In the book, you describe some horrific facilities. But you also visit a facility in Minnesota with a reputation for being comparatively humane, and you still come away ambivalent.
I really liked the warden there. I really liked the fact that when I said I wanted to see the place, he grabbed two kids who were walking by and asked them to show me around, and they were permitted to do so with no supervision. That never happened anywhere else I went. So I did feel that the kids could talk freely. There were motivational posters everywhere, and a lot of the things that the kids said closely mirrored those posters. There were more volunteers than there were kids. There were “cottage grandmothers” who baked cookies and milk. The place looks like a prep school.
But at the same time, each of these kids had spent time in the solitary confinement unit. That’s something that the UN considers torture when used on children for any amount of time. So here was this nice place, where, by international standards, they were routinely torturing kids. Because there has never been a time in history when we’ve successfully eliminated the abuses that take place in these facilities, no matter how many investigations and reports and waves of reform there have been, I don’t believe they can be eliminated.
But let’s say hypothetically that we could somehow, despite all historical evidence, create a juvenile prison where nobody was sexually assaulting kids, nobody was beating them up, nobody was placing them in solitary confinement. They still wouldn’t serve their purpose. If you think of the major developmental tasks of adolescence, they’re things like: Forming trusting relationships, which is taboo inside any locked facility. Learning to make decisions for yourself, which usually involves making some mistakes. There’s no margin of error inside a locked facility and you aren’t allowed to decide something as simple as what toothpaste to use. They live this very regimented life where they’re not allowed to make any decisions or ask any questions or form any relationships.
Reblogged to read later.