A Remembrance Of Late Juvenile Justice Reformer Jerome Miller


Forty-five years ago, Jerome Miller, Massachusetts' commissioner of youth services, closed the notorious Institute for Juvenile Guidance in Bridgewater. It would be the first act in what would end up being the most dramatic and successful juvenile deinstitutionalization effort in the U.S., writes juvenile justice expert Vincent Schiraldi for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Miller, who would go on to have a lifetime career fighting mass incarceration, died last week at 84. Schiraldi says Miller's passing provides an occasion to examine lessons learned from the Massachusetts experiment “as our nation grapples with our waning love affair with incarceration.”

Juvenile corrections in Massachusetts in the late 1960s was a mess. Seven separate investigations over problematic juvenile conditions were conducted between 1965 and 1968. The Massachusetts Senate called the state's juvenile facilities “a continuing nightmare,” finding that the majority of children “do not belong there.” Despite these scandals, Schiraldi says, Miller faced fierce resistance to reform, mainly from his own staff, the majority of whom had gotten their jobs through political connections. He concludes: “It turns out Miller was right … We do have too many people locked up in America, often for no good reason, and to the detriment of their outcomes and our safety.”

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