New Focus On Education For Juvenile Prisoners

Image courtesy www.azcourts.gov
Image courtesy www.azcourts.gov

By Christopher Zoukis

On December 8, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) released new guidelines, coined a “Correctional Education Guidance Package,” designed to enhance educational programming in juvenile detention centers. These guidelines have the potential to help many of the 60,000 juvenile prisoners who are currently in custody.

The state of educational quality and achievement in American juvenile detention centers is deplorable. According to a May 2014 report from My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, only 47 percent of incarcerated juveniles achieve any high school credits and only 6.6 percent succeed in obtaining a high school diploma or GED credential. To rectify this, as reported by the San Louis Obispo’s Renee School, “The report called for facilities to provide academic and job-related instruction tailored to students needs’ and comparable in quality to what they’d get in public schools.”

While the. DOJ provides guidelines and oversight to correctional facilities and the DOE provides the like to educational providers, both have a vested interest in programs that accept funding from their respective departments, such as juvenile justice centers. Often the offer to expand funding or the threat to rescind it is enough to make such programs comply with these departments’ wishes.

In a collective “dear colleague” letter to chief state school officers and attorneys general, the DOJ and DOE affirmed that juvenile prisoners should have access to “the same opportunities to meet the state’s challenging academic content standards and student achievement standards as they would if they were enrolled in the public schools of the state.”

As reported by Correctional News, problem areas addressed by the letter include “the transfer of education records, evaluation and identification of juveniles with learning disabilities, hiring and training of qualified personnel, development of individualized education programs, and the institution of appropriate disciplinary procedures.”

These objectives compliment President Obama’s goal of the United States having the highest percentage of college graduates by 2020 and all Americans having at least one year of post-secondary education bv that time, whether it be college or career education.

This also becomes a fiscal concern of the American people. Government Security News has reported, “The average cost to confine a juvenile is $88,000 per year — and a recent study showed that about 55 percent of youth were rearrested within 12 months of release.” With costs so high per juvenile in custody, it’s no wonder that America spends around $60 billion annually on corrections.

To those of us who study correctional education, we know that education is the key to jobs, and jobs to successful reentry back into society. With each additional level of education attained, the rate of recidivism reduces incrementally. This is due to both cognitive changes in the incarcerated student and enhanced job prospects post-release.

There are few groups of people in prison who deserve more of a helping hand than youth gone astray. These young people are those who society has largly failed; coming from broken homes, poverty, and crime-ridden communities. It’s about time that we offer them the same educational opportunities as their non-incarcerated, public school-taught peers. As Attorney General Eric Holder said in a rather compassionate statement, “At the Department of Justice, we are working tirelessly to ensure that every young person who’s involved in the system retains the quality education they need to rebuild their lives and reclaim their futures.” For the sake of our nation, we at prisoneducation.com hope that these words are more than political posturing, but a true commitment to change.

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