Enhancing the School Reentry Experience for Juvenile Offenders

By Tran, Shannon Quyen | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, December 2017 | Go to article overview

Enhancing the School Reentry Experience for Juvenile Offenders


Tran, Shannon Quyen, National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


Juvenile offenders are a population of 10- to 18-year-olds who have committed crimes (Offices of the United States Attorneys, 1998). More than 320 million youth are estimated to be in the U.S. juvenile justice system (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2015). Rehabilitation, in which they participate in treatment programs preparing them for a successful reentry into their community, is the primary goal for detained youth (Caldwell & Van Rybroek, 2005). Once they are back in their community, the focus switches to providing the necessary supports to prevent recidivism (Ochoa, 2016). Although the national data for recidivism rate among juvenile offenders are not available, it is well documented that juvenile offenders have a high risk of relapsing into criminal behaviors following their first arrest (Myner, Santman, Cappelletty, & Perlmutter, 1998). One important protective factor that contributes to the reduction in recidivism rate for youth in the juvenile justice system is access to education (Osher, Amos, & Gonsoulin, 2012). Therefore, the first priority upon release is reintegrating youth back into the school setting.

The transition from detention centers or correctional facilities to a community school can be overwhelming for youth who have been involved in the juvenile justice system. They face social and academic barriers that make it difficult for them to reintegrate into the school environment (Abrams & Snyder, 2010). It is important that systematic supports are set in place to address the wide range of barriers associated with school reentry for juvenile offenders (Hirschfield, 2014). The purpose of this article is to highlight the importance of a holistic, coordinated approach to transitioning youth from detention centers or correctional facilities to a school setting. Strategies designed to facilitate a transition process that promotes a successful school reentry experience for youth in the juvenile justice system will be provided.

BARRIERS TO SUCCESSFUL SCHOOL REENTRY

Postdetainment school enrollment and regular attendance can be instrumental in helping juvenile offenders avoid criminal activities that put them at risk for re-arrest (Joo & Jo, 2015). School is an appropriate context to cultivate the academic, behavioral, and social–emotional skills that are necessary to prepare juvenile offenders for a successful transition into adulthood (Stephens & Arnette, 2000). However, the transition process is not always easy. Juvenile offenders face great challenges upon their return to school (Hirschfield, 2014). The reintegration experience can be overwhelming for them due to their long period of absence and the ongoing challenges concerning academic readiness, mental health management, and social competence.

School readjustment. The prolonged period of absence from school can set juvenile offenders up for a difficult reintegration experience (Anthony et al., 2010). Upon their return, these youth are tasked with arduous responsibilities both inside and outside of the classroom. They have to catch up with learning in the classroom; refamiliarize themselves with the expectations and routines within the school environment; and reestablish relationships with their peers, teachers, and other staff members around the school. Most importantly, they have to figure out how to function independently in a less structured environment with a lower degree of intensive supervision (Stephens & Arnette, 2000). These demands can become a source of stress if consistent and appropriate systematic support is not available to help them navigate the readjustment period. The resulting stress can lead to school avoidance, which further reduces the probability of their remaining in school upon reentry.

Academic readiness. Youth who have a learning disability are more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system (Foley, 2001). They also have a higher probability of reoffending sooner upon release (Bullis, Yovanoff, & Havel, 2004; Zhang, Barrett, Katsiyannis, & Yoon, 2011). …

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