Approximately one third of homicides go unsolved in America. Almost sixty percent of reported rapes never result in prosecution (much less a conviction). And only slightly more than one in ten auto thefts are ever resolved. (All data from the FBI.) So maybe you should worry about what happens when your classmate is a former inmate, but probably not as much as you think. Or at least, only as much as you’re worrying about what happens when your classmate has committed a crime for which s/he was never arrested or convicted — because for every person who is prosecuted, many others are never caught. In other words: not much.
Hand-wringing aside, our policies are starting to catch up with the facts. Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced a proposal with a set of recommendations to minimize inquiries about conviction histories in the college application process in order to improve college access for those who have criminal records.
Many of our current policies are built on a false duality that divides the world neatly into good people and bad people: college students are good people and former inmates are bad people. Young people suspended from school through the operation of “zero tolerance” discipline practices are just kids caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline, but young people serving sentences in corrections facilities are criminals who need to learn a lesson. And this tidy set of categories helps us manage a reality that otherwise makes us very uncomfortable. Continue reading
This week is the inaugural National Reentry Week, designated by the U.S. Department of Justice to draw attention to the challenges faced by people returning to their communities after incarceration. Several agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and local law enforcement agencies are hosting events and announcing programs.
A 2013 federal study of individuals in state prisons (the largest group of incarcerated people) found that 94 percent of those adults who were nearing reentry identified education as a key need. For young people, the need is even deeper.
Here at Bellwether, I provide strategic advising support and policy guidance to school leaders across the country. The number one concern that I hear from leaders of successful schools and programs is “what happens when they leave us?” And I’ve talked to kids in juvenile justice schools all across the country who tell me that they feel like their teachers and programs have engaged them in ways that they never thought possible. It leaves them wondering, “why can’t I have this on the outs?” (When you’re inside the gates, “the outs” is shorthand for the life you left outside.) Continue reading
This week, the education technology community is gathering in San Diego, CA for the 2016 ASU GSV Summit, a conference that the New York Times calls a “must-attend event.” There’s one group of students who will get very little airtime during these three days — and who generally get little airtime at all: young people attending school in locked correctional facilities.
Educators, innovators, and investors tout the power of technology to personalize learning, provide access to real-world experience, engage students, and accelerate skill development — four things that incarcerated students need most and get least. Most schools in secure facilities have no internet access of any kind, and some of them do not allow students to use computers at all.* For anyone who’s seen the power of good technology used well, the contrast in these settings is heartbreaking.
There are good reasons to be cautious about deploying technology resources in secure facilities. The concerns holding up technology integration are real and serious, but they’re not trump cards.
An advocacy campaign is underway to close the 80 state-run youth prisons across the country and move young people into smaller local facilities. The Youth First Initiative has amassed a data set to – quite literally – put these 54,000 young people on the map. As a person who cares deeply about rethinking our criminal justice system, I support this work. But as an education policy leader, I’m at a loss. There is no data available that enable me to take an informed position about whether changing the way we house these young people will have a positive impact on the way that we educate them.
I can confidently tell you what my instinct says: facilities housing hundreds of kids in highly-restrictive spaces that are hundreds of miles away from their families is bad for academic outcomes. And you might take my word for it. But you shouldn’t because I don’t have any data to back that up. It’s within our capacity to base our decisions on more information – we simply don’t do it. Continue reading
Nationally, it’s estimated that nearly 66% of students who are released from juvenile court schools never return to local high schools. Many states are struggling to find strategies to intervene so that more justice-involved youth return to school after their incarceration. As with most thorny education policy challenges, the first question that smart leaders typically ask is “who’s doing this well?” and they go from there. What should they do when the answer is “no one”?
In 2015 I was appointed to the California Statewide Transitions Work Group, convened under AB2276 to make recommendations to the state legislature for policies to improve the educational experiences of youth returning to local schools after incarceration. The report hasn’t yet been publicly released so I’m not in a position to share much about the substance of it – but as it winds its way through the state Department of Education’s approval and revision pathway, I’ve been reflecting on the lack of reliable data and information about justice-involved youth and how that impacts our ability to make good decisions. Continue reading