Punishment without bars
Corry L., 23, sentenced to 10 years in a Virginia prison for selling drugs, had already done one year when a concept called "client specific planning" changed his life.Skip to next paragraph
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As an alternative sentence, he is now doing 2 1/2 to 3 years of full-time volunteer service at the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for Alcoholics.
Hedley S., a middle-aged lawyer and alcoholic, misappropriated more than $9, 000 from the estate of a client and faced three years in a Maryland prison. But then alternative sentencing saved the state thousands in prison costs and, instead, contributed something to society.
Hedley is now giving 10 hours a week to community service, providing practical advice to the elderly on housing sublets, leases, etc. In addition, he has made restitution of the $9,000; although disbarred, he is holding a job as an office manager.
Harry B., 17, and Tyrone T., 18, held up the manager of a Maryland steakhouse one night with an unloaded gun.What they got was $23 in cash from his briefcase and an eight-year prison sentence each. Both were on dope and pills the night of the crime. Neither had been in serious trouble with the law before. As a result of alternative sentencing, neither is now serving the prison sentence that might have blighted his life and would have returned nothing to society.
Instead, both received alternative sentences: Tyrone T., to live at home with his parents as an outpatient at a drug counseling center, receive help in getting a high school graduate equivalency diploma, and serve 10 hours a week in community service. Harry B., who had a more serious drug problem, was given an alternative sentence that would have kept him off the streets for two years in a residency drug program, where he was also to do volunteer community service. (At this writing, Harry B. has run way from the drug center, the only one of 160 in his particular program not to carry out his alternative sentence.)
This kind of alternative sentencing, dubbled "client specific planning" by its originators, the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, is offering new solutions to the old problem of the high human and financial cost of imprisonment.
The center's president, Dr. Jerome (Jerry) Miller, a criminologist, says: "We're the first group nationally with this sort of focus. There have been specific plans in specific courts, but we're the first to put it together. We prepare for presentation to the court detailed, specific plans in lieu of incarceration, and ensure that the people responsible for implementing them are either in court or a available to it."
Dr. Miller explains that the center developed "out of the whole last six to nine year [that] we've been trying to hammer away at the institutional industry in this country."
The institutional industry: That's his phrase for the giant business which includes jails, penitentiaries, mental hospitals, homes for the retarded and the geriatic, centers for neglected children, detention homes, etc.
"We view it as an industry," he says, "a $35 billion-a-year industry, and that's conservative figure.Somewhere between 30 and 40 million people in this country have been institutionalized at one time or another. . . . We set up the center to look into the institutional industry. . . . It's a large industry and for many people a scary, unhappy experience. For many people it does not involve treatment," Dr. Miller believes that the industry itself is run by "a large number of guys who have a vested interest in keeping the institutions going . . . building more institutions and filling them with people."
That's the opposite of the approach that's made Jerome Miller one of the most radical, highly criticized, and controversial activists in the institutional field. He singlehandedly, for instance, closed down all the reform schools in Massachusetts when he was commissioner of youth in that state, replacing them with individualized treatment programs which included community programs, group homes, foster homes, and college student tutors who would spend 30 to 40 hours a week with their charges.