Could Traveling Be the Missing Component?
THOSE WHO DO NOT MOVE, DO
NOT NOTICE THEIR CHAINS.
“ I rep my shit yo. I don’t really wanna move out the hood. The Bronx is home. Plus I aint never left before. I mean…but even if I wanted to leave I can’t. Where am I supposed to go…and how the hell am I supposed to get there?”
Conversations like this are frequent among the young adults I work with in the Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) programs I direct in the Bronx, New York; this type of mindset is oftentimes entrenched within communities across the country.
During a day trip to Maryland to see The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, a 19-year-old participant sparked a lively discussion around travel and opportunity when he openly stated that he’d never visited any place outside of the Bronx, a New York City borough which contains some of the poorest districts in the United States.
To his surprise, his admission propelled about 30 other program participants (ranging from ages 15-19) to declare the same things. Because there is no such thing as a typical day when you’re on a road trip with a group of bright and candid New Yorkers, a conversation around “representing and being proud” of the city you live in, turned into a college-level discussion around crime, poverty and traveling.
When you’ve spent every single day of your life in the same city, it’s easy to assume that all the answers to your problems are within that vicinity. Spending an entire lifetime learning, growing and exploring within the same space shapes how you view the world and what you should expect from it.
By the time we returned home from Maryland, they expressed an understanding of a concept that seems to be missing from the conversations around criminal justice reform. The growing changes around juvenile and criminal justice reform include the increased use of ATI programs (particularly for juveniles). However, I would argue that the addition of a travel component in some of these programs would be vital.
WHEN YOU’VE SPENT EVERY
SINGLE DAY OF YOUR LIFE
IN THE SAME CITY, IT’S
EASY TO ASSUME THAT
ALL THE ANSWERS TO
YOUR PROBLEMS ARE WITHIN
Mass incarceration of youth, ages 13-15, is a growing trend in the United States, exponentially so in the state of New York. The cost of incarcerating one youth for an entire year is about $150,000. This is a hefty bill for tax payers. However, the emotional stress for the youth and their families is far greater. For the family, stress typically falls on the shoulders of the caregivers. For the youth, the chance of committing another offense in adulthood is high, a statistic commonly referred to as the revolving door of the juvenile/criminal justice system
In an attempt to mitigate this problem both liberals and conservatives have combined their efforts, and federal and state funding, to develop a community-driven approach to incarceration. These approaches typically encompass the development and use of Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) programs for lower level non-violent offenders, typically functioning within the non-profit sector. They provide free services with an annual operational cost of about$10,000 a per youth.
The offender is referred to the ATI program from a specific Juvenile or Criminal Justice System entity and required to comply with the specified program requirements, which may include attending a job readiness program, academic development classes (if needed), conflict resolution and some form of group cognitive behavior work. More advanced ATI programs also incorporate a community reinvestment project as part of the conditions for a successful completion.
The purpose of an ATI program, besides minimizing the high cost of incarceration the state incurs, is to allow the offender a chance to avoid incarceration and develop skills that would reduce the chance of recidivism.
Incorporating a travel component to ATI programs (particularly within lower income urban cities) has the potential to drastically shift the thinking of the participant. As any remotely seasoned traveler can attest, experiencing a different culture has the ability to shift your personal thinking. It can alter the way you perceive yourself, transform goals you previously aspired to attain and even redefine what you believe about life.
Incorporating travel components to ATI programs leaves a lot to be explored and questions to be addressed.
How would a travel component be added to the design of these programs?
What would that look like?
Is travel the ultimate answer to mass (and repeat) incarceration?
The answers are actually less complicated then they seem. An increase in traveling, and thus an increase in exposure, does not have to include leaving the country. This could very well take place within the same state of a given program. Or like my thought-provoking conversation in Maryland, it could simply entail an educational day trip to another state. This is more likely to occur if the ATI programs receiving state or federal grants were mandated to incorporate a form of comprehensive traveling for program participants (especially for ATI programs specifically targeting offenders ages 13-15). Stipulations around the funding ATI programs receive is standard practice in the non-profit sector. Most government-issued grants come with them. Yet, such stipulations do not typically require an ATI program to provide a travel experience that differs from the culture participants are likely more familiar with.
While I am in no means asserting that travel is the solution to mass incarceration, I am suggesting that as we move to incorporate and utilize more ATI programs, we consider how critical it is to simply be exposed to another way of living.
I can’t help but reflect on the group we took to Maryland and the decisions they made that resulted in their arrest, ultimately landing them in an ATI program.
Would they have made different decisions had they been introduced to a world that exists beyond the Bronx?
Does this mean that ATI programs that don’t prioritize travel experiences are not effective?
WHILE I AM BY NO MEANS ASSERTING THE TRAVEL IS THE SOLUTION TO MASS INCARCERATION
In fact, a number of ATI programs are producing great results without it. They are producing results that indicate a clear change in the offender’s life. They are, by all accounts, helping offenders become something different. However, some need a little more. Sometimes you have to see something different, before you can become something different. Which is the beauty of travel.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shanita Hubbard is a mom, writer, traveler, speaker and social justice advocate.
Her background includes juvenile justice reform, national consulting, and collaborating on multi-million dollar grants. However, she is most proud of her title as the Mom of an amazing black girl