Public Perception versus Good Public Policy. (Commentary)

Article excerpt

Good public policy is essential for the success of any program or system. It must reflect sound reasoning and be predicated on safety and security to include the clientele being served and the general public.

This issue of Corrections Today focuses on juvenile corrections, a field in which an early opportunity, perhaps the greatest opportunity, exists to redirect and rehabilitate offenders. Juvenile justice professionals can significantly impact the link between public perception and the development of effective public policy by carefully educating local leaders about the realities of juvenile corrections and successful, proven strategies for reducing juvenile crime.

Juvenile correctional leaders must continually look for ways to improve operations as well as the public's perception of their systems. It is the public's perception, in most situations, by which success is measured. That perception of success greatly impacts resources and funding. Corrections professionals who minimize the importance of this will most assuredly face major challenges in the future, which may be difficult, perhaps impossible, to overcome. As a professional with many years of experience in system leadership and reform, I have observed programs with tremendous potential fail because of an imbalance between public perception and public policy.

Good public policy is essential for the success of any program or system. It must reflect sound reasoning and be predicated on safety and security to include the clientele being served and the general public. Good public policy also must be realistic and fiscally attainable for the particular jurisdiction. It does not come without a cost and taxpayers must see this cost as a worthwhile investment.

The development of good public policy as it relates to best practices in corrections should begin with the most experienced individuals in the business -- the practitioners. At this level, many intricate details and elements necessary for success can best be weighed and considered. This takes time and experience not possessed by many lawmakers. The next level of policy development involves providing reliable information to the legislature and state leadership in such a way that the expertise of seasoned professionals is reflected in laws and practices that govern juvenile corrections.

Sound public policy can be bestprotected and sustained if it is statutorily based. This is where the system leader must win the confidence and support of lawmakers. In this process, it is important to keep the focus on one's particular jurisdiction when developing public policy because legislators and other public leaders sometimes are influenced by national media stories that may have little relevance to one's locality.

For example, a program serving special needs juveniles may spark the interest of an influential public official with good intent, but with very limited knowledge about the system's needs. Such a program may have merit, but may not be a good fit for that jurisdiction. It may be geared toward an urban population, but not addressing the jurisdiction's rural needs. It may be an intervention appropriate for older juveniles when the system's priorities are a younger age bracket. …