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Report: Education in Juvy Justice Needs Improvement

PHOTO: A new report that examines educational programs in juvenile justice facilities finds most are doing more harm than good. Photo credit: Microsoft Images
PHOTO: A new report that examines educational programs in juvenile justice facilities finds most are doing more harm than good. Photo credit: Microsoft Images
April 21, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - When you have a captive audience, there is great opportunity - but such opportunities are too often not taken advantage of. A new report from the Southern Education Foundation on educational programs in juvenile justice facilities across the country finds that most may be doing more harm than good, because of the missed opportunities in engaging young people who have been disconnected from education.

David Domenici, executive director of the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings, describes what he typically sees being offered.

"They are given handouts and dittos and crossword puzzles and fill-in-the-blanks and textbooks," he said. "They do that for an hour, or 90 minutes, and then they rotate, or someone else comes in and they continue doing that."

The report gathered federal and state data along with academic research. It also includes some success stories, such as the Maya Angelou Academy in Washington, D.C. Recommendations include educational assessments for each young person entering the system so materials can be tailored for them.

Domenici says almost every child in custody already is behind in school and many have learning disabilities that are complicated by abuse and neglect, and, sometimes, by drug use.

Domenici calls the opportunity during custody to reconnect kids to education "golden," because success in getting a high school diploma and more can lead to a better path economically and socially in adulthood.

"Really engaging teaching, really passionate people, can transform a young person's perspective of school," he said. "They can go from someone who's always hated school and failed at school to, instead, be someone who's succeeding at school."

According to the report, on any given day, there are about 70,000 young people in juvenile facilities nationwide. Most are serving time for offenses that used to be considered minor, such as mouthing off or disobeying at school. About 7 percent typically are there for drug offenses.

The report, "Just Learning: The Imperative to Transform Juvenile Justice Systems into Effective Educational Systems," is at SouthernEducation.org.

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD