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Strategy: Counseling for Offenders Involved in Hate Groups

Strategy Enlisting young members of hate-crime groups into counseling programs helps dispel bias. Crime Problem Addressed As the United . . .


Enlisting young members of hate-crime groups into counseling programs helps dispel bias.

Crime Problem Addressed

As the United States becomes more and more diverse, there is a correlated increase in bias crimes, and groups of people commit criminal acts for reasons such as race, religion, and sexual orientation. Often, such biases derive from a lack of information and exposure to people who are "different." In "Hate Crime Laws: A Comprehensive Guide," the Anti-Defamation League says, "experience has shown that juvenile civil rights offenders are more likely than their adult counterparts to act out of ignorance rather than deeply ingrained attitudes."

Key Components

A counseling program presents an opportunity to educate hate-crime offenders (or even potential offenders) about those who are the object of their hate. Ultimately, the purpose of such counseling is to broaden hate-crime offenders' views of other cultures and, in doing so, change their values. Some effective "awareness" sessions include intensive counseling along with encounter sessions. During encounter sessions, hate-crime offenders come face to face with those they hate. For example, a teenager who spray-painted swastikas on a synagogue is given an opportunity to discuss religion with a rabbi.

Key Partnerships

To alter the viewpoints of perpetrators of hate crimes, the "hosts" of a counseling program establish a level of credibility through open dialogue. Other methods of reform include encounters with local judges who explain what may happen to offenders if they continue committing bias crimes and visits to county prisons where they are warned they may spend time. An important technique allows the offenders to meet the victims of hate crimes. Therefore, it is necessary to have victims volunteer who are willing to talk about their culture, race, or gender.

Potential Obstacles

Finding the more extreme members of hate-groups may be difficult, unless they are in court custody required by law officials to undergo education treatment and counseling. Also, it is a challenge to convince offenders that their values are wrong or unacceptable and to change long-held beliefs and promote new ways of thinking.

Signs of Success

Education is a powerful tool that opens up alternate avenues of thought and behavior. In many cases, members of hate groups are invited or chosen to participate in the programs, but others participate on a voluntary basis. In fact, one program's final report reports the following scenario: At the beginning of the three-day counseling program, a participant said that he did not need a "baby-sitter." By the third day, the same participant said that he wished he had been through such a program years earlier so that his life would have been much different. However, some participants attend out of mere curiosity about the program. According to reports by the Anti-Defamation League, the participants of "The Juvenile Diversion Program: Learning About Differences" have not been involved in further hate-crime activities since the program began.

Applying the Strategy

The Assistant U.S. Attorney initiated a three-day hate-crime prevention counseling program for teenage members of the Fourth Reich Skinheads of Orange County, California. The program consisted of three major components: intensive counseling, encounters with Holocaust survivors, and visits to a county jail and a federal courtroom. Although the program did not reach all of the skinheads, several changed their ways. In fact, the American Bar Association's Just Solutions publication reports, "Turtle, a 19-year-old wearing an Iron Cross on his jacket, renounced his membership in the Fourth Reich Skinheads, saying: 'I don't want to be a skinhead anymore. I don't want to be associated with people who kill for no reason.'"

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