The worst of all possible worlds

They say the New York’s system of juvenile prisons is broken. I am sure they are right. I am also sure they have no idea of what they are talking about. I could not stand reading the article, but I made myself finish it.

I guess I sound like I am some kind of wanna be Zen master. But I really don’t know how to express myself to people who have not seen what I have seen and don’t know what I know. And I know that few people want to consider this problem honestly and no one has the brains to figure out a good solution.

It is so easy to play the populist. I would probably play one myself if I didn’t know better.

Let’s play the populist game. Let’s play different parts of the article against each other.

First we have this….

The state spends roughly $210,000 per youth annually, but three-quarters of those released from detention are arrested again within three years.

Then we have this….

“These institutions are often sorely underresourced, and some fail to keep their young people safe and secure, let alone meet their myriad service and treatment needs,” according to the report, which was based on interviews with workers and youths in custody, visits to prisons and advice from experts.

What a contrast, eh? How can a system that spends a couple hundred grand per kid per year be sourly underresourced? I mean, how much more do we really want to pay to take care of young thugs?

Yet the system is sorely underresourced. But that does not change the fact that the state cannot afford to spend more money on its prison system.

To explain this sad state of affairs fully would take essay upon essay. But you can quickly grasp the nature of the problem by understanding that the only two “good” choices are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Choice number one: You can shoot every kid who has been convicted of anything that resembles a serious crime with no appeal allowed. This would be very cheap and it would dramatically cut the crime rate.

Choice number two: You can hire the best Drill Sargents that the military can produce and give them lots of discretion and money. This will produce the best chance of turning young criminals into productive citizens as long as you keep the Drill Sargent to youth offender ratio low and hold the Drill Sargents accountable for the results that they achieve.

The disadvantages of the first choice is obvious to the modern mind. The disadvantage of the second choice is that it is hideously expensive. People who have the skills to be good Drill Sargents have lots of career choices. And without significant monetary compensation, most of them are not going to put working with young thugs on their list of dream jobs.

The fundamental problem is that the closer you get to the middle ground between these two choices, the closer you will get to creating a system that is the worst of all possible worlds.

And the worst of all possible worlds is a bureaucracy were nobody has the authority to punish or reward. A bureaucracy where any kind of meaningful interaction with the wards of state is against the rules. A bureaucracy whose only goal is to carry the kids through their term safety so that they can come out more dangerous and hardened then when they went in.

And that is what New York State has now.

2 Responses to “The worst of all possible worlds”

  1. […] like this are always in the back of my mind when I read articles like the one that I linked to yesterday. It’s people like her that make a farce out of all the rules and regulations that are supposed […]

  2. […] was on full display in the New York Times article on New York’s juvenile prison system that I blogged about earlier. The would-be reformers profiled by the article seemed gripped by the illusion that the existing […]

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