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Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth 1st Edition

46 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0375508097
ISBN-10: 0375508090
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It's hardly surprising that Texas, with its reputation for being big, brash and tough, would run one of the country's most aggressive programs for criminal youth. Teenagers who commit violent crimes are confined to a secure campus, but the Texas Youth Commission also provides them with an opportunity to reclaim their future. In this important book, Hubner, an editor for the San Jose Mercury News, expertly examines the big picture: the spike in juvenile crime from 1984 to 1994, and the legislative initiatives that led to the creation of the TYC. It's his ability to tie those facts to the reality of daily life at the Giddings State School through the eyes of the students, therapists, teachers and athletic coaches that gives this book its power. Hubner focuses on Elena and Ronnie, two young offenders at Giddings, as they are forced to confront and make sense of their pasts, re-enacting the most traumatic scenes of their childhoods and their crimes. Like Elena and Ronnie, nearly all the students at Giddings come from chaotic, abusive families. Hubner underscores the TYC's success in contrast to national recidivism rates for youthful offenders, which hover between 50% and 60%; a 2004 study reported that only 10% of graduates of the school's Capital Offenders group have been rearrested for a violent crime after three years on parole.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–A thought-provoking documentary about the Capital Offenders Group treatment program at Texass Giddings State School. The institution houses nearly 400 of the most violent juvenile offenders in a program designed to alter the life trajectory of its residents. Writing from his position as an observer, Hubner sketches a rich tableau of daily observations, describing the rigorous, disciplined regimen wherein boys and girls engage separately in resocialization sessions painstakingly choreographed by teams of psychologists. Two students serve as primary case studies. Readers are immersed in the raw intensity of 16-hour days where participants in structured psychodramas form emotional connections, enabling them to identify, confront, and ultimately master destructive behavior patterns. Essential to the process is acknowledging accountability and internalizing a genuine sense of guilt and remorse for the hurt they caused their victims. The programs aggressive methods are considered somewhat controversial, and the author is careful to report this, but lower rates of recidivism are a compelling testimonial to its effectiveness. Readers will have a visceral appreciation of the offenders hard-won gains, of the volatility and extreme emotions in the healing process, and of the risks of opening up to peers when isolation and rage have long been cultivated as defense mechanisms. The bottom line is that individuals who fail to meet the programs standards are dispatched to serve their sentences in the state penitentiary, in some cases for 25 to 40 years, rather than receiving parole and a fresh start. A sensitively written study, with extensive endnotes.–Lynn Nutwell, Fairfax City Regional Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (September 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375508090
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375508097
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #723,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Mahesh Grossman on September 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This beautifully written, moving book tells the story of a juvenile prison in Texas that takes in the worst of the worst youthful offenders-- murderers, rapists, and kidnappers-- and turns 95% of them into solid citizens. The secret? Before they can empathize with their victims, they have to relive the horrible pain of their own childhoods. Once that is accomplished, they work with a group of other inmates to re-enact their crimes-- once as the criminal, and a second time as the victim.

The stories are haunting, and though I read the entire book in the waiting room of a hospital, I couldn't stop myself from crying out loud in empathy with the grief these children and their victims have been forced to bear in their lives.

Instead of getting out of juvenile hall and wreaking havoc on the world, the children Hubner writes about come out of the system as ordinary, somewhat compassionate people.

At the end of the book, Hubner also makes a compelling financial argument for spreading the philosophy of the Giddins School.

It is hugely important to get this book in the hands of therapists, prison officials, members of the government and the general public. It could revolutionize the way that troubled youths are treated-- lower crime-- and make the world a safer place for everyone.

It's also an amazingly good read.

I believe in the power of this book the way a missionary believes in the Bible. Please buy it, read it, and tell all your friends about it.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Pamela A. Haines on October 3, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a powerful book about the potential for human redemption. Following the experience of a group of violent young offenders in a Texas youth correction facility, it shows the actual process of rehabilitation. For damaged young people who are a danger to society it offers a very workable (and economic) alternative to locking them up and throwing away the key: the recidivism rate is just 10% after three years.

The Giddings State School is very tough--with lots of structure and limits to keep people safe. But each year they select one group of young men and one of young women who have already been there for years and demonstrate some promise, to go through a process of deep reflection together. Each person tells his or her life story, taking at least six hours and often more, with probing questions from peers and therapists to get them to look at the pain they have buried under anger and not-caring. Then the key incidents in those life stories are acted out. Later each crime story is told and acted out--both from the perspective of the young person committing it, then from that of the victim. The goal is self-reflection, empathy--and redemption.

The stakes are high for these young people because the alternative is decades in the regular adult prison system. There are those who don't succeed, who can't find the strength to look deeply within themselves and feel the pain that allows for transformation--and that is the ultimate tragedy of this book. But most of them do--and that is what offers such hope.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By J Chung on December 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I had a chance to visit the Giddings facility when I was in law school. It was a life altering moment. I met a kid who murdered someone when he was 13. Another who sodomized his younger sister. And so forth. I grew up in a Christian home and knew all my life that people can be forgiven of their sins and redeemed to a new life. But when the teenagers shared the details of their crimes, I found it disturbing that God could forgive them, and even more troubling that these kids could be released when they are only 18.

But when you meet them, you see that they are not monsters. They are kids, who can learn from their mistakes. The visit was arranged by my law school professor, Robert Dawson, who was instrumental in creating the legal framwork which created the program. He passed away recently. He was a quiet hero who championed the rights of childern. I walked away from the visit to Giddings thinking it would be a great book if someone wrote about this. A few years later, John Hubner has done it.

Reading the book has helped me learn not only more about the inside stories of these kids, but it made me learn more about myself. Another great book on the topic of juvenile justice is "No Matter How Loud I Shout" by Edward Humes.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By George Grunwald on May 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
LAST CHANCE IN TEXAS answers the question: What if prisons were not hostile, violent environments, but designed instead as therapeutic environments?

I was a psychiatric social worker in corrections for two decades; most of that time in one of the safer medium security prisons in California. I learned right away to avoid tackling long standing emotional issues or restructuring cognitive processes. Not that resolving emotional conflicts or changing thought processes was not important. They were.

I stayed away from that work for lack of control. I never knew from one day to the next if the prison would be shut down or if, without warning, a client would be uprooted to another unit or shipped to another institution. Treatment planning was, to say the least, a challenge. Preparing for termination was only occasionally possible.

It would have been easy to bemoan the lack of traditional therapeutic structure, but I chose to honor the reality of prison. For clinicians, the dysfunction of prison is a source of frustration. For prisoners, it is their life. I did my best to help clients create authentic lives for themselves within that chaos. For many prisoners, prison recapitulated the abuse they experienced as children. Where they had been defeated by that abuse before, I tried to help them respond to that abuse more effectively and positively now that they were adults.

With that approach I enjoyed some success with some clients; enough for a very satisfying career. The prison in which I worked was comparatively benign, but not nearly as richly endowed as the program in Texas. Because that program is so well funded and staffed, in comparison to other programs, there is not a chance that it will ever become the rule, rather than the very rare exception.
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