Anger Management and the Code of the Street

by James Barrett and Elizabeth Janopaul Naylor, Youth Today

July 20, 2016

The room was stuffy and hot, the scent of stale snack foods hung in the air and the boys in the anger management group in this locked facility were distracted. As a young clinician and group facilitator, I was frustrated.

We had been reviewing the steps of the “anger cycle” for weeks and no one seemed to be retaining the information. With an exasperated sigh, I tried to remind them that this material was designed to prevent the situations that got them locked up, and thus stuck here with me.

Before I could start back on the first step of the cycle, a boy who I will call Jay dismissively rattled off all eight steps as well as the positive coping skills taught to avoid violence. I was stunned. Jay was a frequent flyer to this detention facility. Of the many groups I’d had with him, he was never an active participant.

I asked Jay why, if he knew the material so well, he had never used them to avoid incarceration. He replied, “This stuff would never work in the neighborhood where I’m from; you try this, you’re gonna get punked.”

Jay, like many of the other boys in that facility, got into trouble due to the “code of the street.” This code dictates that any sign of disrespect must be aggressively avenged with retaliation.

After several conversations with Jay about why the skills we were teaching were not helpful, I began to question the effectiveness of teaching these kids skills that are irrelevant to the situations they encounter in their neighborhoods. This frustration would mount as I started to notice retaliatory violence glorified and celebrated in popular culture.

For example, in hockey there are “enforcers” on each team, prepared to defend the honor of a smaller, more vulnerable teammate. Similarly, in baseball, if a batter “shows a pitcher up” by staring at a home run ball for too long before running the bases, that batter is likely to be intentionally hit by the pitcher the next inning.

Indeed, the ubiquity of these messages explicitly endorsing “justified” violence make it very difficult for a clinician to teach a maxim such as “be the bigger person and walk away from a fight.” This is clearly not the message that popular culture is giving to young people.

Sadly, today the “code of the street” is not taken into account when arresting, sentencing and treating these adolescents. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in 2013 there were 1.1 million juvenile delinquency cases. Approximately 186,000 of these cases were for charges of simple assault. Most of these youth come from lower-income minority families.

Jay, like many young men charged with simple assault, was referred for anger management treatment. The group I facilitated centered on learning anger management and conflict resolution skills.

The assumption that all violence stems from the same emotions and thoughts has led many clinicians to apply this one intervention across the board. While anger management curricula can be quite effective for adolescent struggling with mood swings, impulsivity or difficulty with affect regulation, they often do not take into account the social pressures of maintaining a reputation.

Time and again I watched the students in my groups fail to utilize the strategies they were taught as they cycled in and out of lock-up. When they were faced with ongoing and real threats to their reputation, fighting back was not just a question of managing anger. To these boys, “anger management” can be another example of how the rest of the world doesn’t understand their dilemma.

Needless to say, clinicians like myself who facilitate these groups often struggle with burnout, and both parties can feel like failures perpetually frustrated with the other.

As with any form of effective treatment, the messages clinicians deliver have to be relevant to the lived experience of our patients. These youth are in a terrible bind: Fight or be shamed. If we, as clinicians in the juvenile justice system, fail to recognize this predicament, our interventions will be ineffective and our patients will feel unheard.

It is frustrating to be told you have “anger issues” when in fact you are following the example of those around you, including athletes and celebrities. With the current national attention on violence prevention, it is a glaring omission that we do not systematically train clinicians about the culture of violence in which so many youth are forced to live.

The principle of using evidence-based practices has forced health care to empirically support its methodology. We need to take this one step further. Treatments and models of care must be contextually relevant.

In order to decrease crime and violence in this country, clinicians must acknowledge and understand the code of the street. The work we have done through the Cambridge Safety Net Collaborative on the Fight Navigator curriculum integrates the lived experiences of youth into a violence prevention program.

The curriculum was developed through focus groups with mostly urban youth of color. They described strategies that work to respond to a threat in a manner that avoids violence and allows them to maintain a reputation.

In the same way that we know that talking about abstinence alone is not an effective way to prevent teen pregnancy, assuming that young people from dangerous neighborhoods can always “just walk away” will not reduce violence.

Cure Violence is a program that has also demonstrated success in reducing violence, by focusing on interrupting the transmission of violence with a public health approach. If we can intensify our efforts to provide tactics for effective de-escalation in this demographic, we could potentially keep a number of young people from entering the juvenile justice system.


Dr. James Barrett is the director of school-based programs at the Cambridge Health Alliance and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He also serves as the clinical coordinator of the Cambridge Safety Net Collaborative with the Cambridge Police and is the author of the Fight Navigator violence prevention curriculum.

Dr. Elizabeth Janopaul-Naylor is a third-year psychiatry resident at Cambridge Health Alliance, affiliated with Harvard Medical School. She completed her undergraduate studies and medical school training at Brown University.



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goodbye cleveland

Trump Quote.

I don’t like Ms. Pantsuit, either. No matter who she chooses as her Veep, she will still be too strident.


Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal, says Trump has a short attention span, is reactive, and not thoughtful.

“If Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes,” said Schwartz, “there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”

Trump has demanded a refund of Schwartz’s book royalties or face a lawsuit.


Gary Johnson is said to be out-polling Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with military members.

Roger Ailes seems to have cashed out pretty well.


What’s a guy to do?


The lesser of two evils? I don’t think so.

I think I’ll throw my vote away on a third choice.



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I went down to town today, did a dryer-full of laundry, and spent 20 minutes (while folding my clothes) reading a sign that nearly drove me nuts. If there had been an employee of the motor lodge present, I would have seriously considered punching them out.


Maybe I’m over-reacting. But don’t we teach punctuation in our schools anymore? It seems our educational establishment is trying to create a bunch of young Trump supporters. Talk about working against their own self-interest!

How many times have you known people who are clueless about the different meanings of “their,” “there,” and they’re?”

Or seen the apostrophe misused in a way akin to a fingernail scratching a blackboard? The rules are pretty simple. To make a word plural, you add an “s” to it. To make a word possessive, you add an apostrophe, as in “my son’s book.” To make a plural noun ending in “s” possessive, you need only add the apostrophe, as in “my sons’ books.” You don’t use apostrophes to pluralize acronyms and abbreviations, such as CEOs and DVDs. And the plurals of numbers do not use apostrophes. It’s 1970s, not 1970’s.

People probably have more trouble with the semicolon than with any other punctuation mark. Yet high school students are taught a simple rule of thumb that’s often forgotten over time (if it’s ever absorbed in the first place): A semicolon should be used to separate two independent clauses (or complete sentences) that are closely related in meaning. Use colons, not semicolons, before a list of three or more items. And when items in a series themselves contain commas, separate them with semicolons. For example, you’d write: We visited Miami, Florida; Austin, Texas; and Salt Lake City, Utah.

But what drives me nuts about the above sign is not just that there’s no period after “closed,” but the insertion of a totally meaningless comma… as well as the reality that keeping the door closed keeps as many flies in as out.


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smoke in the wind


I got a phone call last night from my neighbor Aliana.

“Dan, are you burning something? There’s the smell of smoke in the air.”

“No I’m not, but I’ll go outside and see if I can see anything.” Luckily, I couldn’t see anything unusual, but I sure could smell it. The wind was really blowing.

Phone calls between neighbors established that the fire was across the border in Mexico, southeast of Big Bend National Park. A 911 operator said, “Yeah, we’ve been getting quite a few reports of the smell of smoke. But it’s nothing to be worried about. ‘Los Diablos’ have the situation well in hand.”

Los Diablos? ‘The Devils?’

It’s a 32-man crew of firefighters from small villages in Mexico along the Rio Grande River. US authorities acknowledge them as among the best in the world in fighting wildfires.

Over twenty years ago, they told rangers in Big Bend National Park that if US authorities allowed them to help fire fires in the Park, they would work “like the devil.” Since then they’ve been true to their word, many times over.

They’ve been since been sent to fight wildfires all over the West, in Washington, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho. They farm themselves out to the National Park Service for $17-$19 an hour, a princely sum in Mexico. While US firefighting crews have suffered a number of deaths and casualties, Los Diablos have never suffered a single loss in the more than 20 years they’ve been working together.

“They’re amazing, they can mobilize in four hours from their village across the river. They can be here in four hours. That’s unheard of to ask anybody to be able to do. So that’s pretty professional right there,” Park Ranger Matt Graden said. “And when they show up they know exactly what to do. They don’t need someone to tell them what to do. And they’ve got great leadership. They’re awesome. They might be humble but they are highly professional, highly trained and really skilled and incredibly hardworking.”

That said, Los Diablos are worried about being singled out in interviews, concerned they may become targets in Mexico where extortion is a problem for anyone thought to be earning a decent living. Instead, Los Diablos prefer to let their actions speak for themselves.






diablos 2.



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what is a youth prison?


Locked Up: What Is A Youth Prison?

by Liz Ryan, The Huffington Post

July 11, 2016

For a young person who experiences life behind the walls of a youth prison, it can mean many things. We’re using the mnemonic, “locked up” to show some of these key characteristics of a youth prison. This article is the first in a series, “Locked Up: What is a Youth Prison?” One of those traits is that a youth prison is large.

L = Large

What do we mean by large?

Most youth who are confined to secure care in the juvenile justice system are in facilities of between 50 and 200 beds according to the Sentencing Project’s latest report on juvenile justice, Youth Commitments and Facilities. And, at least 34 of the nation’s largest facilities still in operation today can house more than 200 youth; 19 of which have a design capacity of more than 300, 400, or even 500 beds.

Over thirty would be considered large, according to youth justice experts.

Longtime youth justice expert Paul DeMuro says that, “It’s critical that the facility director know every kid by name.” If the facility director can’t do that, the facility is too large. DeMuro believes that thirty youth should be the maximum number.

Similarly, Annie E. Casey Foundation President Patrick McCarthy speaking before a packed ballroom of juvenile justice stakeholders at the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) convening in September, 2015, highlighted that if youth are in secure care, facilities should be no more than 30 beds.

The public agrees.

Recent public opinion polling conducted earlier this year shows that the public supports what experts believe. According to a poll conducted by GBA Strategies, 72% of Americans recommend that for youth who pose a serious risk to public safety and need secure care that facilities should be no more than 30 youth.

Polling in states such as Connecticut and Virginia also produced the same results.

And research supports this too.

The Missouri model in juvenile justice, which is lauded for its low recidivism rates for youth in custody, has 33 youth facilities with an average 27 youth per facility.

And new research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) about rates of sexual victimization of incarcerated youth in the juvenile justice system, show that youth facilities holding 25 or more youth report much higher rates of sexual misconduct by staff members. Considering that allegations of sexual victimization of youth in juvenile facilities have more than doubled in the last decade, this underscores the concern about safety of youth in large facilities.

We can draw from research in other related fields, such as education where there has been a lot of research about the impact of class size in K-12 education. The average class size in the US is now 15 as a result of research showing that smaller is better for kids.

What does large look like?

An example of large is a facility in Illinois, the Illinois Youth Center in Kewanee, referred to as just Kewanee. This youth prison was designed to house 354 youth. Built in 2001, it now houses as many as 260 youth. More than 40% of the youth at Kewanee are from Cook County, some 150 miles away. Kewanee was cited in a 2013 report by oversight group, the John Howard Association, for having an unusually high number of youth on crisis or suicide watch.

Fortunately, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced that Kewanee will be closed.

Another example is the Lincoln Hills youth facility in Irma, Wisconsin. Lincoln Hills is one of the largest youth prisons in the country with capacity for more than 550 youth, and has been the subject of federal and state investigations in the last 18 months over alleged abuse, including sexual victimization, of youth. Press reports of these investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and Wisconsin state agencies reference sexual abuse of youth, use of pepper spray, strangulation and suffocation of youth, intimidation of youth to discourage reporting, and tampering with state and county laws concerning youth institutions.

What does this mean?

In juvenile justice, size matters. Larger isn’t better. In fact, it’s worse. A youth detention or correctional facility over 25-30 beds is considered large, one of the key traits of a youth prison.


Liz Ryan is President & CEO of the Youth First! Initiative.



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ruining lives


Ruining Lives With Criminal ‘Justice’

by Doug Deason, The New York Times

July 30, 2015

When President Obama visited El Reno federal prison in Oklahoma on July 16, he lamented that America’s prisons were filled with “young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made.” Many are there, he said, because they didn’t have the resources “to survive those mistakes.”

I am a Republican businessman, and President Obama and I do not see eye to eye on most issues. But I agree with him on the inequities of the criminal justice system. I learned about it firsthand. Like many 17-year-olds, I did something stupid. It was 1979, and I threw a party at the home of neighbors while they were out of town. (Their son had given me a key.) The party got out of hand, ultimately getting the attention of the police. I was charged with felony burglary.

My actions were wrong and irresponsible. They could also have ruined my life, affecting my ability to go to college or even get a job.

But unlike many in my situation, I was able to fight the charge. I ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge—a significant step down from felony burglary. My punishment included a six-month probationary sentence and a fine. When my probation was complete, my youthful indiscretion was expunged from my record. I was given a second chance.

Yet others aren’t always so lucky. Too many Americans who make similar mistakes wind up imprisoned, impoverished and incapable of rejoining society or leading a fulfilling life. This is especially true for minorities, who so often lack the resources and the opportunities I had. For too many, the criminal justice system can lead to even greater injustice.

Because of this, my family has resolved to fight for change. Given a second chance, I have been blessed to become a successful investor in numerous ventures, including real estate, technology, entertainment and energy. My success has given me the opportunity to work with the Texas State Legislature and the governor’s office over the past year to pass a bipartisan “second chances” bill—a bill to help people who make mistakes like the one I made in 1979.

The legislation allows some first-time criminals who commit low-level, nonviolent offenses to petition the courts for nondisclosure of their records to the general public. This offers them a legal pathway to mark “no” on job and loan applications that ask if they have ever committed a crime. Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill on June 20; it will go into effect on September 1.

Thankfully, others have been fighting the reform battles for much longer than I have. One example is the decades-long grass-roots movement to “ban the box”—a reference to the criminal-record check box at the bottom of many employment applications. Regardless of whether you believe the government should make this question illegal, it certainly makes less and less sense in a nation where as many as 100 million people have some criminal record. For this reason, companies like Walmart, Home Depot, and Koch Industries have eliminated it from their applications in recent years.

At my family’s company, we have made it a policy to hire qualified nonviolent criminals in the businesses we manage. It doesn’t matter to us if you made a mistake earlier in life—it matters to us whether you can do your job and do it well. In fact, from a business perspective, we believe it would harm our ability to find talented individuals if we rejected those who made a mistake that put them on a collision course with the criminal justice system. And given my own history, wouldn’t it be hypocritical for me to judge prospective employees based on their criminal record?

Whether in city halls, state capitals or Washington, lawmakers should begin the long process of identifying and reforming the laws that have made America such an over-criminalized country.

They can start by revisiting “mandatory minimum” sentences for nonviolent lawbreakers. These policies often force criminals into unnecessarily lengthy prison terms that are wholly inappropriate for their crimes. This has greatly contributed to the explosion in the federal prison population, which has risen to 208,000 from 25,000 over the past 35 years.

Yet, at the same time, it’s not clear that imprisoning so many people has lessened crime. One expert interviewed by Pew Charitable Trusts argued that this spike in the prison population has accounted only for between 10 and 25% of the drop in crime over the past 20 years.

Politicians should also trim the ever-lengthening list of federal and state crimes. Over the past 25 years, the number of federal crimes alone has grown to roughly 5,000. Moreover, a growing number of nonviolent crimes lack adequate intent requirements. Absent this important and longstanding aspect of criminal law, Americans of all walks of life can commit crimes they never knew existed.

This weekend, I will join Charles Koch, David Koch, and several hundred other business leaders at the Freedom Partners membership meeting, where I will speak about criminal justice reform. The Kochs and I firmly believe this is an important part of our efforts to give everyone—especially the least fortunate—the best shot at a better life. Years ago, I made a mistake and got a second chance. Every American should be able to say the same thing.


Doug Deason is president of Deason Capital Services and the Deason Foundation.



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a new season


A New Season For Youth Justice Reform

by Shabnam Javdani, The Huffington Post

July 10, 2016

Summer has begun, and while some kids will be enjoying their first taste of freedom, others will be doing anything but.

On any given day, more than 54,000 youth in the U.S. are being held under lock and key in residential placement facilities. In New York alone, over 1,600 youth are in confinement. And in this current moment, a kid in prison in almost any other State would also be hundreds of miles away from their home. We have essentially taken the structure of the adult corrections system and slapped it on youth.

This should alarm us.

Why have we recreated the adult justice system for youth when we know that youth’s development is different, and so are the reasons behind their offending? Brain science tells us that what all kids need most to truly thrive are stable relationships with family, friends, teachers and community members. The most cutting edge research tells us that these types of consistent relationships can actually buffer the impact of poverty and community violence for those kids who are disproportionately exposed to them due to growing inequalities in income and resource distribution. So why have we taken them away from their homes at this critical time in their development? Whether our goal is to promote public safety, community building, or rehabilitation and healthy development—this is one of the worst things we can do.

There is simply no need for there to be any large non-local prison facilities for youth. These facilities engender practices—like solitary confinement—that have been directly recommended against by global human rights organizations. No good, and only tragedy, comes from this. This summer marks the anniversary of Kalief Browder’s death. Accused of stealing a backpack, Kalief spent 2 of 3 years awaiting trial in solitary confinement at Rikers Island. He committed suicide last June.

The global health community has been crystal clear that these practices are a violation of human rights. And, in no uncertain terms, the World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend secure confinement in large facilities as an absolute last resort. Instead, they fully support keeping kids involved with crime closer to their communities. These are promising recommendations. Countries with fewer large youth prisons have much lower rates of youth crime. And, within the US, cities that support community-based alternatives to youth confinement have, on average, lower youth recidivism rates.

NYC is taking this to heart. It is shifting from an adult corrections structure to one in which youth—even after they have been found guilty—can be placed in small, local, residential facilities close to their families and neighborhoods, and attend local schools during their stay. This “close to home” initiative represents a change to the laws that govern how the system responds to youth in NYC. Because they are legislated, they have lasting power.

If a juvenile justice system as large and complex as NYC can take this big step, why aren’t more cities following suit? There is no need for youth prisons. What we do need is a more equitable distribution of resources so that kids can stay close to the relationships and resources that they need to thrive.

NYC’s juvenile justice system is far from perfect, however. We know it is succeeding in actually keeping youth close to home, but that is all we know. We need to know more about how these local facilities work. Are families actually visiting kids more often? Are kids being connected with local services, both during and after their confinement? Are they succeeding more in their local schools? And ultimately, can this initiative result in a reduced rate of recidivism so that fewer kids end up being confined—either inside or outside of the city?

Would placing Kalief closer to home have prevented his death? We don’t know, but we need to find out.


Shabnam Javdani is the Assistant Professor of Applied Psychology, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. This article was coauthored by Erin Godfrey, Assistant Professor of Applied Psychology, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.



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