Juvenile Hall can give a young person a “degree in criminology” by exposing them to other kids with behavioral issues.
Many teen offenders then move into adult prisons and come out with a “Ph.D. in criminology” and no help re-entering society in a healthy manner.
So says San Diego photojournalist and urban anthropologist Susan Madden Lankford, author of a trilogy of books and a companion documentary.
Hope and a plan.
Simple words they are—but potential solutions to a complex problem.
It’s one that can begin in childhood and result in adults spending their lives in prison or going in and out of incarceration while wreaking havoc in society.
It’s the life of the chronic criminal.
But some people can be saved before that pattern sets into full motion. And in saving the potential goodness of some of the incarcerated, society saves its own lives and its economy.
That’s the gist of Lankford’s trilogy and companion documentary.
Born Not Raised: Voices From Juvenile Hall is her latest book. The others are downTown U.S.A: A Personal Journey with the Homeless and Maggots in my Sweet Potatoes: Women Doing Time.
The documentary, which advocates for remediation rather than merely punishment, is called It’s More Expensive To Do Nothing.
Lankford will do a book signing for Born Not Raised from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Warwick’s Bookstore in La Jolla.
Her collection of work includes interviews with women in Las Colinas Detention Facility in Santee and children in Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, as well as the homeless on San Diego’s streets.
She has also talked to men and women who have received help and made positive re-entry back into the community after serving time.
Lankford’s publications also offer insights, statistics and trends from professionals in the medical, justice and detention systems.
Judges—both active and retired—weigh in, along with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who is running for mayor, and several staff of the Sheriff’s and Probation departments. Also heard are public defenders, drug and alcohol counselors and people who run private treatment facilities for people on parole.
“Juvenile misconduct is increasing due to forces we all understand—guns and drugs,” says Bill Boyland, former chief deputy public defender, in Born Not Raised.
Sara Vickers, director of the Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility, says some girls there have “acted out in order to escape an abusive, molesting home—they steal cars, anything to get away.”
“Juvenile halls are dealing with kids so much younger than they used to,” Lankford told Patch.
In her documentary, a professional notes that the juvenile detention system also is seeing more kids from so-called “good homes” with “intact” families.
The interviews indicate that not all kids in detention are “really bad.” Some are willing to open up and talk to someone about getting help. They need someone to help them believe in themselves, professionals say.
If that doesn’t happen, Juvenile Hall can lead to learning criminal habits via association with bad influences.
Society pays the cost, according to Lankford’s trilogy and documentary.
Prepare to have your heart rent in two if you delve between the covers of these books. Prepare to have your stomach knot and to be shocked and even a little disbelieving.
Prepare to want to close the covers and think of anything else that’s happy. Then get ready to wonder if one person can truly make a difference.
Lankford believes it’s possible.
Her research indicates that young people can turn their lives around if they each have “one decent person” in their lives—an aunt, uncle, anyone who cares about them.
She promotes the theory that society can not only help to save itself but it can also save a lot of money if something is done to help young people before or when they enter the detention system.
“It’s more expensive to do nothing,” she told Patch recently. She’s very concerned about any funding cuts for services and also the release of prisoners under state re-alignment, which effectively moves some inmates from overcrowded state prisons to overcrowded county jails and moves some jail inmates onto the streets.
“If you cut funding for services today, you’ll pay more this fiscal year in police work,” says Igor Koutsenok of the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry in Lankford’s documentary.
Lankford presents a figure of $50,000 as the annual cost to keep an adult in prison in California, citing The New York Times.
She quotes the estimated cost for a juvenile in detention at $212,000 annually. According to her documentary, the state could save nearly half a billion dollars annually by giving juveniles and adults remediation to help them turn their lives around.
The cover of Born Not Raised is a graphic rendition of yellow crime tape against a black background, laced with a chain link fence, topped with barbed wire. Underneath are a child’s own words, worrying about his future.
The picture feels cold, dark, scary.
Why no humans on the cover?
“I wanted people to have to open the book,” Lankford said. “I wanted them to wonder who’s in there and try to get to know them.”
No faces of children are shown, but scenes from within the institution and the young people’s drawings, writings and interviews are offered.
While her target audience is university students and people in the legal field, Lankford believes the book is important to more and more families.
“I think there’ll be a wide audience because of all the neurobiological behaviors in children out there that parents are seeing. Lots of parents are struggling with acting out behavior.”
Some professionals she interviewed state that the most effective way to reduce repeat offenses is to improve parenting skills across the country.
Evidence shows that the brains of children who experience violence or lack of attachment develop abnormally.
Some of these people join gangs, which fill a need for family, they say.
The professionals note how young people and adults sometimes return to detention and jail to get relief from the outside world—to get “three hots (meals) and a cot” as a former prostitute in the documentary puts it. There’s agreement that people need to be held accountable for their offenses, but these professionals argue that applying punishment alone isn’t working.
“People need help,” Dr. Doug Marlow says in the documentary. “Treatment can cut recidivism by 25 to 40 percent.”
Roughly two-thirds of people coming out of detention or prison can be expected to return, according to the professionals.
However, under a multi-agency program called the Prisoner Re-entry Program, remediation treatment can offer literacy, social skills and ways to resolve issues around alcohol and drug addiction.
Selected inmates can begin to receive help while they are incarcerated, with follow up from professionals upon their release. Services include resume help and job hunting skills.
“We’re re-parenting people who have not been parented,” District Attorney Dumanis says in Lankford’s documentary.
The re-entry program was instituted under Senate Bill 618. See the attached brochure.
Lankford’s work is published under Humane Exposures Publishing, which will probably become a nonprofit entity eventually, she told Patch.
She has been assisted in her work by her daughter Polly Lankford Smith and also by Robert Lankford. The award-winning documentary is directed by Alan Swyer.