The Education Dept. and Justice Dept. release new guidance to help states improve the way the country’s 60,000 incarcerated juvenile are given K-12 instruction while they are behind bars.
The new Correctional Education Guidance Package builds on recommendations made earlier this year by the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, which called for changes to: “reduce unnecessary interactions for youth and to enforce the rights of incarcerated youth to a quality education.”
The package sets guiding principles for improving education for young people in correctional facilities and emphasizes the states’ obligations for educating students with disabilities in those facilities.
The more than 2,500 juvenile justice residential facilities across the country need support from federal, state, and local educational agencies, the guidance said. The broader juvenile justice system (particularly the juvenile justice agencies that oversee facilities) needs help. The services provided to juveniles in secure care facilities should be developmentally appropriate and focus on the youths’ educational, social-emotional, behavioral, and career planning needs so that their time within a secure care facility is a positive experience during which they attain new skills and move on to a more productive path.
The document emphasized funding. Jurisdictions must provide necessary funding to support educational opportunities for all youths within long-term secure care facilities, including those with disabilities and English learners, comparable to opportunities for peers who are not system-involved. They must also provide a safe, healthy facility-wide climate that prioritizes education, provides the conditions for learning, and encourages the necessary behavioral and social support services that address the individual needs of all youths, including those with disabilities and English learners.
The guidance admits the challenges are daunting, but not insurmountable. Many of the incarcerated youths have experienced abuse or neglect, unsafe neighborhood environments, homelessness, and/or involvement in the child welfare system. A large percentage of committed youths exhibit mental health conditions6 and have, historically, failed to receive mental health services. In addition, there are three to four times more students with disabilities who require special education and related services — such as those identified with emotional disturbance or specific learning disabilities — in the adjudicated youth population than among students in community schools, the guidance said.
The long-term commitment of juveniles is a dangerous path, the guidance said. Research provides compelling evidence of the negative effects on youths of long-term commitments to juvenile justice secure care facilities. For example:
- Experiencing incarceration as a youth greatly increases the likelihood of reoffending.
- Congregating youths adjudicated as delinquent together can negatively affect the behavior of the group and individuals, such as creating changes in attitudes toward antisocial behavior, foster affiliation with antisocial peers and identification with deviancy.
- Further, after leaving secure care settings, many youths do not return to school, and of those who do, many drop out before completing high school.
The guidance package includes the following components:
- A Dear Colleague Letter on the Civil Rights of Students in Juvenile Justice Residential Facilities clarifying how the federal civil rights laws that prohibit race, color, national origin, sex, religion, and disability discrimination against students in traditional public schools also apply to educational services and supports provided to youth in juvenile justice residential facilities.
- A set of Guiding Principles for Providing High-Quality Education in Juvenile Justice Secure Care Settings which outlines five principles and supporting core activities to improve education practices or implement new ones.
- A Dear Colleague Letter on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for Students with Disabilities in Correctional Facilities from Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services to clarify state and public agency obligations to provide incarcerated youth with classroom instruction.
- A Dear Colleague Letter on Access to Federal Pell Grants for Students in Juvenile Justice Facilities clarifies the extent to which confined youth may be eligible for the Federal Pell Grant Program.
Education Secy. Arne Duncan said that improving quality education for all offenders — but particularly younger ones — has proven to be one of the best methods for dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline.
“Students in juvenile justice facilities need a world-class education and rigorous coursework to help them successfully transition out,” Duncan said. “Young people shouldn’t fall off track for life just because they come into contact with the justice system.”