Improving the Odds: For Incarcerated Youths

By O'Rourke, Tom | Corrections Today, February 2003 | Go to article overview

Improving the Odds: For Incarcerated Youths


O'Rourke, Tom, Corrections Today


Recently, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice received a letter that pointed out the many new developments in the area of education at the Augusta Georgia Youth Development Campus. After reading the letter, it became apparent what people may see as they visit other similar sites throughout Georgia:

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* Students actively engaging in course work correlated to the Georgia Quality Core Curriculum;

* Students being prepared to pass state tests to meet high school graduation requirements;

* State-certified teachers preparing individualized lesson plans for each student in the classroom;

* A new textbook, recently adopted by DJJ teachers, to best meet students' unique learning needs;

* Students actively engaging in quality vocational courses taught by certified Department of Technical and Adult Education teachers;

* Instructors teaching work skills in high employability occupations;

* More than 40 percent of students in smaller classes because they have been identified as having special needs--students in these classes are receiving special education services by certified teachers to address their identified needs;

* Students reading below a sixth-grade level enrolled in an individualized reading program designed to remediate reading deficiencies;

* Students using the newly developed curriculum activity packets to prepare them for the GED;

* A distance-learning Spanish class preparing students to meet the academic requirements for their high school diploma;

* Library facilities containing a wealth of educational resources and high-interest reading materials available to students;

* Computers on teachers' desks connected to the DJJ intranet for use with educational management and student tracking; and

* School counselors working with students on conflict resolution or reviewing their transcripts and student portfolios to help them smoothly transition back into the community.

It is certain that visitors to these campuses would be impressed by the comprehensive plan in place to meet the needs of the youths committed to this educational program. Georgia's DJJ program is focused on youths and it is seamless, comprehensive and consistent statewide.

The Framework for Georgia's DJJ Educational Reform

Has it always been this way? A letter to then-Gov. Zell Miller on Feb. 13, 1998, from the U.S. Department of Justice best answers this question. It was in this letter that DOJ issued findings that concluded that certain conditions in the state's juvenile justice facilities violated particular constitutional and federal statutory rights of juveniles. Shortly thereafter, the state of Georgia and the federal government, through good faith negotiations, reached a Memorandum of Agreement of provisions to ensure compliance with federal law and constitutional standards.

DJJ Commissioner Orlando Martinez laid out plans for making changes to the current juvenile justice system. Central to this plan was his support of education. He stated. "If there is a silver bullet for dealing with delinquency, it's education.... Mental health services, counseling services and security ought to support the basic foundation ... education." This article focuses on the educational portion of his plan, Educational Services for Incarcerated Youth.

DJJ students, who may be in the system for as little as one day or longer than five years, provide many unique educational challenges not usually faced in the normal school setting. These students often come from dysfunctional homes; have poor academic records; experience learning, emotional and behavioral problems; dislike school; and have low self-esteem.

It was not long ago that teachers were asking: With the wide variety of students and transient population, how do we provide a quality program that meets each individual's needs? …

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