Juvenile Justice Schools Do More Harm Than Good, Study Finds

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Education programs in juvenile justice systems across the United States are not providing incarcerated youth with the skills and education they need to reenter school and society, a report from the Southern Education Foundation finds. The report,Just Learning: The Imperative to Transform Juvenile Justice Systems Into Effective Educational Systems, found that, instead of being helped to turn their lives around, the seventy thousand youth enrolled in juvenile justice education programs on any given day – nearly two-thirds of them males of color – are falling further behind. In 2009, for example, incarcerated youth who were enrolled for at least ninety days in a juvenile justice education program failed to make any significant improvement in learning and academic achievement. Incarcerated youth in smaller facilities near their communities actually made less progress than youth enrolled in state systems, especially in southern states, where the proportion of youth enrolled in local facilities increased from 21 percent in 2007 to almost 60 percent in 2011. Part of the problem, the study found, is that such programs provide limited support for youth with serious learning and emotional problems.

The study also highlights successful programs that use approaches that have proven to be effective for many high-risk students, as well as research on an innovative program in Chicago which demonstrates that cognitive behavior therapy resulted in a 44 percent reduction in violent crime arrests as well as improvement in school attendance, GPA, and persistence among participants.

“The juvenile justice education programs that serve hundreds of thousands of students are characterized by low expectations, inadequate supports to address student needs, and ineffective instruction and technology,” said Southern Education Foundation vice president Steve Suitts, who authored the study. “Students come out of the juvenile justice system in worse shape than when they entered, struggling to return to school or get their lives back on track.”