investing in their potential, supporting and reimagining the role of staff, Middlesex Jail & House of Correction is transforming the current correctional culture to promote equity, accountability, restoration, and healing.”

I think reader Asakiyume, who volunteers in a prison, knows exactly what Alex is saying about prison culture.

Photo: UTEC
Young people from the nonprofit UTEC in Lowell, Massachusetts, have been actively engaged in pushing for criminal justice reform. In February, they will start working with the Middlesex sheriff on a promising prison intervention.
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