See previous interviews by The 74: Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Senator and Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, University of Michigan economist Susan Dynarski, Harvard Education School Dean Jim Ryan. Full 74 Interview archive here.
As superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, John Deasy laid out an ambitious vision for improving schools. Today, his supporters say he succeeded in significantly improving student outcomes across the city, while his critics point to poor relationships with many of the district’s stakeholders and his botched plan to integrate iPads into Los Angeles classrooms. Deasy resigned under pressure in late 2014.
Now Deasy is back in the news, planning to launch a new program that he says will fix juvenile prisons in a way that both reduces recidivism and improves the life prospects of incarcerated youth.
I spoke with Deasy in depth last month about his vision for the program, how it might be implemented and whether it amounts to a form of privatized prisons.
The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
The 74: Can you start by telling me about your new initiative — what you’re working on, what you’re hoping to accomplish?
John Deasy: In October, I am launching a new organization called New Day, New Year. This organization is going to design, build and launch a set of alternative juvenile prisons in the country: in Los Angeles County and Alameda County in California, and then hopefully in Oklahoma and in New York City. In short, what I want to do for the next 10 years is to be part of the rethinking of juvenile justice in this country — and specifically youth corrections.
Our youth will leave our experience drug- and substance-free; on track for graduation or enrolled in community college, depending on their age; resilient; and also employed.
The theory is, we want to reduce recidivism by 50 percent as compared to the local county recidivism rate. That’s the short answer.
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What immediately jumps to mind is that this is a sort of charter school for juvenile prisons. Do you see it along those lines?
We don’t at the moment have successful alternatives where you have dramatically lower recidivism for youth, and we want to create that opportunity. I don’t know if it’s charter-like, because I don’t think there’s such a rule or a vehicle.
What would the governance structure be, then? Is this under the traditional governance of publicly governed prisons? I’m asking because there are a lot of concerns about privately run prisons.
I have enormous concerns around privately run prisons, and abhorrent concerns around for-profit prisons. The governance structure is as it currently is, and we’re aiming to provide the current governance structure an alternative setting. Judges could sentence or re-sentence youth — obviously it’s a willing proposition — to New Day, New Year, and in turn we will abide by the guidelines of the state that we work in and produce dramatically different results. But it’s certainly not for-profit, and it’s not private.