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Throwing away kids 

Wake-up call for youth offenders

Journalist John Hubner drove 2,300 miles last week to attend the Texas Book Festival and promote his recently released Last Chance in Texas.

This week, Hubner, an editor at the San Jose Mercury News, will cross the desert again. He's coming to Colorado to discuss the book and the Giddings State School in Texas, where he watched violent young offenders who were offered an alternative to incarceration in the state adult prison system, rehabilitate themselves with discipline, caring adult supervision and life-altering therapy.

Of the 24 kids that Giddings followed during the year he researched his book, all are on parole and none have been reincarcerated.

"No one has committed a violent act," says Hubner. "They're all living their lives."

A veteran reporter on the juvenile justice system and crime, Hubner says he wrote the book "in the hope that it would get enough attention to focus decision-makers on the fact that we are throwing kids away."

In Colorado last year, Gov. Bill Owens vetoed a watered-down version of HB 1109, legislation designed to create alternative sentences for serious juvenile offenders. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Lynn Hefley of Colorado Springs, had seen the Giddings School in Texas as a possible model for similar programs in Colorado.

The tough-on-crime attitude that pervades state governments, says Hubner, is "synonymous with being dumb on crime."

"Rehabilitation, or what I like to call redemption, is much tougher than locking them up and throwing away the key," says Hubner. "They are kids and they can change. But when youthful offenders learn to adjust to prison life, they join gangs, they learn to move contraband, they learn to behave like adult criminals."

They rarely remain in prison forever, the author points out, and when they leave prison, "they come out dumber, angrier and meaner."

The problem with states like Colorado that sentence youthful offenders to life without parole, says Hubner, is that "they assume any youthful offender who's committed a felony is a psychopath and is beyond human redemption."

"We do need prisons," says Hubner, "to house the minority that can't or won't be rehabilitated. That's what prisons are for."

-- Kathryn Eastburn

capsule

John Hubner will speak about Last Chance in Texas

UCCS' Columbine Hall, Room 136, at 1420 Austin Bluffs Pkwy.

Thursday, Nov. 10, 1:40 p.m.

Free; for more, call 720/314-1402.

  • Wake-up call for youth offenders

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