On the same day, two different reports show us two different approaches to crime in two different countries. There will be a brief quiz afterwards.
First, Washington DC. The Mayor, Mr. Adrian M. Fenty, is notoriously 'sensitive' to the 'plight' of young offenders, and has long campaigned for a more 'suitable' environment for their incarceration - something more like a college campus than a prison. He got his wish, and at a cost of $46 million a new facility, the so-called 'New Beginnings Youth Center', was recently opened.
The state-of-the-art center, with its 30-acre campus and spacious lunchroom and library, was built to replace the nearby Oak Hill Youth Center, once called the Pound or Little Lorton because of its notorious history and its similarity to adult detention facilities. Oak Hill housed delinquents found guilty of the most serious charges, including armed robbery and weapons offenses.
. . .
New Beginnings is meant to be "the anti-prison," a place where inmates can "aspire to college, to be in a place that looks like you care about them," said Vincent N. Schiraldi, director of youth services.
OK. You take hard-core criminals (whether juvenile or not I don't care - if they're guilty of armed robbery and weapons offenses, that's hard-core!) and put them in a nice, cozy, warm-fuzzy, touchy-feely new prison.
Guess what happens next?
A juvenile inmate scaled a fence and escaped from the District's New Beginnings Youth Center in Laurel just one day after the $46 million campus opened to fanfare, with D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty calling it "one of the best rehabilitative facilities in the country."
Why am I not surprised?
A source close to the investigation said the U.S. Park Police dispatched a search helicopter within 10 minutes of the escape and that police in Anne Arundel, where the facility is located, searched for the youth on foot. The source, who asked for anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said that since the escape, inmate movement at the center has been more restricted, staff beefed up and razor wire added to the fence. As of last night, the youth had not been found.
This is known in the corrections industry - not to mention the farming community - as 'shutting the stable door after the horse has gone'. There are other names for it, too, but since they involve language that would hardly be considered safe for work or family-friendly, I'll restrain myself (with difficulty) from using them.
Corrections officers have said they were worried that it would not hold inmates who wanted to escape and predicted that crime would rise in the area around the facility. The issue has been a source of friction between Schiraldi and corrections officers, who contend that his policies are naive and endanger staff and nearby residents.
"We will face a major breach in security," Tasha Williams, a chairwoman for the corrections officers union, said last week in a memo to the council's Human Services Committee. "This was never intended to be a secured facility, that is clear. I see that DYRS has no concerns for public safety."
No s**t, Sherlock!!! Corrections officers, meet political correctness. Political correctness, meet . . . oh, never mind.
Contrast this approach with a slightly different one from the government of Guinea in West Africa.
Guinean citizens should burn any armed robbers they catch to avoid filling the country's prisons, the military government's anti-crime chief said Tuesday.
Lawlessness in the capital city Conakry has risen in recent months, with soldiers accused of being among the main culprits of robberies and rapes.
"I'm asking you to burn all armed bandits who are caught red-handed committing an armed robbery," said Captain Moussa Tiegboro Camara, appointed by the military junta to oversee the fight against drugs and serious crime.
"The prisons are full and cannot take more people, and the situation cannot continue like that," he told a meeting of city officials, adding that residents should form self-defense committees to protect themselves against crime.
Hmmm. OK, readers, here's the quiz I promised you.
Of the two different approaches outlined above, which is most likely to produce a permanent reduction in the crime rate?
Answers (on a post card, please, giving reasons for your view) should be addressed to Mayor Fenty's office in Washington DC. I think he needs your help!