Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C

Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C

Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C

Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C


To date, knowledge of the everyday world of the juvenile correction institution has been extremely sparse. Compassionate Confinement brings to light the challenges and complexities inherent in the U.S. system of juvenile corrections. Building on over a year of field work at a boys' residential facility, Laura S. Abrams and Ben Anderson-Nathe provide a context for contemporary institutions and highlight some of the system's most troubling tensions.

This ethnographic text utilizes narratives, observations, and case examples to illustrate the strain between treatment and correctional paradigms and the mixed messages regarding gender identity and masculinity that the youths are expected to navigate. Within this context, the authors use the boys' stories to show various and unexpected pathways toward behavior change. While some residents clearly seized opportunities for self-transformation, others manipulated their way toward release, and faced substantial challenges when they returned home.

Compassionate Confinement concludes with recommendations for rehabilitating this notoriously troubled system in light of the experiences of its most vulnerable stakeholders.


Unless we live in the end-time of ultimate enlightenment, the coveted truths we now hold most self-evident, the products of our best science, will not only seem outdated and wrong in a few decades, but laughable. of the candidates for ridicule by a future Stephen Jay Gould, I would nominate early twenty-first century notions of youth violence and juvenile crime founded in developmental-stage and brain-maturity science that hasn’t advanced much in a century.

I suspect that today’s generic notion that crime prone youth engage in adolescent risk taking due to impulse-wired teen brains spurred by alwaysU />theories resting in racial hierarchies, cranial metrics, and tortured phrenologies that criminal behavior could be read in atavistic countenance. Stereotypes of the typical teenager will become as offensive as yesterday’s delineations of the typical Jew, darkie, and Injun.

For all the claims to scientific validation, popular, persistent theories inevitably flatter their adherents as the wisest ontogeny of the superior phylogeny, with statistics and evidence bent to upholding and perpetuating them long after debunking by reasoned analysis. Typically, the sin is data selectivity.

Biodevelopmental theorists generalized youth proclivities from certain facts (such as that youths in a single Oakland, California, zip code suffered dozens of homicides over the last two decades) while ignoring challenging facts (that youths in a similarly populated Marin zip code an hour’s drive away, likewise manifesting adolescence, experienced none). Crime and political authorities endlessly deplored the early 1990s spike in homicide and violence among poorer urban young people (in fact, many seem reluctant to let it go) but utterly ignored the even larger, longer-term surges in drug abuse and crime among middle-agers (merely the parents). Credentialed alarmists hyped the increase in arrests for one offense, assault, among girls in the early 1990s as proof of some new crime nexus (often linked to modern young females’ worldliness) but failed to notice the larger, broader leap in arrests, especially for assault, among their midlife mothers and fathers. Experts avoided level-playing-field comparisons of adult and youth behavior . . .

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