Archive for May, 2016


true confessions

Last night it rained all night and today there are thunderstorms all around. It reminds me of this movie, and this is one of my favorites of many scenes:



It is, of course, the airplane scene from Almost Famous (2000), the fictional story of a teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone magazine in the early 1970s while covering the fictitious rock band Stillwater, and his efforts to get his first cover story published. The film is semi-autobiographical, as Cameron Crowe, the director of the film, was himself a teenage writer for Rolling Stone. Crowe toured with the rock bands Poco, The Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

In this scene, believing they are about to die, the members of Stillwater confess their secrets to one another, bringing conflicts between Jeff and Russell into the open. Jeff insults Penny Lane—a groupie—but William—the teen journalist—defends her and confesses that he loves her.

The plane then lands safely, leaving everyone to ponder the changed atmosphere.



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memorial day


In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday, designating the last Monday in May as a day to honor the country’s fallen service members. But the holiday originated much earlier in 1868 as Decoration Day, after the American Civil War.

It was then that the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.

As a kid, I never experienced the day as something that celebrated our country’s militarism. The women of our family typically visited the graves of several generations of our ancestors to remember them with flowering plants, whether they served in the military or not. I regarded Memorial Day as a time to remember all the dead. I still do.

As a child of the Vietnam era, the idea of “war dead” has lost its patriotic luster. Now I see war as something that is created by cynical politicians, and politicians are not to be trusted. I see soldiers as victims of war.

More significantly for me, Memorial Day marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.



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sigur rós

Just a musical post today. It’s not because I’m lazy (which is often the case with musical posts), but because I really love this band and want you to know it. I’ve incorporated the band’s music and images into past posts, but never given the group appropriate prominence.

Sigur Rós is an Icelandic post-rock band from Reykjavík, which has been active since 1994. Known for their ethereal sound, frontman Jónsi Birgisson’s falsetto vocals, and his use of the bowed guitar, the band’s music is also noticeable for its classical and minimalist aesthetic elements. The band is named after Jónsi’s sister Sigurrós Elín, who was born around the time that the band was formed.

You can go out to Wikipedia to learn more about the group, but I will tell you that it is primarily organized around three musicians: Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson (lead vocals, guitars, bowed guitar, keyboards, harmonica, banjo, bass guitar), Georg “Goggi” Hólm (bass guitar, glockenspiel, toy piano, keyboards, backing vocals), and Orri Páll Dýrason (drums, percussion, samples, keyboards). But as you see from the videos below, the group often consists of touring members and at least two ensembles, as well as special groups.

Since I first saw it, I have been particularly partial to the video below—but that is because I think that belief in achieving the impossible is such an important aspect to survival in a hostile world:



Here are a couple more videos which will give you an idea of the extensive productions which go into this band’s remarkable music:




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post incarceration syndrome (pics)

The fact that Derek is taking to Estrella Vista so well, while his brother was such a total wash-out, is just plain weird. We are still discovering evidence of Alex’s dysfunction, which strikes me as spiteful and disloyal. Derek describes it as “prison behavior,” which is all that Alex knows.

It made no sense to me until I read this article yesterday morning.



Post Incarceration Syndrome = Prisoner PTSD

by Terence T. Gorski, Prison Reform Movement

May 27, 2016

The Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS) is a serious problem that contributes to relapse in addicted and mentally ill offenders who are released from correctional institutions. Currently 60% of prisoners have been in prison before and there is growing evidence that the Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS) is a contributing factor to this high rate of recidivism.

The concept of a post incarceration syndrome (PICS) has emerged from clinical consultation work with criminal justice system rehabilitation programs working with currently incarcerated prisoners and with addiction treatment programs and community mental health centers working with recently released prisoners.

This article will provide an operational definition of the Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS), describe the common symptoms, recommend approaches to diagnosis and treatment, explore the implications of this serious new syndrome for community safety, and discuss the need for political action to reduce the number of prisoners and assure more humane treatment within our prisons, jails, and correctional institutions as a means of prevention. It is my hope that this initial formulation of a PICS Syndrome will encourage researchers to develop objective testing tools and formal studies to add to our understanding of the problems encountered by released inmates that influence recovery and relapse.

Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS) – Operational Definition

The Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS) is a set of symptoms that are present in many currently incarcerated and recently released prisoners that are caused by being subjected to prolonged incarceration in environments of punishment with few opportunities for education, job training, or rehabilitation. The symptoms are most severe in prisoners subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and severe institutional abuse.

The severity of symptoms is related to the level of coping skills prior to incarceration, the length of incarceration, the restrictiveness of the incarceration environment, the number and severity of institutional episodes of abuse, the number and duration of episodes of solitary confinement, and the degree of involvement in educational, vocational, and rehabilitation programs.

The Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS) is a mixed mental disorders with four clusters of symptoms:

(1) Institutionalized Personality Traits resulting from the common deprivations of incarceration, a chronic state of learned helplessness in the face of prison authorities, and antisocial defenses in dealing with a predatory inmate milieu,

(2) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from both pre-incarceration trauma and trauma experienced within the institution,

(3) Antisocial Personality Traits (ASPT) developed as a coping response to institutional abuse and a predatory prisoner milieu, and

(4) Social-Sensory Deprivation Syndrome caused by prolonged exposure to solitary confinement that radically restricts social contact and sensory stimulation.

(5) Substance Use Disorders caused by the use of alcohol and other drugs to manage or escape the PICS symptoms.

PICS often coexists with substance use disorders and a variety of affective and personality disorders.

Symptoms of the Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS)

Below is a more detailed description of four clusters of symptoms of Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS):

1. Institutionalized Personality Traits

Institutionalized Personality Traits are caused by living in an oppressive environment that demands: passive compliance to the demands of authority figures, passive acceptance of severely restricted acts of daily living, the repression of personal lifestyle preferences, the elimination of critical thinking and individual decision making, and internalized acceptance of severe restrictions on the honest self-expression thoughts and feelings.

2. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is caused by both traumatic experiences before incarceration and institutional abuse during incarceration that includes the six clusters of symptoms: (1) intrusive memories and flashbacks to episodes of severe institutional abuse; (2) intense psychological distress and physiological reactivity when exposed to cues triggering memories of the institutional abuse; (3) episodes of dissociation, emotional numbing, and restricted affect; (4) chronic problems with mental functioning that include irritability, outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances, and an exaggerated startle response. (5) persistent avoidance of anything that would trigger memories of the traumatic events; (6) hypervigilance, generalized paranoia, and reduced capacity to trust caused by constant fear of abuse from both correctional staff and other inmates that can be generalized to others after release.

3. Antisocial Personality Traits

Antisocial Personality Traits are developed both from preexisting symptoms and symptoms developed during incarceration as an institutional coping skill and psychological defense mechanism. The primary antisocial personality traits involve the tendency to challenge authority, break rules, and victimize others. In patients with PICS these tendencies are veiled by the passive aggressive style that is part of the institutionalized personality. Patients with PICS tend to be duplicitous, acting in a compliant and passive aggressive manner with therapists and other perceived authority figures while being capable of direct threatening and aggressive behavior when alone with peers outside of the perceived control of those in authority. This is a direct result of the internalized coping behavior required to survive in a harshly punitive correctional institution that has two set of survival rules: passive aggression with the guards, and actively aggressive with predatory inmates.

4. Social-Sensory Deprivation Syndrome:

The Social-Sensory Deprivation Syndrome is caused by the effects of prolonged solitary confinement that imposes both social isolation and sensory deprivation. These symptoms include severe chronic headaches, developmental regression, impaired impulse control, dissociation, inability to concentrate, repressed rage, inability to control primitive drives and instincts, inability to plan beyond the moment, inability to anticipate logical consequences of behavior, out of control obsessive thinking, and borderline personality traits.

5. Reactive Substance Use Disorders

Many inmates who experience PICS suffer from the symptoms of substance use disorders. Many of these inmates were addicted prior to incarceration, did not receive treatment during their imprisonment, and continued their addiction by securing drugs on the prison black market. Others developed their addiction in prison in an effort to cope with the PICS symptoms and the conditions causing them. Others relapse to substance abuse or develop substance use disorders as a result of using alcohol or other drugs in an effort to cope with PICS symptoms upon release from prison.

PICS Symptoms Severity

The syndrome is most severe in prisoners incarcerated for longer than one year in a punishment oriented environment, who have experienced multiple episodes of institutional abuse, who have had little or no access to education, vocational training, or rehabilitation, who have been subjected to 30 days or longer in solitary confinement, and who have experienced frequent and severe episodes of trauma as a result of institutional abuse.

The syndrome is least severe in prisoners incarcerated for shorter periods of time in rehabilitation oriented programs, who have reasonable access to educational and vocational training, and who have not been subjected to solitary confinement, and who have not experienced frequent or severe episodes of institutional abuse.

Reasons To Be Concerned About PICS

There is good reason to be concerned because about 40% of the total incarcerated population (currently 700,000 prisoners and growing) are released each year. The number of prisoners being deprived of rehabilitation services, experiencing severely restrictive daily routines, being held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time, or being abused by other inmates or correctional staff is increasing.

The effect of releasing this number of prisoners with psychiatric damage from prolonged incarceration can have a number of devastating impacts upon American society including the further devastation of inner city communities and the destabilization of blue-collar and middle class districts unable to reabsorb returning prisoners who are less likely to get jobs, more likely to commit crimes, more likely to disrupt families. This could turn many currently struggling lower middle class areas into slums.

As more prisoners are returned to the community, behavioral health providers can expect to see increases in patients admitted with the Post Incarceration Syndrome and related substance use, mental, and personality disorders. The national network of Community Mental health and Addiction treatment Programs need to begin now to prepare their staff to identify and provide appropriate treatment for this new type of client.

The nation’s treatment providers, especially addiction treatment programs and community mental health centers, are already experiencing a growing number of clients experiencing the Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS). This increase is due to a number of factors including: the increasing size of the prisoner population, the increasing use of restrictive and punishing institutional practices, the reduction of access to education, vocational training, and rehabilitation programs; the increasing use of solitary confinement and the growing number of maximum security and super-max type prison and jails.

Both the number of clients suffering from PICS and the average severity of symptoms is expected to increase over the next decade. In 1995 there were 463,284 prisoners released back to the community. Based upon conservative projections in the growth of the prisoner population it is projected that in the year 2000 there will be 660,000 prisoners returned to the community, in the year 2005 there will 887,000 prisoners returned to the community, and in the year 2010 1.2 million prisoners will be released. The prediction of greater symptom severity is based upon the growing trend toward longer periods of incarceration, more restrictive and punitive conditions in correctional institutions, decreasing access to education, vocational training, and rehabilitation, and the increasing use solitary confinement as a tool for reducing the cost of prisoner management.

Clients with PICS are at a high risk for developing substance dependence, relapsing to substance use if they were previously addicted, relapsing to active mental illness if they were previously mentally ill, and returning to a life of aggression, violence, and crime. They are also at high risk of chronic unemployment and homelessness.

Post Release Symptom Progression

This is because released prisoners experiencing PICS tend to experience a six stage post release symptom progression leading to recidivism and often are not qualified for social benefits needed to secure addiction, mental health, and occupation training services.

Stage 1 of this Post Release Syndrome is marked by helplessness and hopelessness due to inability to develop a plan for community reentry, often complicated by the inability to secure funding for treatment or job training;

Stage 2 is marked by an intense immobilizing fear;

Stage 3 is marked by the emergence of intense free-floating anger and rage and the emergence of flashbacks and other symptoms of PTSD;

Stage 4 is marked by a tendency toward impulse violence upon minimal provocation;

Stage 5 is marked by an effort to avoid violence by severe isolation to avoid the triggers of violence;

Stage 6 is marked by the intensification of flashbacks, nightmares, sleep impairments, and impulse control problems caused by self-imposed isolation. This leads to acting out behaviors, aggression, violence, and crime, which in turn sets the stages for arrest and incarceration.

Currently 60% of prisoners have been in prison before and there is growing evidence that the Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS) is a contributing factor to this high rate of recidivism.

Reducing The Incidence Of PICS

Since PICS is created by criminal justice system policy and programming in our well intentioned but misguided attempt to stop crime, the epidemic can be prevented and public safety protected by changing the public policies that call for incarcerating more people, for longer periods of time, for less severe offenses, in more punitive environments that emphasize the use of solitary confinement, that eliminate or severely restrict prisoner access to educational, vocational, and rehabilitation programs while incarcerated.

The political antidote for PICS is to implement public policies that:

(1) Fund the training and expansion of community based addiction and mental health programs staffed by professionals trained to meet the needs of criminal justice system clients diverted into treatment by court programs and released back to the community after incarceration;

(2) Expand the role of drug and mental health courts that promote treatment alternatives to incarceration;

(3) Convert 80% of our federal, state, and county correctional facilities into rehabilitation programs with daily involvement in educational, vocational, and rehabilitation programs;

(4) Eliminate required long mandated minimum sentences;

(5) Institute universal prerelease programs for all offenders with the goal of preparing them to transition into community based addiction and mental health programs;

(6) Assuring that all released prisoners have access to publicly funded programs for addiction and mental health treatment upon release.



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103-0367_IMGGarage/Party House


Last weekend my Minneapolis friend George called to say that his environmental organization won a lawsuit and will be permitted to examine the files of the Met Council, the regional government, to find out what kind of sweetheart deals were struck with the railroads which threaten the trails we created. He also told me my old house is on the market again. This time the asking price is $649,000.

I couldn’t resist the urge, and went out on the Internet to see what the new owners had done to the property. I was appalled. I hardly recognized the place. The 1870s farm house had been thoroughly “modernized.”

Big Money has stripped out every bit of charm. Gone are the Bridal Wreath hedges, the arbor which provided shade for casual lunches, the pond (the sole reason I bought the place), the bookshelves in the library, every bit of color throughout the interior (it is now industrial white). The realtor did not take any pictures of the garage/party house, so I assume that, too, is gone.

Why would anyone want to live there anymore? I could never go back. Hell, I couldn’t afford to live in my old house anymore, even if I wanted to.

I’ve got news for anyone who’s researching that property. In the mid-’70s we bought that house for $35,000. It needed a lot of work, but we were willing to do it. It also had some deficiencies that we were willing to wait out: chiefly, a working railroad switching-yard just beyond our backyard fence. Eventually that went away, and I changed to converting the switching-yard to a park and trail. It took 30 years, but through steady work and investment, we managed to transform that property and, to a lesser degree, the greater neighborhood. A lot of people were touched by that Minneapolis property and they will never forget it. They still reminisce about it now.

When I first visited Estrella Vista, I thought that at long last I had found a property that was worth investing in for the long haul. In many ways, it reminded me of my Minneapolis property, but on a different scale. It was just 20 acres at first and covered with junk. But it has the beginnings of an adobe house that I thought was charming. I began buying land around the original 20 acres so it would never be built upon and ruin the views. We are now up to 60 acres, and one of our neighbors has offered to donate another 20. It is all owned by a Trust with parricides, friends, and family members as beneficiaries. Successor trustees have been designated so as to continue my work after my death.

My experience in Minneapolis taught me a couple things. First, with a long-range vision and dedication, anything can be accomplished, even with little money. The second thing I learned is more problematic. If the original person who holds the vision leaves the scene, everything can change. When I die, I know I will leave things in the hands of others with different tastes, experience, and priorities. What I envision as a desirable place to live will go away with me. My idea of steady progress towards a future goal will go away, too. New people will tend to be impatient and settle for the expedient, even if it’s ugly.

Now that the mortgage is paid off, I am going to stay alive as long as possible and get enough built on the property so that a direction will be set that can be continued after I’m gone. But I have no illusions. Everybody worth their salt will have their own ideas. They will believe they’re “better” ideas. Maybe they are. Maybe they aren’t. But they’re not my ideas, and I want to build things at Estrella Vista that are charming.


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PS: The Dutch journalists came and went in one afternoon and evening. We passed their sniff-test, and they passed ours. They will be back with a five-person crew in July.






Well, the house is cleaned-up somewhat (my housekeeper doesn’t arrive until tomorrow morning), but I’m not really trying to impress anybody. Honesty is the best policy—and anyway, I don’t know that I could fool them, even if I wanted to. My visitors, two journalists from Holland, are due to arrive this afternoon. They’ll come back a second time with a film crew if we check out.

They’ve come so far; I hope they’re not disappointed.

I don’t really know what they are expecting. Estrella Vista is an incredibly beautiful place, but it is simple as can be. I have done my best to prepare them for the reality of our situation, but you never know what is in people’s heads or how elastic they are. They can’t possibly know how shabby the furniture is. When it was newly-upholstered, my Minneapolis decorator referred to it as “faded elegance.” Now it’s just faded.

Among residents out here, we have a very high “churn” rate. People either love it here or hate it… nothing in-between. Our nearest “big” town, Alpine (population 5,000, 60 miles away), does not even have a Walmart. You have to drive 120 miles for that. Realtors make most of their money just flipping properties.

It’s mostly women who are challenged by the crudeness of our lifestyle. Lone Heron would never consider moving here without the installation of a bathtub or a whirlpool so she can soak—but I’d guess even that would fail to satisfy her for long. We need modern-day plumbing—showers and flushing toilets, which both require a well and septic system first.

All things are possible in due time. We just require patience and extra time.



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rubber ducky


When being attacked groundlessly, the best thing is to shed the nonsense like water off a duck’s back.



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On Sunday Henry, my son, called for his weekly series of complaints, and he surprised me.

“I went out to the pool the other day, and laid out there for an hour. It was quite enjoyable, and I realized I don’t do that enough,” he said. “I’m surrounded by beaches which attract millions of visitors a year (Florida), and I don’t take advantage of them.”

From now on, he said, as he searches for a cheaper apartment in which to live, he’s also going to check out the local parks which make natural amenities available to local people. This pronouncement thrills me. It only took 36 years for Henry to develop this new mind-set.

I’ve always seen the humor in this Monty Python scene from The Life of Bryan, but Henry has not:



He’s a numbers guy (“Numbers don’t lie.”), and he is always looking for things to deny himself to save his way to financial security. He has lots of money in the bank, which is all the more remarkable since he has managed to accumulate assets earning close to the median income of most Americans. I am extremely proud of him, but it has required a level of Spartan discipline that is beyond me. He has a near-perfect credit score. He’s the only person I know who has managed to pay off a student debt load that’s more than most people spend for a house (and never pay off).

So this “enjoyment” thing is a very big development in his thinking. If he goes through with it, he will certainly live a happier life as a result.

As Henry and I were talking, it occurred to me that the average person is being priced out of the market for almost all essentials. Henry told me that the typical person spends 15% more than he/she earns. This deficit is financed by debt.

That may work occasionally in the short-term, but it is not sustainable in the long-term. Henry told me that most student debt today (the biggest debt balloon out there—$1.23 trillion, or an average of $37,172 per person) involves “rebates” that finance college living expenses as well as luxury purchases.

To make it today on a middle-class income, the only people who can make it are those who can think outside the box. I am able to live on Social Security only because I have moved off-the-grid to one of the cheapest places in America to survive. Henry is thriving because he has adopted an equally-alternative lifestyle in an urban setting—but as I said before, it involves a level of discipline that most people don’t have and have no opportunity to learn. I don’t envy him the almost-daily choices he has had to make.

Maybe his future choices will involve less self-denial. It is heartening that Henry is beginning to consider more lifestyle choices that are free.


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behind his back


Derek is away from the house, at his first day of work… so I’m going to do the most natural thing and talk behind his back. Nothing negative, mind you. I’m just savoring my first or second day alone in two weeks and feeling that I’m free to say whatever I please.

The first thing I want to say is it’s hard having someone around who is not only smart, but is always asking challenging questions. I can tell the guy has my best interests at heart, but that doesn’t necessarily make things any easier. Living alone, I have become accustomed to giving myself a “free pass” about some pretty fundamental questions.

For example, Derek asks questions like, “What do you want to accomplish by that post?” and “Who is your audience?”

The truth is, I often don’t know the answers to the questions he asks. I realize I’ve become fixated on daily traffic to the blog, taking comfort from your general approval of what I write… but what it is about you that leads to your approval I cannot say. I hate to say this, but Derek has exposed the ugly truth that I really don’t know who I’m writing to. “Everybody” isn’t a good answer.

Oh, I do know a handful of readers and supporters like Paul, Frank, Jeanne, Matt, Peter, Wolfgang, and Philippe, and I do feel I know them well. They have become my friends, mainly because they have reached out to me. But they’re a small minority of the 400-600 people who currently visit the blog each day. I don’t know for sure, but I think it would be a mistake to assume that everybody’s like them. They all share compassion in common, but beyond that, I am unaware of why they read the Diary.

Maybe I need to put out a general call for feedback that will help me to learn more about you… but I know that a lot of people on the Internet prefer to be anonymous. So here’s an idea.

Derek hates it when I write about “parricides” and refer to them as such. He says it sounds too much like “parasite,” and being independent is important to him. It is particularly stinging when he refers to me as a “zoo-keeper” or “collector.” I prefer to think that I’m specializing so as not to be overwhelmed by kids in trouble.

But let’s assume that Derek’s criticism of my use of the “parricide” label is getting at a legitimate concern. What should I be saying? Please tell me what you think and why.



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raise the age


‘Raise the Age’ Is the New ‘Ban the Box’
The effort to keep older teens out of adult courts is also winning.

by Rebecca McCray, Takepart

May 16, 2016

Thousands of 16- and 17-year-olds across the country are poised to benefit from criminal justice reform’s latest bipartisan effort. Of the nine remaining states that automatically try 17-year-olds in the adult criminal justice system (two of them deem 16-year-olds “adults” for the purpose of prosecution), legislation pending in seven would shift those cases into the juvenile system, where penalties are not as strict, detention facilities less harsh, and opportunities for rehabilitation greater.

“I am so confident that this is moving in the right direction and rapidly,” said Marcy Mistrett, chief executive officer of the Campaign for Youth Justice, which for more than a decade has consulted with states launching “raise the age” campaigns. “We’re no longer arguing around principle on this issue. It’s just the nuts and bolts of implementation.”

Advocates of transferring the jurisdiction of older teens to the juvenile system often point to neuroscience research that suggests the adolescent brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. Cognitive development that might inhibit impulsive behavior comes later than the law acknowledges, and that later development also means teens are receptive to rehabilitation and intervention, according to the research.

As the criminal justice reform movement is increasingly heralded as a bipartisan undertaking, the success of raise-the-age campaigns has departed from other efforts in a key way. While much of the successful legislation shepherded through state legislatures by cross-party allies promises immediate cost savings to taxpayers, raise-the-age campaigns can’t make that claim. Transferring cases involving 17-year-olds from the adult to the juvenile system increases taxpayer costs, because kids in juvenile facilities are legally entitled to things incarcerated adults are not: treatment, education, and more costly supervision.

“We call it juvenile reinvestment—investing up front to get long-term benefits,” said Jessica Smith, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Government. “But there’s a significant taxpayer cost.”

Smith, who was appointed by North Carolina’s chief justice to serve as reporter on the state’s criminal justice subcommittee, appeared Friday before the state’s Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice for a hearing on raising the age. North Carolina and New York are the two states that automatically try 16- and 17-year-olds in the adult system.

Raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction in North Carolina to 18 would cost taxpayers $49.2 million annually and the state’s justice agencies $70.9 million annually, according to a 2011 cost-benefit analysis by the reform-minded Vera Institute of Justice.

But the analysis also found that keeping these teens out of the adult system would generate $123.1 million in “reoccurring benefits to youth, victims, and taxpayers” over the next 35 years.

In other words, raising the age is not an instant-gratification game.

Yet in spite of the higher short-term price tag for housing offenders in juvenile facilities, these campaigns are seeing unprecedented success—even in conservative states like Louisiana and South Carolina. In Louisiana last week, a raise-the-age bill sailed through the state Senate and House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice. South Carolina’s bill passed both chambers this legislative session and is being revisited by the state Senate after a minor revision.

“They might be the first ones this session to get it in front of their governor,” said Mistrett. “This is South Carolina’s first try, it’s a conservative state, it has bipartisan support, and it’s just about over the line—this is unheard of.”

In 2010, Connecticut was the first state to pass legislation that transferred downward the jurisdiction of 16-year-olds and then 17-year-olds. Youth crime in the state dropped after the law was implemented, and recidivism rates were lowered for older teens who would previously have entered the adult system. Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Mississippi followed suit.

The success in these states, which Mistrett says has paved the way for other states, hasn’t been without its challenges. Formally raising the age doesn’t impede prosecutorial discretion. In some states, such as Illinois, the law dictates the automatic transfer of kids to adult court if they are accused of certain violent crimes.

“In every state, there are ways for children to be transferred to the adult system,” said Mistrett. “This is probably another reason why the opposition is not so loud.”

Illinois’ automatic transfer law permits prosecutors to try kids as young as 13 as adults if they are accused of crimes such as murder, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated battery with a firearm. Concerned by the number of kids swept into the adult system based on this statute even after raising the age, advocates and criminal justice stakeholders in the state pushed to decrease the number of offenses in the automatic transfer category. Last August, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill that limited automatic transfers to 16- and 17-year-olds accused of three kinds of serious crimes. The bill went into effect in January.

The ordeals of these early-adopting states have proved beneficial to advocates in those that haven’t fallen in line. The subcommittee Smith serves on has spent “hundreds of hours” collaborating with law enforcement and prosecutors to create a legislative proposal that meets everyone’s needs. With the chief justice’s approval, it will be introduced before the North Carolina General Assembly in 2017.

“One benefit of being among the last is you get to look at the experiences of other states, like Illinois and Connecticut,” said Smith. “There’s been a lot of give-and-take, and folks are very motivated to join the majority of states on this issue.”


Rebecca McCray is a staff writer for Takepart covering social justice. She is based in New York.



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