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Closing Counterproductive Institutions

In the early 1970’s, Dr. Jerome Miller was appointed Director of the juvenile correctional system in the state of Massachusetts. After attempting to reform the system, he decided that it was so institutionally counter-productive that he would close down the 11 reformatories under his direction. In the early 1990’s he wrote a book describing this process: Last One Over the Wall (Dr. Jerome G. Miller, Ohio State University Press, 1991).

On the basis of his report, I have tried to identify the principles that he used in achieving a revolutionary change. They include:

  • Listen to what the youths in the system tell you about its effects on their lives. No external or internal evaluator can provide such useful information. In the long run, evaluation inputs, programs, etc. can be radically misleading. The goal is whether the lives of the inmates are changing. They are the best judges of whether that is true.
  • If the lives of the youth don’t really change in spite of your reforms, assume that the problem is the very nature of your institution. Close it. Seek another way and you will find something better than the institutional way.
  • In seeking another way beware of developing a visible plan. Plans will only delay the process and provide a useful target for bureaucrats, unions and politicians with interests in maintaining institutionalism.
  • Start your closing by focusing on those inmates or clients who are thought to be the worst, most damaged, vulnerable, etc. If you succeed in finding another way for them, it’s all downhill for the rest of those who are institutionalized.
  • Trust that the community will create diverse, effective alternatives. Use a Request for Proposal seeking any sector of society willing to work with the de-institutionalized youth. In Massachusetts, the response to Miller’s Request for Proposal was “overwhelming.” Applicants included YMCA’s, art schools, child care agencies, universities, private and religious charitable organizations, psychiatric and drug treatment programs, etc. This diversity provided a great increase in appropriate options for the youth. It also created an alternative community of political support for dealing with youth in a non-institutional way.
  • There will always be powerful forces with self-serving interests in maintaining institutions. The most important deterrent to “re-institutionalization” is to ensure that the institutional money leaves the system to support alternatives. Create an alternative constituency to use the money in support of the young people.
  • While many young people can go home with additional funded support, there will be the necessity for small programs and residential facilities. In dealing with them, do not use “effective management” as a criterion for evaluating them. The better a program is managed, it will lead to the inverse of what is needed by the youth. Unruly youth don’t need more management. If management methods are the focus, “suffering of young people” will increase.
  • As alternative community options develop, keep them small, dispersed and diverse. Young people need options appropriate to their interests. Because each is unique, we need diverse opportunities and support if we are to serve them appropriately.

I knew Dr. Jerome Miller quite well and together with my colleagues at Northwestern University, we conducted research for him. Therefore, these principles are derived from my personal experience with Dr. Miller as well as from his book, The Last One Over the Wall. Any misinterpretations are wholly my responsibility.

Reimagining Community: Conversation with Jonathan Massimi

This is a discussion that took place on  March 12, 2019. John was a participant and it originally appeared on the Abundant Community website.

About every six weeks for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their March 12, 2019 dialog they invited the Rev. Jonathan Massimi to talk about how his work has turned conventional thinking upside down about connecting youth and adults.

View a transcription of this discussion on Abundant Community

View their conversation on Zoom here. For more on Jon’s work, see his author page here and these related posts:

 

 

 

Reimagining Community: Conversation with Gary Ivory

This is a discussion that took place on January 16, 2019. John was a participant and it originally appeared on the Abundant Community website.

About every six weeks for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their January 16, 2019 dialog they invited Gary Ivory to talk about how he and his organization, Youth Advocate Programs, Inc., have reinvented an alternative to what professionals thought was true about serious juvenile offenders.

View a transcription of this discussion on Abundant Community

View their conversation on Zoom here. For more on Gary’s work, see his author page here and these related posts:

Changing the Narrative for Community Leadership

This is a discussion that took place on November 27, 2018. John was a participant and it originally appeared on the Abundant Community website.

About every six weeks for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their Novemmber 27, 2018 dialog they invited Paula Ellis to talk about her work as a news, corporate and civic leader deeply immersed in national and community issues.

View a transcription of this discussion on Abundant Community

View their conversation on Zoom here. For more on Paula’s work, her author page here.

Another Other Kingdom

This is a discussion that took place on  October 2, 2018. John was a participant and it originally appeared on the Abundant Community website.

About every six weeks for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their October 2, 2018 dialog they invited Walter Brueggemann to talk about what it would mean to live in a culture beyond the consumer world. It’s a spontaneous, unpredictable conversation on the roots of consumerism and what an alternative world would be like.

View a transcription of this discussion on Abundant Community

View their conversation on Zoom here. For more on Walter’s work, go to his website or see his author page here.

Restorative Practices: A Toolbox for Turbulent Times

This is a discussion that took place on May 8, 2018. John was a participant and it originally appeared on the Abundant Community website.

About every six weeks for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their May 8, 2018 dialog they invited Thom Allena to talk about his work in getting justice out of courthouses and into neighborhoods. Thom is a community and organizational psychologist who applies creative approaches to respond to crime, violence and group conflict. In Thom’s community justice work, citizens are invited to play active rather than passive roles in determining the shape of justice and become more directly involved in redressing the quality of life issues that are breached by crime.

View a transcription of this discussion on Abundant Community

 Download or listen to the audio here. For more on Thom’s work, see the list on his author page.

How to Connect Neighborhood Churches to Your Local Community

This is a discussion that took place on  February 20, 2018. John was a participant and it originally appeared on the Abundant Community website.

About every six weeks for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their February 20, 2018 dialog they invited Paul Sparks, a leading voice in the growing Parish Movement. Paul has worked in more than 1,000 neighborhoods around the world to identify, connect, and support groups that want to have their neighborhoods flourish. In their conversation Paul talked about his own and his colleagues’ work with local churches, academic institutions, and community organizations in the United States and abroad and offered ideas on how to translate their experiences into local community-building work.

View a transcription of this discussion on Abundant Community

 Download or listen to the audio here. For more on Paul’s thinking and work, see the list on his author page. 

 

Who Has the Skills to Build Community? We All Do

This is a discussion that took place on September 12, 2017. John was a participant and it originally appeared on the Abundant Community website.

About every six weeks, for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their September 12, 2017 dialog they invited YES! Magazine co-founder Sarah van Gelder to share the stories she gathered on her 12,000-mile cross-country journey from people who were re-making America from the ground up, taking on the climate crisis, wealth inequality, and racial exclusion.

View a transcription of this discussion on Abundant Community

Download or listen to the audio here. For more on Sarah’s thinking and work, see the list on her author page.

How Community Animators Work Around the World

This is a discussion that took place on July 25, 2017. John was a participant and it originally appeared on the Abundant Community website.

About every six weeks, for the last five years, John and Peter have hosted online / dial-up conversations with community-building pioneers as their guests. For their July 25, 2017 dialog they invited Cormac Russell to share his experiences in building new connections and relationships to strengthen our neighborhoods and communities around the world.

View a transcription of this discussion on Abundant Community

Download or listen to the audio here. For more on Cormac’s thinking and work, see the list on his author page.

 

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