Education..Among other Disparities

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As an NJPC education advocate, I went into two prisons with intentions to focus on education and accommodations that need to made to assist those with special education needs. Upon exiting I had a list of other issues that needed to be addressed before we could even get into education. How can a youth who is incarcerated focus on education when their living conditions are sub-standard for an animal. How can one learn when they are constantly being sentenced to ad-seg/solitary confinement for minor infractions? They can’t. Youth who have been waived into adult facilities run a higher risk to being sentenced to the box while their inside. The cause of this can be contributed to the maturity level of the youth who have been waived up. Not only are they attempting to cope with their sentence, but they have also been compounded with the fact that they now have a cell mate who is twice or even three times their age.

Anyone who has been an adolescent understands that during these years one is trying to find himself/herself. ? Regardless of what one may think, these juveniles are still impressionable and susceptible to being manipulated by the adults who have been in the system longer or who have just lived longer and gained more experience. While a juvenile is adjusting to the changes in a facility that is comprised of a large percent of adults, the child does not understand/ know how to respond. When the response is atypical to that of an adult, juveniles are punished. In addition to juveniles who do not understand how to cope, there are correctional officers who also don’t understand how to handle them. When they do not understand how to handle juveniles, they treat them harsher than adults, after which they are sent to the box. In the box, there is no air conditioning (because many of these facilities are old), they do not eat (if the correctional officer does feel like it), there is not access to school (because teachers do not come to ad-seg), if they need mental/social services there is no confidentiality (because anyone comes to ad-seg requires an escort). These are just the basic rights that these juveniles have. If the law has decided to waive these children to adult facilities, isn’t proper training for correctional officers regarding juveniles the least they could do to safeguard sensible treatment? Isn’t it also the state’s responsibility as custodian to provide their basic rights? If juveniles are to be waived into adult prisons isn’t it the facility’s responsibility to ensure that they have proper education and accommodations? One would think, but this is not so.

Of the two prisons that I have visited, the juveniles either have a severely inadequate education system or nothing at all. Teachers are very limited (when they show up), and they only have training in one specialty. Therefore juveniles have teachers who are proficient in one area and one area only, but teaching them in various subjects; some teachers are only certified to teach for the GED. In many cases students are teaching themselves by reading from outdated books, or sitting at the computer using Rosetta Stone to complete their World Language requirement-a requirement to obtain a High School Diploma. In other instances, incarcerated youth are teaching one another. These lessons consist of a “certified peer” who has passed a Thought Proficiency Test and is deemed “certified” by the Department of Corrections to teach their peers.  If this method conducive to their learning, why hire teachers at all? Going further, why require any teachers both in and out of the justice system to go to school and earn a degree to teach when they can just take a Though Proficiency Test and teach our children? While many would believe this to be unthinkable, it is what is going on inside of correctional facilities. If it is not right for one, it’s right for NONE. Here at NJPC we are advocating for the rights of inmates as human beings, we are advocating for the right for a child to be a child and remain a child and not be forced to become an adult in an adult correctional facility.  We are advocating for the withstanding system that has been in place for juveniles to be eradicated. We are advocating for change with our youth in the juvenile justice system; the time for change was yesterday, but it can still be done now.