nell bernstein

Journalist Nell Bernstein’s new book Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison takes an in-depth look at juvenile incarceration.  The journalist has spent years covering the juvenile justice system, and has interviewed hundreds of young people in detention facilities. One of the many problems in the facilities is the therapeutic treatment that’s available to the prisoners. Bernstein explains:

“There is a movement towards treatment inside juvenile facilities and I sat in on some of these groups, these therapeutic modalities… and what the kids would tell me was, ‘I’m supposed to open my heart in group and put my deepest traumas on the table, but the guy leading the group has the key to my cell.’ So right there you have a conundrum.

A few kids told me that although they were told that group was a "safe place” if they didn’t tell their story, or if they told it in a way that didn’t match their file they would get a write up for not taking responsibility for their actions or not participating in the program and that could, in fact, delay their release date.

I went in with a positive idea about treatment-oriented facilities, but I came out thinking that it’s just paradoxical. You can’t have a therapeutic interaction with a guy who has the key to your cell.“