Magazine article Corrections Today

Implementing Research-Based Best Practices in Juvenile Justice Education. (Juvenile Justice News)

Magazine article Corrections Today

Implementing Research-Based Best Practices in Juvenile Justice Education. (Juvenile Justice News)

Article excerpt

In 1998, the Florida Department of Education, which oversees the state's juvenile justice education system, awarded a discretionary grant to Florida State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice to generate and implement a research-driven system to guide the state in the development of best practices in juvenile justice education. The discretionary project was named the Juvenile Justice Educational Enhancement Program (JJEEP). The program's four major functions include:

* Conducting research that identifies the most promising educational practices operating in Florida's juvenile justice facilities with follow-up outcomes and longitudinal research that validate these practices as best educational practices;

* Conducting annual quality assurance reviews that ensure appropriate implementation of best educational practices into Florida's juvenile justice facilities;

* Providing technical assistance to continually improve educational programs in Florida's juvenile justice facilities; and

* Providing annual research-based recommendations to the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Legislature concerning juvenile justice education policies and practices that assist in the successful transition of youths back into their communities, homes, schools and work settings.

There are more than 200 different educational programs in Florida's juvenile justice system, making the research function of JJEEP particularly crucial given that the necessary knowledge base to guide effective educational practices in juvenile justice programs, or in public schools, is contradictory and inconclusive, at best. In fact, 100 leading researchers of the National Academy of Education met in October 1998 and concluded that they were a long way from being able to identify any standards and associated best practices to help teachers, policy-makers or researchers. These leading researchers could not even agree on how to distinguish good educational research from bad educational research. One of the conference's participating researchers claimed that the entire process of delineating education standards and associated best practices may be counterproductive because such delineation actually may discourage new and innovative teaching methods and insights. The conference closed by questioning whether th ey could build any consensus on educational research, standards and best practices, given the contradictory, fragmented and inconclusive results of available educational literature, according to the Education Week article, "National Academy Guides the Future of Education Research."

Typically, correctional treatment and educational programs, for both adults and juveniles, as well as educational programs for the general population, have been developed and promulgated nationally on the basis of common sense, political correctness and a "looks good, sounds good, feels good" approach to policy and program development. To generally conclude that new or innovative programs develop and spread rapidly with little or no research documenting their effectiveness is probably a fair characterization of both the corrections and education fields.

Nonetheless, and notwithstanding the lack of documentation of best educational practices in juvenile corrections, the need for such practices in juvenile justice facilities to prepare students for the ever-increasing challenges of a technologically driven society and associated job market has never been more urgent. Yet, research-validated curriculum, teaching strategies and methodologies to meet these ever-increasing demands remain ambiguous. Twenty-five years ago, the fields of juvenile and adult corrections were faced with a similar challenge in their offender rehabilitation efforts to change criminal and delinquent behaviors. Like today's inconclusive educational best practices literature, the correctional rehabilitation literature provided little help with its conflicting conclusions of "nothing works" (Martinson, 1974) to "everything works" (Genreau and Ross, 1979) to "some things work for some people, under some circumstances" (Palmer, 1975). …

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