Keith Stern: A plan for corrections reform

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Keith Stern, who is the owner for 30 years of Stern’s Quality Produce, a retail and wholesale business in White River Junction. He is a candidate for governor in the next Republican primary. He was an independent candidate for U.S. Senate and participated in the Republican primary for U.S. representative. He served many years on the Design Review Board in Springfield, where he lives.

I believe we have taken corrections in the wrong direction. In some circumstances punishment is needed, but in others isolation from from society is needed. The problem is they are lumped together and we have to examine the intent of sentencing so we can adopt a realistic plan that can accomplish the goals responsibly and cost effectively. To that end, we have to separate the people in the correctional system and have a plan that works best for each group.

First we have the violent offenders. We have the right approach for them.

When people who are otherwise productive citizens are locked away and carry a criminal record, then they become less employable and end up on government assistance.


Second, we have the drug dealers. My plan is to put them in a boot camp program. I believe the vast majority lack respect, discipline and dignity. After all, they are making a living by ruining others’ lives. I feel a six-month program followed by a two-year stint in the military should turn their lives around. Right into the military after sentencing would rarely work because they would be completely unprepared and lack the discipline to take orders. They would come out with a different mindset and will have received training in a field they could pursue afterward.

The third is first-time nonviolent offenders. The goal is to punish them but not at the current cost per inmate. When people who are otherwise productive citizens are locked away and carry a criminal record, then they become less employable and end up on government assistance. The idea I want to see tried out is to report to a location where they spend their day or night when they aren’t working (for those who are employed) when sentenced. There is some of that plan being utilized but it is only on weekends and they report to a correctional facility. My plan would have them spend their nonworking hours in detention but not at a prison. Schools could be used at night and some available location could be used during the day. There would be no armed guards, just several supervising them and they would receive one light meal a day, whether it be sandwiches for supper or cereal for breakfast. The sentences could be kept short and they have to adhere to the rules or be moved to prison for the rest of their term.

Fourth would be the nonviolent offenders who aren’t employed. They could do community service during the day, working with highway crews or other similar jobs and spend their evenings in detention.

Since these are nonviolent offenders the homeless could go there to have shelter and a meal as well. While this isn’t solving the homeless problem, it could help as a short-term solution.

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  • JohnGreenberg

    Mr. Stern might want to check out the recent conclusions of NIH regarding boot camps: “Experts agreed that state and private boot camps with military-style
    discipline do not work and can even make problems worse (Ref 7).?” Google “boot camps don’t work” for lots more.

    • John that study you referenced doesn’t apply here because I am talking about adult drug dealers, and there wouldn’t be a return home for several years after serving military duty. It may not be active duty but there are plenty of support positions that can be filled.

      • JohnGreenberg

        I commend you for your willingness to consider “out-of-the box” solutions, but I would also strongly recommend that you take some time to do a bit of research before getting too wedded to any of them.

        The article I cited above mentions a study, but it doesn’t provide a link and it doesn’t actually name it.

        So this morning, I tried again. The first article I came up with is “Correctional
        Boot Camps: Lessons From a Decade of Research” prepared for the DOJ’s Office of
        Justice Programs in June 2003.

        It concludes: “Participants reported positive short-term changes in attitudes and behaviors; they also had better problem-solving and coping skills.

        “With few exceptions, these positive changes did not lead to reduced recidivism. The boot camps that did produce lower recidivism rates offered more treatment services, had longer sessions, and included more intensive postrelease supervision. However, not all programs with these features had successful results.” (p.4)

        Later (p. 6), it notes that “By 1995, State correctional agencies operated 75 boot camps for adults, State and local agencies operated 30 juvenile boot camps.” So actually, there were more boot camps for adults than for juveniles.

        I have neither the time nor the energy to do the research for you, but what little I’ve seen after a cursory effort suggests that your solution has been tried and found wanting. I think you would find it both interesting and rewarding to spend a few hours actually looking at the studies.