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Education System in Juvenile Detention Centers

Posted by Sara Cooper | Jun 21, 2023 | 0 Comments

The juvenile justice system isn't anything juvenile or justice alike. Children become criminalized without agency, and the lack of research of juvenile detention centers makes it difficult to know where things are leading. According to the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, approximately 48,000 American kids were incarcerated in a private, state, or federal residential facility in 2015, the last year for which data is currently available. Despite being lower to past rates of incarcerated children, the foundation of juvenile punishment and the neglect that is apparent in these facilities is far much greater than its proof; it is seen as the normal.

With juvenile reform schools established in the 1800's, they became reliant as a means for free labor and bodies to defend the United States in ongoing wars. The state was whom owned children, reasoning this corporal punishment on youth as a means to promote “citizen education” for those that were already deemed as “lawbreakers” to the courts. Usually, those that were charged by the system did not have the right to due process, whose parents were not informed on their legal status in terms of crime, and could not be represented by a lawyer. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence today which is not legal to a minor's right. The cycle repeats of the depletion of constitutional protections that we see in criminal court for the general population.

A system that contributes to the adultification of children in order to decrease certain behaviors or violations in society has more so curated crimes for kids, making an issue out of actions that most children and teenagers do in their development. Brain science has proven in any article you can find online that mental and emotional development at a young age is not fully cognizant of the consequences. We all have made poor choices as kids, but that didn't mean we were evil or deserved to be charged as an adult. It's the part of learning and becoming better each day as we entered into adulthood.

As juvenile detention centers are already a war to engage with on receiving data and implementing programs that value humanization and support for those inside, tackling the education system in these facilities feels unknown on how to navigate it as a whole. It's essentially a disaster and there are many restrictions on how a child's information and their progress can be tracked and communicated through.

Earning an education while imprisoned has grace difficulties that are a big push on why recidivism exists. For one, there is a huge academic gap in how a student is gauged for their progress educationally. Typically, classes are grouped by age, not their levels of achievement, and teachers end up adjusting to whatever can work for everyone. The quality of the teaching is a second point to recognize with many materials not permitted to be in the facility and assorting to the bare minimum that hinders that experience youth have with gaining knowledge. This also means how sometimes paper, pencils, and handbooks are not easily available, and homework is almost a laughing stock in juvenile detention centers.

This gap is also contributed by the poor communication between the centers and school districts. When a child is convicted of a crime or held responsible for one, usually schools do not know about it due to confidentiality. It is to prevent scandal, but it also means that the school records of the child are not obtained by the detention center for long periods of time. Their education pathway is put into a flux, and it becomes more risky for those that would be eligible to be in special education programs. Many kids sent to facilities are disabled and youth of color, with systems that produce disparities in which affect how they are treated and their sentencing time. According to Korman and Pilnik from Education Week, students also have less access to credit-recovery opportunities—chances to quickly complete missing coursework for classes previously attempted—than their peers in community schools, even though they are likely to need them most. 

If kids are put into solidarity confinement, the value of learning becomes extremely daunting and unwarranted. The Atlantic put out an article regarding education while being in solidarity confinement for 23 hours of the day to the extension of months and how that impacts a person's perception of whether or not they would ever return the classroom and how it already places them in a position where the child already had a difficulty with education to begin with. Most of these students were already defined as complicated with teachers from outside places of confinement, regarding them as not knowing how to stay still in their chair, having frustration when not understanding a lesson, or having low participation levels compared to their classmates. To the school districts, this is seen as noncompliant and disruptive, labelling them as ones who need “assistance” from third parties – juvenile detention centers.

The abandonment of future generations and their wellbeing is understandably resulted with kids adjusting to the narrative that was given and built for them. The societal dynamic of adultifying children when they reach the age of 18 including giving access to sign up for the military, purchasing a gun, or agreeing to be contracted to student loans for college, it enforces an agenda of childhood being resented for as it is a temporary stage of life for all of us. Most of us do not put ourselves in the position of a child because sadly, were defined by how much we can relate to an adult at that young age. To punish youth beings more comfortability for the courts, school districts, and even parents as certainty has a greater influence than hope. As a society, we must envision a better future for children and prioritize their agency and needs as we do for adults.

According to the National Juvenile Justice Network, the U.S. Departments of Education (ED) and Justice (DOJ) laid out five guiding principles to provide high-quality education in juvenile justice secure care settings:

  • A safe, healthy, facility-wide climate that prioritizes education.
  • Necessary funding to support educational opportunities for all youth in long-term secure care facilities.
  • Recruitment, employment, and retention of qualified education staff with the necessary skill set for teaching in juvenile justice settings.
  • Rigorous and relevant curricula aligned with state academic and career and technical education standards that promote college and career readiness.
  • Formal processes and procedures to ensure successful navigation across child-serving systems and smooth re-entry into communities.

Noting the dilemma of how there isn't typically an exact sentencing that a child gets when being sent to a juvenile detention center, the reality of reentering into the outside is not certain as well. This step is often seen above the surface by these facilities, educators, and the community. You might only notice in a movie or in a show where someone is given their clothes that they entered the facility with and just get booted out. It's a little like that, but it's all the same where sometimes guidance from a traumatic period being incarcerated is nonexistent.

According to operated by the federal government, there are many factors that should be considered when planning for reentry. The literature confirms that successful reentry plans, services, and supports should address at least these five issues:

Family: What services and supports are needed to ensure family and home stability, skill development, and healing of damaged relationships?

Substance abuse: What are the services and supports that promote a reduction or cessation of substance use and/or abuse?

Peer association/friends: What services and supports need to be in place to promote positive use of leisure time, prevent gang involvement, and discourage association with peers engaged in delinquent activities? Learn more about positive youth development.

School conflict and achievement: What services are in place to promote the transference of educational records and placement in the appropriate school settings that will support educational success and achievement?

Mental, behavioral, and physical health: What services and supports are in place to address mental health, social/behavioral concerns, and/or chronic health problems?

To summarize, youth who are in these facilities have a battle that goes beyond receiving a promising education. Their form of survival as an individual is going against a system that never wanted to assist them in the first place. Minors are not meant to be sinking ships or ones that should penalized for trying to figure life out.

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