WASHINGTON, DC—Addressing the record incarceration rates across the U.S. and the boom in the prison population, the UCLA School of Public Affairs launched the first in a series of public discussions on critical national issues with the opening dinner of the Rosenfield Forums at the National Press Club in Washington DC.
“The Rosenfield Forums are an opportunity to bring together some of the country’s best thinkers, practitioners, advocates, policy makers, and other stakeholders,” says Dean Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., “This week’s particular event focuses on encouraging all of us to think a little differently about how we reduce crime in the United States. This is an important and deeply corrosive phenomenon: it corrodes the public space, it corrodes our young people, and it crowds our prisons. Much of the worlds of crime and punishment are artificially constructed around these two poles—too much crime and too much incarceration. What you’ll see in this event is scholars grappling with the complexities of these issues, and presenting some elegant solutions—elegant in both simplicity and power.”
The inaugural forum, “Escaping the Prison Trap: How to Have Less Crime and Less Incarceration,” featured a keynote address on October 7 by the Honorable Steve S. Alm of the Hawaii State Judiciary. Alm is the creator of Project HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity and Probation and Enforcement), an innovative crime reduction program for drug offenses that has had dramatic success rates. Judge Alm described a frustrating sentencing and incarceration system that amounted to little more than a revolving door for minor drug offenders to move in and out of the judicial system.
“I can send them to the beach, or send them to prison—it’s crazy that these were the only options.” After gaining cooperation from several agencies, including the probation department, the sheriffs and U.S. marshals, Judge Alm created a systematic approach in which offenders were given instructions for calling a telephone hotline to see if they were selected that day for random drug testing. If they tested positive for drugs, they are arrested on the spot and brought up for a hearing within two days. “Swift and certain consequence is the key.” Says Alm, “If probationers know there will be caught and punished, they will not violate. Probation officers are pleased with the results, because clients were showing up to their appointments, and showing up sober.”
The program has had remarkable success in Hawaii (up to a 50% drop in repeat offenses among drug probationers); has been replicated by other judges; and has become the focus of research by UCLA Public Policy Professor Mark Kleiman and Pepperdine University Public Policy Professor Angela Hawken. The Department of Justice has funded a program to introduce the program to other jurisdictions across the country.
The Rosenfield Forums continue on October 8 at the Rayburn Building on Capital Hill with panel discussions on: reducing juvenile crime and incarceration, led by Associate Professor Laura Abrams of the Department of Social Welfare; the consequences of mass incarceration, led by Professor Michael Stoll of the Department of Public Policy; and getting more crime control with less punishment, led by Professor Mark Kleiman of the Department of Public Policy.
Laura Abrams, associate professor of social welfare at UCLA, appeared as a guest on the Howard Gluss radio show (August 14, 2009) to discuss the barriers to successful reentry to society for juveniles in the incarceration system. Abrams is the director of the juvenile justice and reentry project, a program of the Department of Social Welfare at the UCLA School of Public Affairs that fosters the reintegration of juvenile offenders into the community upon their release. The following are excerpts from the interview.
What are the major challenges that we face as a society for stopping young people entering the prison system?
“One of the things that it’s hard for people to wrap their minds around when we talk about juvenile offenders is that they are young people…and the majority haven’t committed violent crimes. They’re young people who deserve the opportunity to have a different pathway in their lives.”
“As a community, we think more about the punitive aspect of corrections and juvenile justice and not so much what happens when they return to society and when they transition to adulthood…When youth are get out of settings of incarceration, they’re often in a place where they don’t have school credits, or haven’t graduated from high school, they don’t have job skills, some don’t have families to return to. So they enter that already difficult transitional period of emerging adulthood without many skills or resources necessary to be successful.”
“Research has identified practices in the juvenile justice system that give youth a chance at better outcomes:
- Diversion, or keeping low-risk offenders out of incarceration (through home arrest or probation);
- Smaller settings, rather than large institutional settings;
- Longer treatment duration than (6 months rather than 2 months);
- Staff trained in therapeutic practices like cognitive behavioral work and family work; and
- Addressing underlying problems such as substance abuse, mental health issues and learning disabilities.”