Tag Archives: juvenile justice

Will Educators Lead Incarceration Reform?

Hundreds of thousands of people are released from state or federal prison every year, and nine million more leave local jails.  On the whole, very few people serve life sentences, and at least 95% of prisoners ultimately return home. 

In 2016, the Obama administration designated the last week of April as “National Reentry Week,” an attempt to bring public attention to the challenges facing people who return to their communities after incarceration. It doesn’t look like the Trump administration is upholding the designation — the Department of Justice’s site was archived — but last month, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unexpectedly visited a youth correctional facility. There she spoke about the role that high-quality education programs play in supporting successful transitions back to community life.

It’s time that educators took the lead in creating substantive policies to support previously incarcerated people as they rejoin their communities. For young people, the move from a secure school back to a community-based program is a crucial moment when students are at risk of losing their earned course credits, experiencing barriers to enrollment, and dropping out entirely. I’ve recently shared data on the importance of this transition. And, for the first time in history, this moment is called out in federal education law: The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to develop plans to support that transition. And not only is it in the law,  it even made it into the final federal template:

Screenshot via U.S. Department of Education ESSA template.

While this is big, we should also recognize that progress could be bolder; this section will not be evaluated in the official peer review process, and the guidance says simply that it “will be reviewed by staff at the Department.”

And the news coming out of states suggests that they aren’t taking full advantage of this opportunity either. Of the plans submitted so far, most describe goals and strategies for transition plans that are cursory and vague (or both). One describes a committee that is planning to develop a plan. Another gives staffing levels that are woefully insufficient to meet the need — one transition specialist for an entire agency. Almost all describe a lack of good assessment tools to properly track achievement. Of course, doing something is better than nothing. But the problem has rarely been that states are truly doing nothing, it’s that what they are doing doesn’t work. Researchers estimate that upwards of 60 percent of young people who are incarcerated will never successfully return to school.

This opens a unique opportunity for state education advocates to push their education leaders to do more. DeVos’s visit, coupled with the explicit language in ESSA and in the federal template, suggests that this discussion — long relegated to the dusty corners of corrections reform — may have finally, firmly found a foothold in federal education policy.

We Need Real Education Transition Policies for Incarcerated Students

Last month, I gave testimony before the California Senate Education Committee on SB 304, a bill to define the required elements of an education transition plan for a student leaving a juvenile court school and returning to a community-based school. Current California law requires agencies to coordinate a transition plan but doesn’t specify what needs to be in that plan. Some jurisdictions have developed robust policies and practices supporting integrated service provision and continuous care, but many have not, leaving already marginalized students to fend for themselves when their education is disrupted.

The outcomes aren’t good: incarcerated ninth graders may eventually return to school in their communities but within a year of re-enrolling, an estimated two-thirds to three-fourths drop out. After four years, less than fifteen percent of them will complete high school. Aside from hurting these students’ lives and opportunities, this pattern destabilizes communities, creates a drag on our economy, and affects the outcomes for the next generation of young people.

This bill defines the elements of a transition plan, including the most basic expectations like a portfolio of documents that includes current transcripts and results of academic assessments. Conveniently, this bill aligns perfectly with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which now requires states to provide transition plans that assist students moving from correctional facilities to locally operated schools. Continue reading

Dispatch from #EP2016

New Juvenile Justice Law Does a Lot for Students, But Not Enough

JJDPA is the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act. After sitting for more than a decade without authorization, it passed the House last week and now moves on to the Senate.

Originating in the Education and Workforce Committee, it’s touted as a big progressive reform. And it is in fact, it does far more for young people who are incarceratstudent-1647136_1920ed than this year’s federal education package, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). There are reasons to cheer for the new statute, but it still doesn’t do enough to ensure that kids who are locked up have the high-quality education experiences that they need in order to return to their communities as productive participants.

The Committee factsheet lays out the four general sections of the bill:

  • provisions to ensure the continuity of young people’s education while incarcerated;
  • clear guidance and directions for states and localities on how to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among incarcerated youth;
  • better reporting of important juvenile justice metrics to the Office of Juvenile Jus
    tice and Delinquency Prevention;
  • and provisions to ensure accountability in the use of federal resources devoted to juvenile justice initiatives.

(Unrelated to education, it also refines and strengthens important protections for children detained in the juvenile and adult systems by clarifying a number of judicial and correctional regulations and procedures.)

That first bullet point: “provisions to ensure the continuity of young people’s education while incarcerated” is both promising and disappointing. In fact, this statute doesn’t do much more than most of us probably assumed was already a well-established minimum standard. Continue reading

The Error of Our Ways: Education and Mass Incarceration

Originally published on Bellwether and The 74’s live blog of the DNC.

In 1996, Hillary Clinton, in support of her husband’s sweeping crime bill, gave an interview in which she invoked the “superpredator,” a criminal so corrupted that they were irredeemable. That narrative stoked the fear that has driven two decades of prison and jail expansion, militarized local police, and zero tolerance school discipline policies. But times have changed.

prison-370112_960_720In just the last few years, we’ve watched the tide turn in our national discourse on incarceration, and it’s clear that the speakers at last week’s convention have joined the call by Education Secretary John King and others to shift resources away from the criminal justice system and into our schools. It’s not just our federal leaders in a crisis of conscience, states, school districts, and charter schools are rethinking their approaches to student behavior. They’re spurred by a realization that they have been complicit in a broken system.

Dr. Maya Angelou once reflected, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” During the primary campaign, there were loud voices insisting that Hillary’s 1996 comments were fair game for criticism. And they were. But if we as a society take the principles of growth and redemption seriously, then we need to take a close look at what’s different about this campaign and how Clinton has changed in the last 20 years. If you believe in second chances, then that stuff matters.  

Hillary has spoken explicitly about racial justice, mass incarceration, and the need to invest in supportive services in communities. Kate Burdick, a long-time education advocate, Eric Holder, and the students of Eagle Academy, joined the lineup of speakers at the DNC last week to talk about Hillary’s focus on education and justice reform. And in his speech last Monday, Bernie Sanders credited Hillary Clinton with understanding that we need to make sure that young people “are in good schools and in good jobs, not rotting in jail cells.”

While Hillary shouldn’t be accountable for her husband’s policies, she is responsible for her own words — words that she now publicly regrets. If she follows that up with real action on education like her platform suggests, it could be a demonstration of the self-aware leader who does better once they know better and an example for us all.