Do Alternative Methods to Incarceration Exist?

By Anne Scheps

As I get deeper and deeper into my literature review examining the community’s role in effective reintegration of juvenile offenders, I have also been gaining much more insight into the experience of incarceration as a whole. Questions have been coming to me that I am desperately (and futilely) trying to find answers to. If the prison system is not working, if we have such a high recidivism rate, what can we do to keep society safe and rehabilitate criminals so that they stay out of facilities? How do we create a supportive, caring environment for juvenile delinquents that fosters the values we want them to bring back to society? Can there be an alternative to incarceration? What would that even look like? Through my research, I’m finding that there are no clear-cut answers. Every article, researcher, news cast, has its own opinion on the best way to handle crime. Watching a recent TedTalk about the neurogenesis in incarcerated adults has spurred my desire to write this blog post because it brings up what I think is the most important point we all need to remember when it comes to the prison mass industrial complex: change is possible. As Daniel Riesel mentions in his talk entitled “The neuroscience in restorative justice”, neurogenesis is happening constantly within all of our brains. Cells are dying and re-generating, meaning that in lay-man terms, even psychopaths who have committed horrible, horrible crimes can reinvent themselves and learn a new path to morality. What if we could apply this to less serious offenses?

As most of my work deals with juvenile offenders, I have developed a passion for impacting the way the justice system approaches the youth involved with it. If Riesel suggests that adults are malleable, are not juveniles even more so? If I were in charge of reforming specific policies within juvenile justice, I would focus on giving the kids positive role models, stable resources, and a sense of hope for the future. With the current system, they are surrounded by other offenders who only exaggerate and exacerbate their criminal activity. The youth learn destructive habits and form relationships with other youth who will only lead them down a worse path. Can we change this?

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