Cambiar, the Spanish word for change, was appropriately chosen as the name of a program in New Mexico that is attempting to transform the juvenile justice system and the young people in the system along with it.
Featured in a recent Daily Beast article “How to Curb Our Mass Incarceration Epidemic,” the Cambiar program at the J. Paul Taylor Center focuses on reform over punishment for inmates, who the center refers to as “clients.”
This transformation to reform, rather than punish, is modeled after Missouri’s juvenile justice system where most teen offenders are in prison schools or work programs, with access to family therapy. Reports indicate that 75 percent of Missouri’s youthful offenders get a year of education each year they are incarcerated—three times the national average. This has led to a startling improvement: 65 percent of offenders in that system are not rearrested within three years of release.
The Cambiar program is aiming for the same positive results—all of its clients have access to education and mentors, something that Reclaiming Futures champions, implements and sees results with:
“The staff here mentors students, teaches real high school classes, provides a clear system of rewards and punishments that excludes extreme approaches like solitary confinement—all tactics that resulted from a 2006 agreement with the ACLU that sheds light on systematic abuses endemic in juvenile systems.”
The Center also strives to provide an environment that nurtures positive peer culture, with the teens learning to do everything together as a unit. Having a support system, the Center believes, is key towards reforming young people:
“They [the Taylor Center] changed to smaller units where the kids were in groups of 12 rather than in large pods. They worked toward regionalization to try to get the kids closer to their families so they could have support from their families,” Sandra Stewart, director of Juvenile Justice Services in New Mexico, said.
Stewart also emphasized that the transformation of the Taylor Center is due to its focus on learning, mental health counseling, and mentoring over lockdowns and punishments.
The author of this article, Soledad O’Brien, interviewed several clients at the Taylor Center as part of her documentary film “Kids Behind Bars,” which airs Sunday, April 12 at 7 p.m. PST on Al Jazeera America:
“’Honestly, like, I've always liked to learn. It was always there but I never actually took the time to sit down. I never had the will. I never had someone to push me and when I came here, like I said, some staff here helped me out with that,” he said. Since I interviewed him, he got out and has completed a 90-day probationary period.”
Learn more about the Cambiar program on the State of New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) website.