Punishing juvenile delinquents
In 2010 the Glen Mills treatment programme at a residential facility for juvenile delinquents in Wezep was cancelled. I contend that the Glen Mills method might work excellently in the Netherlands, but only if it is applied fully and without reservations.
On July 1, 2010 a controversial treatment programme at the residential facility for juvenile delinquents De Sprint in Wezep (NL) was cancelled. Called the Glen Mills method, this treatment programme aimed at guiding young delinquents back onto the right track. The Glen Mills method has been characterised as “the country’s most radical and, some say, its most effective answer yet to juvenile crime.”
However, a study by the Research and Documentation Centre in September 2007 revealed that the Glen Mills method, as it was applied at De Sprint in Wezep, was not significantly more successful than other correctional methods. The study showed that after four years 78% of the youths who had followed the treatment programme at De Sprint ended up re-offending. As Peter van der Laan, professor in social pedagogy at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, said in a 2008 interview with Vrij Nederland: “The methodology should change drastically. Question is whether one should keep referring to it as Glen Mills.”
I would take it one step further. In my view, the treatment process as it was applied at De Sprint at best qualifies as a half-baked rehash of the original Glen Mills method. In all likelihood, when former Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers argued in 1993 for so-called "camps" to drastically hone the personalities of delinquent adolescents, he had a firm, drastic and even, if needed, forceful intervention method in mind. Unfortunately such forceful intervention was deemed illegal. The method of “holding” in particular, in which hostile and uncooperative detainees are pinned to the floor, was qualified as “abuse.”
My contention is that the Glen Mills method might work excellently in the Netherlands, and might in fact yield the same positive results as it does in the United States. But it can only work if the method is applied entirely and without reservations. A less strict or severe version of the Glen Mills method has no chance of success. This is due to the specific character of Glen Mills which is aimed at the pursuit of honour and the avoidance of shame. As such, it is in fact not so different to the orientation towards honour and status as can be found in virtue ethics such as Aristotle’s. A major component of virtue ethics is to acquire good habits and to dispose of bad habits. It is commonplace that bad habits are learned much more easily than good habits. E.g., if one allows oneself to become furious and aggressive on a regular basis, one will be more liable to become an angry person. Once such a vice has become part of one’s character, unlearning it becomes quite a difficult task.
It is however not altogether impossible to unlearn vicious character traits. As Aristotle argues, this can only be done by being subjected to a very strict and rigid regime of reward and punishment. When progress is made in one’s behaviour, one will be rewarded with higher status and receive all due praise and recognition. In the Glen Mills method this can be achieved by good behaviour, learning a trade and successfully completing certain courses. The entire system is oriented towards the acquisition of status, pride and respect. But this takes a bold and resolute approach. Half-baked measures won’t cut it. Surely it is possible to set delinquent youths on the right track again, but that will not work unless the Glen Mills method is applied all the way and without reservations. After all, is it really so sad if a juvenile delinquent is pinned to the floor? The victim might thank the perpetrator later in his life!