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  • Kimia Hosseinkhani

Educating incarcerated youth

When addressing the development of our society’s youth, our go-to advice is “stay in school.” However, when it comes to incarcerated juveniles, we are not as vigilant in advertising education and its benefits. Incarcerated juveniles consist of children and young adults who are detained in correctional facilities. Some facilities that confine these juveniles are operated publicly, while the rest are operated privately. Educating incarcerated juveniles is necessary because not only does it result in significant positive outcomes, it also prevents negative ones. These outcomes include an overall mentally healthier and educated society, the creation of pathways for success post-confinement and lower recidivism rates.

According to the 2020 Juvenile Residential Facility Census, the most recent public data, 25,014 juveniles were incarcerated across the United States. According to the same Census, out of the 1,179 facilities that report their procedure for the Census results, 144 do not evaluate or report their juveniles’ education needs. That is over 12% of facilities that fail to take measures that allow them to meet juveniles’ educational needs. 

Although the 2020 Juvenile Residential Facility Census only considers juveniles up to 21 years old, research has shown that an adolescent brain does not fully develop until the mid-to-late 20s. Specifically, the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for planning, prioritizing and making good decisions, is one of the last parts of the brain to mature. Given this timeline, providing juveniles with proper educational opportunities is crucial for their development. These opportunities should not be limited to a basic education that results in a GED certificate. Certain states have implemented higher education programs that allow juveniles to enroll in college-level courses while incarcerated. Utah, for example, has teamed up with Dixie State University to provide juveniles with a higher education program. California has mandated that juveniles with a high school diploma or equivalent be provided with access to public postsecondary academic and career technical courses and programs offered online. Although the gradual progress towards higher education and college-level courses is beneficial, recent trends call for an even wider necessary access to technical skills development. Many companies and middle-class job opportunities are moving away from degree requirements and toward skill-based hiring. Recently, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Utah have stopped requiring a four-year degree for most jobs in their state government. The private sector has also moved toward skill-based hiring, with Delta, General Motors, Google, Apple and IBM, among others, dropping the B.A. prerequisite for many positions. Given the recent trends in the job market, juvenile facilities need to integrate skills-based training and opportunities to prepare juveniles for successful re-entry. 

Recidivism is the rate at which former offenders re-offend. Lower recidivism rates often contribute to successful rehabilitation and re-entry programs. Lower recidivism rates also mean lower crime rates. When juveniles re-enter society with the proper skills and resources, they are better equipped to lead law-abiding lives and avoid their prior delinquent activities. One of the most effective ways to lower recidivism rates is through education. According to a 2018 study conducted by the Department of Justice, about 68% of incarcerated individuals released from state prisons in 2005 were rearrested within three years. However, with the implementation of post-secondary educational programs, 48% are less likely to be reincarcerated than their peers who do not. Another factor that plays an important role in recidivism is employment. Specifically, post-release employment rates increase by 12% for individuals who participate in any type of correctional education. Employment provides resources and incentives for formerly incarcerated individuals to continue a law-abiding lifestyle. However, proper skills and education are needed to acquire employment. Similar to a 3-part formula, education plus employment will equal a lower recidivism rate. 

Overall, education is key to the successful re-entry of juveniles. Due to the developing nature of adolescence, education sharpens and further matures delinquent juveniles. The increased demand for educational degrees and skills-based occupations emphasizes the need for juvenile educational programs. Educated and skilled juveniles are more successful in re-entering society and are less likely to re-offend.

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