Reclaiming Incarcerated Youths through Education. (Juvenile Justice News)

Article excerpt

In his highly acclaimed novel Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, journalist Ted Conover takes readers on a compelling journey into one of American's best-known prisons: Sing Sing. He describes a famous prison warden who was outspoken and opinionated regarding the penal system. The warden wrote books and magazine articles, and appeared in newsreels during the 1920s and 1930s to inform the public that incarceration does not cure criminal behavior. Conover describes one such newsreel in which the warden is sitting in his office surrounded by young inmates and says, "From my desk within the walls of Sing Sing, I see daily the constantly increasing numbers of boys and young men who are committed to prison. A very great proportion could be made into law-abiding, resourceful citizens. ... You may be shocked by their youth, yet they are typical of the small army of young men that make up a major proportion of the population of our prisons. ... We have come to the aid of our savings banks, we have organized to save our fore sts, why haven't we some plans for youths that will take our young people off the road, that road which leads them, year after year, in a constant procession, to the gates of our prisons?"

After six decades, how far have young people been led off the road? Has America fully embraced efforts to improve the lives of incarcerated youths? Every day millions of teenagers go to school eager to achieve their goals and attain the American dream. Little attention is given to the thousands of youths who march off to schools behind bars in juvenile detention or correctional centers. The public forgets that these youths are entitled to a free American education despite their adjudication in the criminal justice system.

This article describes a few of the inherent complexities in addressing the educational needs of incarcerated youths. From the halls of justice to prayer circles of spiritual healing, four layers of a multifaceted correctional education process are presented: judicial, legal, instructional and spiritual.

Who Are These Youths?

Sandra S. Stone gives an up-todate snapshot of the demographics of juvenile offenders in the Juvenile Justice article, "The Changing Nature of Juvenile Offenders." She reports the following findings from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP) Program of Research on the causes and correlates of delinquency:

* For minor delinquency, offending begins around age 7 and plateaus from age 9 to 13, rises steadily to age 17 for boys and 15 for girls, and then drops.

* Nonviolent serious delinquency also begins around age 7 and plateaus at age 9. For boys, it plateaus again around age 12, and continues rising through age 19. For girls, it plateaus again from age 13 to 15, then declines.

* Violent offending for boys begins around age 7, then increases steadily from age 8 to 19. For girls, violent offending peaks around age 13, then declines.

* While boys are more apt to commit delinquent acts than girls, the number of delinquent girls is increasing at a faster rate.

An overrepresentation of minority youths in secure facilities, jails and lockups exists in America, and the proportion of minority youths in confinement exceeds the proportions such groups represent in the general population. This sociological phenomenon is referred to as disproportionate minority confinement.

Minority populations are defined as African-Americans, American Indians, Asians, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders. According to Howard Snyder, director of systems research at the National Center for Juvenile Justice, "The racial composition of the juvenile population in 1997 was approximately 80 percent white, 15 percent black and 5 percent other races, with juveniles of Hispanic ethnicity being classified as white. In 1997, in contrast to the proportions in the general population, 53 percent of juvenile arrests for violent crimes involved white youths and 44 percent involved black youths. …