Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C

Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit CAuthors: Laura S. Abrams and Ben Anderson-Nathe
Publisher: New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012. 169p.
Reviewer: Melissa Smith | July 2013

The juvenile corrections system is often the topic of criminal justice research and much evidence indicates that this system is failing to meet the needs of juveniles. Compassionate Confinement: A Year in the Life of Unit C reports on one year offieldwork in a juvenile correctional facility. The lives of juveniles in this facility are detailed and the reader is able to become familiar with the obstacles that juveniles as well as staff must overcome in attempting to find a balance between treatment and the punishment that is imposed on juveniles in the corrections system.

In Chapter 1 an overview of the concepts covered are provided. The facility where this study took place housed only male juvenile offenders; therefore, gender is emphasized in the descriptive findings. A discussion of recidivism rates, a brief history of the juvenile corrections system, as well as juvenile brain development is included.

Chapter 2 is dedicated to describing the setting of the facility. Narratives describing some of the incarcerated individuals are provided. These narratives allow the reader to envision the juveniles and become more familiar with the struggles that the juveniles face. This chapter also provides details about the program design and treatment plans for the juveniles.

Continuing with the theme of describing the setting of the facility, Chapter 3 details the mixed messages that are presented to juveniles by staff during their treatment at the facility. This provides the reader with an illustration of the turmoil that juveniles face due to the conflict of punishment versus compassion in juvenile corrections settings.

Chapter 4 introduces the issue of gender and gender stereotypes. While gender stereotyping is a recurring theme in the book, the role of the staff in perpetuating these stereotypes is explained in this chapter. While juveniles are sometimes instructed to express their emotions, at other times the staff insinuate that the juveniles should behave like men, meaning that they should be tough. This illustrates the conflicting goals that are present in juvenile correctional facilities.

In Chapters 5 and 6, several important questions are posed. If a young man does not want his identity altered, can a treatment-based correctional program nevertheless accomplish just that? Second, does the propensity to fake success in treatment undermine meaningful changes that a juvenile makes in treatment? Third, did the preparation given to juveniles to exit the facility lead to success outside of the facility and did the youth retain the principles provided them during treatment?

Chapter 7 addresses the complexities involved in solving the problems that plague the juvenile corrections system. According to this study the intermingling of punishment and treatment in a single setting is problematic. Additionally, consistency in behavior of staff when working with juveniles is of utmost importance.

While this book contributes a great deal to the understanding of juvenile corrections, it also contributes to the understanding of the obstacles involved in conducting ethnographic research. General information is given about how the study was initiated, how access was gained to the facility, safeguards that were taken to protect the human subjects in the study, as well as obstacles that were encountered and how those obstacles were addressed. The latter discussion adds to the value of the book, particularly for those interested in research in juvenile corrections.

Melissa Smith is a graduate student at the University of New Haven

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