EDITOR, The Tribune.
The newspapers this morning report a statement by National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage about a “shock treatment” programme aimed at students with discipline problems.
In essence, the Minister was speaking about introducing problem students to a three-day shock treatment package of harsh discipline protocols meant to encourage the troublesome students to mend their ways lest they end up in even greater trouble.
Editor, any right-thinking individual would truly want to see better behaviour from our young people and would welcome intervention protocols which would show them the error of their ways and guide them onto more positive pathways.
The desired goal is strong, patriotic, law-abiding and productive youth who will develop into model citizens for the forward movement of our country.
But are we so desperate, so short of ideas that we resort to ideas, programmes and concepts which have proven ineffectual in other jurisdictions?
For general information, the idea of shock treatment for troublesome adolescents had its beginnings in the United States about three decades ago.
It was dubbed “Scare Them Straight,” and according to Dr DeMichelle a senior Research Associate with the American Parole and Probation Association, the idea “was conjured up and implemented…due to its intuitive appeal of doing something harsh or painful to kids so they won’t commit crimes in the future”.
Juveniles in trouble, or those at risk for troublesome behaviour were exposed to and paraded through harsh prison and jail conditions, observed prison life first hand and had interaction with adult inmates.
The idea was that this first hand touch of the life of an inmate would deter juveniles from future anti-social behaviour and would scare them into going straight.
These shock treatment programmes became popular across many jurisdictions, and even spawned other popular harsh treatment protocols for adolescents.
One that easily comes to mind is the recent re-incarnation of boot camps for at-risk kids. But despite their popularity (there was even a popular television series on A&E called Beyond Scared Straight), there has been a steadily growing body of evidence based on controlled studies which point out “that boot camp and Scared Straight interventions are ineffective, and even potentially harmful, for delinquents”.
In 2010, American Psychologists SO Lilienfeld and others particularly noted this in their text 50 Great Myths Of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behaviour.
Laura Burney Nissen, Ph D is the national programme director for Reclaiming Lives, a US-based organisation which seeks to develop programmes and secure support for adolescents struggling with drug abuse, crime and alcoholism.
In 2011, Dr Nissen noted that since the introduction of Scared Straight and other such programmes in the late 1970’s, “ … a 2002 meta-analysis of relevant research on nine such programmes found that “not only do such programmes fail to deter crime, but that they actually lead to more offending behaviour”.
And so why are we hell-bent on picking up a programme and a protocol which has not demonstrated any significant efficacy or produced any stellar positive results elsewhere?
Why are we now resorting to shocking our children with exposure to prison cells and jail cells where the conditions are known to be harsh, some might even say inhumane?
Are we so proud of the overcrowded, nasty, outdated prison cells in our land that we are now prepared to recommend them to the world as the ideal location for rehabilitating school children? A dubious, shameful honour indeed.
And what about our Police station jail cells? Are we so proud of these places from which we regularly hear accusations of Police brutality, verbal abuse and corruption, that we are now showing them off to the world and to our school children as model places for shaping young minds and attitudes.
Disgraceful on our part and right up there with the horrors of Middle Passage in my book.
When are we ever going to get the message that if we subject our children to physical and psychological violence, then all we can ever expect from them is more violence and psychological abuse heaped upon those they see as weaker than they themselves?
Might it help if we remember that for the vast majority of our schoolchildren at risk for destructive, anti-social behaviours, harsh living conditions and hardened criminals make up a significant part of their daily reality?
Do we really expect to achieve much by exposing them to these same conditions with the only difference being that the State has sanctioned them?
Are we still enamoured of the philosophy that allows state-encouraged abuse of our children? What are we really hoping to achieve here other than making them feel that what they presently have is perhaps all they can ever expect to get?
There are other elements of the Minister’s announcement which I applaud – greater BTVI exposure, field trips to airports and vacation spots, etc – and I believe these aspects may reap some positive outcomes.
The idea of shocking our “warring” schoolchildren by further exposing them to the filth and the underbelly of our society, however, is wrong to me on many levels and I do hope that our education, public health and law enforcements leaders would exercise greater creativity and conduct better, more diligent research on more workable schemes.
HON THERESA MOXEY-INGRAHAM
May 8, 2014.