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Book Review: The Art of Holistic Security

We live in a world of best practices. Some call themselves evidence-based best practices (EBP), some are simply promising practices based on evidence from somewhere, and a few are practices grounded in evidence-based research (EBR).

Confusing, eh? Part of the confusion stems from the difficulty and complexity of achieving successful outcomes with youth in custody. In part, the striking effectiveness of recent juvenile detention reforms, particularly JDAI, has removed from secure custody those youth who can thrive in nonsecure alternatives, leaving behind the most at-risk and troubled youth. Confusing has now jumped to complicated and challenging.

Evidence-based practices with their concerns about model fidelity sometimes sound too formulaic for practitioners. The flipside of evidence-based practice is case law-driven practice. Here, author D.L. Reed does a good job of using case law and juvenile rights as justification for certain practices, especially grievances.

If evidence-based practice and case law tell us what to do, the ongoing challenge is how to do those things. The realities of daily life in secure custody settings rarely lend themselves to precise problem-solving, and the reactions of youth never seem to follow the script from staff training handouts.

We continue to search for some field guide that acknowledges that what we tell new detention workers to expect rarely happens, so, in Boy Scouting parlance, we need to be prepared — prepared to respond quickly and effectively to fluid circumstances and changing situations that more accurately characterize secure custody. So, trial and error moves the field slowly in the direction of progress despite the frequent disconnects between new models and their outcomes with youth.

Successful secure custody practices are more an art than a science, and the scarcity of effective, safe and humane conditions of confinement serves as evidence that the art still needs substantial help. In that regard, this book is a basic primer of understandable and useful insights that are helpful to practitioners in implementing effective programs and services.

Reed uses long-standing and straightforward concepts to connect what and why with how questions. Information and explanations follow essential theories of human behavior to support his positive approach to physical and emotional security. While many of the references are to anecdotal research and secondary sources, the utility of the book is just that: The content starts with the assumption that the reader knows very little about the theory and practice underlying Reed’s model. Juvenile care workers sometimes have formal education, sometimes in related fields, and sometimes beyond a year or two of full-time study. For these individuals, the book is a constructive resource.

One example of its utility is the description of a behavior management system. Reed provides a basic introduction of behavioral principles that serves as a refresher for new and veteran staff members. More importantly, he presents the information using multiple adult learning styles. The graduated rewards/privileges continuum is a visual representation of a comprehensive and expansive system that serves as a workable tool for immediate adaptation in a variety of different facilities.

The same applies to the discussions about de-escalation and safety. Appropriately, the book also contains a section on reentry. Without the need to know the intricacies of evidence-based research and references, direct-care staff still have a great affinity for strategies that make sense, are understandable and are effective; and these are precise descriptions of Reed’s book.

Other sample forms and data-collecting materials are also excellent, and the uncomplicated explanations of them raise questions as to why the reader would not implement them immediately. The topics left uncovered suggest the need for a volume 2, and experienced practitioners can generate their own list of deficiencies.

But that is not the point. This book is positive, encouraging, hopeful and above all else relevant. It moves the field forward, emphasizing how to apply Edward P. Mulvey and Carol A. Schubert's concepts of content and process (see Pathways to Desistance research). Employing the wisdom and techniques in this book will improve any secure custody practice regardless of its current status. To the juvenile detention practitioner, you will do better after reading it.

David Roush, Ph.D., has been active in juvenile detention and corrections for more than 45 years. As a facility superintendent, he earned four national awards for innovation and excellence, two from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. A specialist on conditions of confinement, he conducted compliance monitoring for the U.S. Department of Justice. While at Michigan State University, he taught classes on juvenile detention, conducted research and coordinated federally funded training and technical assistance to juvenile justice agencies.

Public Health, Juvenile Justice System Reformers Are on Common Ground

It’s not every day that people working on health collaborate closely with people who think about how to reform the juvenile justice system. I was recently part of a research project that did just that.

I’m a public health researcher. Recently, my organization, Human Impact Partners, researched and wrote a report looking at how youth arrest can have a lifelong harmful impact for a person. Our report, Reducing Youth Arrests Keeps Kids Healthy and Successful, found that having a youth arrest would:

  • Increase anxiety, stress and other mental health issues
  • Increase the risk of injury and premature mortality
  • Increase labeling as “delinquent,” stigmatization and risk of further rearrest due to labeling
  • Lower opportunity due to higher rates of dropout and unemployment — all of which have well-established ties to long-term health.

We worked with public health departments (Washtenaw County Public Health and the Detroit Health Department), the Michigan Public Health Institute, the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency and faith-based community organizers MOSES.

At the same time, one of our collaborating partners, the Michigan Council, had done primary research into youth diversion practices across the entire state of Michigan. Their study, Restoring Kids, Restoring Communities, found that diversion practices varied widely due to varying resources, capacity and philosophies in counties — and less than 1 in 5 actually evaluate their programs. They found that 90 percent of youth diversion program services begin only after a youth has already been arrested due in part to a financial incentive for post-arrest diversion — counties are reimbursed by the state for youth services only after a petition has been filed with the court.

For both our organizations, some of the main recommendations were to stop criminalizing adolescent behavior, train professionals to de-escalate problem behavior before an arrest is necessary and to divert youth away from the juvenile system pre-arrest. This would lead to better health and opportunity outcomes for youth, as well as less involvement in the juvenile system.

As a researcher new to the juvenile justice world, I was surprised about how many policies, programs and interventions exist that would decrease the harmful effects of arrest. Several promising practices we highlighted were:

  • Civil citations programs for youth: Instead of arresting youth for misbehaviors, law enforcement officials can issue a citation to divert them from the juvenile justice system, holding them accountable for their actions while offering supports such as early intervention, counseling, education and other programming. A study of a statewide civil citations program in Florida show that youth in pre-arrest diversion programs are 2.5 times less likely to reoffend. And the program is so cost-effective that they are exploring making civil citations mandatory for several juvenile offenses. In one year, a civil citations program in Florida saved the state at least $13 million.
  • Training police who come into contact with youth about youth development, such as StopWatch, which trained subway police officers and decreased youth arrests from 680 in 2001 to 84 in 2009.
  • Expunging prior arrests from people’s records. A Stanford University study found that average change in yearly income after expungement was almost $6,200, and a Michigan State University paper about expungement for youth found higher rates of college attendance and future earnings.
  • And other restorative justice and trauma-informed approaches.

Several diversion programs that the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency highlighted in their report include:

  • The Ingham Teen Court. Youth charged with first-time misdemeanors as well as local students facing suspension/expulsion can have their cases heard before a jury of their peers, rather than face formal court involvement.
  • Wayne County Right TRAC program and prevention services. Wayne County has attracted nationwide attention for their Juvenile Assessment Center, which uses an evidence-based assessment tool to create treatment plans for youth both post-arrest (Right TRAC) but also simply when they are referred for behavioral issues.
  • Washtenaw County Sky Squad. A student-led restorative justice practice where student volunteers lead restorative circles with students in conflict who are at risk of suspension or expulsion and work collaboratively to come to an agreement on how to move forward.

Several of our partners are now moving forward in Detroit and Washtenaw County to try to implement some of the recommendations from the reports.

The funny thing is that while our worlds — juvenile justice system and public health — are worlds away, our philosophies were very similar. Let’s decrease the reach of law enforcement in the lives of children and support them with opportunities to live a fulfilling, successful and healthy life.

Kim Gilhuly leads Human Impact Partners’ Health Instead of Punishment program, which uses public health research, advocacy and capacity building to reform the criminal justice system. She is also responsible for convening alliances of public health and criminal justice stakeholders to advocate for a public health approach to our criminal justice problems.