Scared Straight II? At-Risk Youths To Visit Prison

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A new Illinois law requires Chicago’s public schools to identify students considered at risk for committing crimes and give them tours of a state prison to discourage bad behavior. The Chicago Tribune says that the sponsor, State Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago), pushed the measure after meeting with parents “desperate to find a way to scare their kids away from a life of crime.”

James “Chip” Coldren of the John Howard Association, a prison-reform group, complained that the law did not establish clear goals, assessment procedures, or quality control. He said the measures might unfairly stigmatize youngsters. Coldren wrote to governor Rod Blagojevich urging a veto, saying that it could make students “confused, possibly angry, and certainly no better off.”

The measure says that students in the program must have committed “serious acts of misconduct in violation of the board’s policy on discipline.” It requires that they be taken on a guided tour of a state prison but does not specify what other aid they should receive.

In signing the bill this week, Gov. Blagojevich said, “I think it’s worth a try to take a look at how we’re going to address the fact that too many children are lost too early on.”

Betsy Clarke of the Juvenile Justice Initiative said her advocacy organization urged the governor to veto the legislation because it appeared to resurrect so-called Scared Straight programs popular in the 1970s and 1980s, in which inmates related horrific stories to children about life in prison. Clarke said such programs, once widely embraced, ultimately proved ineffective.


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