Roughly 60,000 teenagers currently reside in juvenile detention facilities across the United States. While detained, these young men and women are separated from their friends, family—and the schools which they had been attending.
A recent feature on the PBS Newshour takes a closer look at the importance of educating youth behind bars, focusing on the efforts being made at one facility in Lowell, Massachusetts.
“When you look at this population, they have been suspended multiple times, haven’t progressed very far in the educational system, dropped out, been expelled,” says Michael Thompson, the director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “And we wanted to make sure that when these kids are coming back to the community, we knew education was key.
Education standards for incarcerated youth vary from state-to-state, with many not requiring the same minimal standards for students inside the corrections system. Massachusetts is an exception to that, requiring the same levels of education for graduation, and offering a full slate of courses, including hands-on vocational training.
“They’re coming back to communities, says Lynne Allen, who runs the Judge John Connelly Detention Facility. “We want these kids to come out with the skills to succeed. And we know they can succeed, because they’re amazingly resilient.”
Caseworkers are assigned to each student, offering advice and making sure any grades and credits earned during detention properly transfer to whatever school they attend after leaving the facility.
“…[O]ur biggest goal is to find what makes them tick, what passions they have, and try to figure—help them figure out what path they want to take, so that they can go down a positive road, so that they’re not labeled and defined by whatever their charge is,” says education and career counselor Kelly McMorrow.
John Coady is a resident of the Connelly Detention Facility, and a recent graduate. Coady acknowledges there are additional challenges that come from being incarcerated, but that earning a degree is a start to turning things around. “Being locked up, you lose a lot of life experiences where you gain wisdom,” he says. “And if you can get your education in there, at least you will have something going for you.” Coady will be attending college in the fall where he will be playing football.
Education is but one hurdle that the incarcerated face upon release. In many cases, having a criminal record stands in the way of these men and women getting a job, finding a place to live, or being an active and contributing member of their communities. The Second Prison Project seeks to remove these hurdles and eliminate the “second prison” that prevents those with criminal records from being able to give back to society. To learn more about the Second Prison Project, and how you can get involved, visit https://secondprison.org/.