Pubdate: Thu, 01 Sep 2005
Source: American School Board Journal (US)
Copyright: 2005 National School Board Association
Author: Susan Black
Note: Susan Black, an ASBJ contributing editor, is an education research 
consultant in Hammondsport, N.Y.
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Youth)


Youthful Offenders Who Lose Their Freedom Shouldn't Lose Their Chance For A 
Good Education

When kids are locked up, what happens to their education?

That question has no easy answer, say researchers who've tried to pin down 
state laws and policies for educating juveniles in corrections.

A 2004 study by University of Maryland professors Candace Cutting and Peter 
Leone shows wide variations in state juvenile justice education 
requirements. One difference is how long incarcerated kids must attend classes.

In Delaware, for example, juvenile offenders are required to attend school 
35 days more each year than public school students. Arizona provides 
year-round school for incarcerated juveniles, and California requires 
juvenile court school to be held "every weekday of the calendar year, 
except holidays and inservices approved by the school board." Some states 
recommend education but don't require it: Florida, for instance, "strongly 
encourages juveniles in high risk, maximum risk, or a serious/habitual 
offender program to participate in an educational or career-related program."

How much states spend to educate juveniles in corrections also varies 
widely, says Eastern Kentucky University's Bruce Wolford. In a study of 
correctional education in 20 states, Wolford reports that Colorado's 
average per-pupil expenditure for juveniles in custody is about $9,000, 
while Georgia spends about $5,000.

But regardless of requirements and funding, the responsibility for 
educating incarcerated juveniles rests, for the most part, with the local 
school district. "Public schools are responsible for educating the majority 
of youth in the juvenile justice system," Wolford reports.

A New York superintendent told me he puts contingency money into his 
district's annual budget in the event that students are detained or 
committed for juvenile offenses. "The court might send a juvenile to a 
nearby residential center or to a lock-up facility in another county," he 
explained. "The juvenile justice system contracts with outside agencies for 
the student's educational services, but we pay the bill."

Juveniles In Corrections

Who is incarcerated and for what? The Census of Juveniles in Residential 
Placement reports that 134,011 youth, nationwide, were held in nearly 3,000 
residential facilities as of October 1999, the latest year for which 
statistics are available.

But, says Melissa Sickmund, senior researcher with the National Center for 
Juvenile Justice, the actual number of juveniles in custody is higher. The 
census, she notes, does not include "an unknown proportion of juveniles 
incarcerated in adult jails and prisons." In Depth: A profile of Juvenile Crime

According to Sickmund's 2004 study for the U.S. Department of Justice's 
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), almost nine 
out of 10 incarcerated youths are boys, most commonly 16- to 17-year-olds. 
(See sidebar.)

The study also shows that the rates of various delinquency offenses -- 
violations of laws that are crimes for adults committed by youth under age 
21 -- have fluctuated in recent years. Fewer juveniles are held for 
homicide and robbery, for example, and more are held for simple assault, 
arson, and drug charges.

Overall, fewer kids are in custody for so-called status offenses, such as 
incorrigibility, running away, truancy, and curfew violation. At the same 
time, the number of juveniles held in public facilities for underage 
drinking has increased by 68 percent.

The census also counts the annual number of deaths in juvenile custody. 
OJJDP's 2003-04 annual report says 26 juveniles died while in custody, down 
from 30 in 2000 and 45 in 1994. Ten juveniles died as the result of 
suicide; six died by accident; six died from illness or natural causes; and 
two were victims of homicide by nonresidents. The causes of two deaths were 

Sitting In The Back Row

Some teachers and principals say they can predict which youngsters will end 
up in prison. Recently a first-grade teacher in a city school pointed to 
two boys, both scheduled to be held back because of immature behavior and 
low skills. "I know where they'll be in 10 years," she told me. "Sitting in 
a jail cell."

She might be right. In Practice: Employment and Delinquency

Most incarcerated juveniles have low literacy and marginal math skills. And 
most have been retained once or twice but still lag behind their classmates 
by two or more years. Look for kids who are "abandoned in the back row," 
says the Coalition for Juvenile Justice in its 2001 annual report. You're 
looking at kids who are at high risk of dropping out and entering the 
school-to-prison pipeline. (See "Keeping Kids in School," December 2002.)

Many of the kids in the back row are black, says Randall Shelden, who 
tracks incarceration trends for the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice 
(CJJ). A survey by the Department of Justice in the early 1990s estimated 
that a black male born in 1991 stood a 28 percent chance of going to 
prison; an update in 2003 put the odds at 33 percent.

Shelden has documented racial disparities throughout the juvenile justice 

* Rates of arrest, detention, and incarceration are highest for black 
juveniles, somewhat lower for Latinos, and lowest for whites.

* Minority juveniles are more likely to have their case petitioned to be 
before a judge, especially if the offense is drug related.

* Minority juveniles are eight times more likely than white juveniles to be 
detained for violent crimes and 10 times more likely to be detained for 
drug offenses.

* Black juveniles are more likely to be placed in lock-up facilities, 
regardless of the offense, than white juveniles.

Watch for girls in the back row as well. The number of girls sent to public 
juvenile institutions increased by nearly 50 percent during the 1990s, 
Shelden says. Girls are often detained and committed for status offenses 
and technical violations, such as breaking probation or disobeying court 
orders. In some instances, he reports, girls who haven't been charged with 
delinquent crimes are held in jails.

Shelden attributes the rising numbers of incarcerated girls to a 
"get-tough" attitude that has overtaken the juvenile justice system. 
Juvenile justice, he says, is becoming increasingly more punitive, often 
aiming to discipline youthful offenders rather than provide education and 

Closing The Revolving Door

Students who drop out "have one foot in the juvenile justice system," a 
parole officer told me recently. CJJ's statistics confirm it: Dropouts are 
three and a half times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested.

The incarceration rate is especially severe for students with learning 
disabilities and emotional disturbances. About 20 percent of students with 
emotional disabilities are arrested one or more times before they leave school.

The national reoffense rate for juvenile offenders is over 60 percent, 
which means that many kids keep spinning through the justice system's 
so-called revolving door.

Researchers Teara Archwamety and Antonis Katsiyannis looked for factors 
that predict juveniles' high recidivism rates. Their study of 505 boys ages 
12 to 18 who were committed to Nebraska's Youth Rehabilitation and 
Treatment Center found that boys with low academic skills in reading and 
math were twice as likely to be recidivists or parole violators than other 

But it is possible to stop the revolving door's spin, say Thomas Blomberg 
and George Pesta of Florida State University's school of criminology and 
criminal justice. Their study of 4,794 juveniles released from 113 
residential facilities across Florida shows that high-quality education 
programs "serve as a turning point in the life course" of many incarcerated 
delinquents. Blomberg and Pesta report:

* Juveniles in low/moderate risk programs who have high academic 
achievement and high daily attendance are more likely to return to school 
following their release and less likely to be rearrested.

* Juveniles in high/maximum risk programs who earn a high school or GED 
diploma while incarcerated are less likely to be rearrested.

* Juveniles with strong school attachment are more likely to return to 
school and stay away from crime.

Safe Passage Back To School

Juveniles released from custody need all the help they can get as they move 
"from the courthouse to the schoolhouse," say Ronald Stephens and June 
Arnette of the National School Safety Center.

Many students need help with practical matters, such as obtaining 
transcripts and transferring credits from correctional schools. And they 
need guidance and understanding from principals, counselors, and teachers 
as they rejoin classmates and resume their studies. Without steady support, 
Stephens and Arnette say, few juveniles make it through this "overwhelming 
adjustment period."

OJJDP's Cora Roy-Stevens recommends that schools and juvenile justice 
agencies work as a team to ensure safe passage for juvenile offenders 
returning to public schools.

Manhattan's School Connection Center is one example of what she has in 
mind. The center's criminal justice staff partners with school counselors 
and teachers on tasks such as processing kids' transcripts, assessing their 
academic skills, and placing them in appropriate courses and programs.

The Manhattan center has worked on behalf of 507 juvenile offenders 
eligible to return to their home schools, placing nearly 400 of them in 
local schools and GED and vocational programs. During the first four months 
of a recent study, their attendance rate was 70 percent; at the end of the 
year, 66 percent of the students were still in school.

Youthful offenders, Stephens and Arnette say, deserve "compassion on the 
part of adults who are charged with shaping the lives of young people and 
helping them achieve responsible citizenship." That compassion should apply 
to kids who return to finish school. But schools need to do more. They also 
need to offer compassion, help, and guidance to failing and troubled kids 
before they end up in the juvenile justice system.
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