Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Why Doesn't Society Care About the Education of Incarcerated Youth - The Atlantic

Why Doesn't Society Care About the Education of Incarcerated Youth - The Atlantic:

Learning Behind Bars

Why doesn’t education in juvenile detention facilities get any attention or support?

In spite of some signs of improvement, fundamental disparities persist in youth incarceration. The number of youngsters in U.S. correctional facilities has been cut in half—a dramatic drop of 53 percent from 2001 to 2013—according to a Pew analysis of federal data. Still, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a child-advocacy group, found “in every year for which data are available, the overwhelming majority of confined youth are held for nonviolent offenses.” And children of color bear the brunt of juvenile-justice policies: Black children are nearly five times as likely, and Latino and Native American youngsters are two to three times as likely, to be incarcerated as are their white peers.

Similar inequities carry over to the learning that happens behind bars. Though confined young people are entitled to an education by law, the quality of the education they receive can vary greatly. The U.S. Departments of Education and Justice issued guidance to states in December 2014 to improve school programs in youth detention. But overall, the education of incarcerated youth is mostly ignored and poorly understood.
Among those working to bring greater visibility to the issue of schooling in juvenile-detention facilities is David Domenici, the director of the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings (CEEAS), a nonprofit devoted to improving teaching and learning at juvenile-justice schools. In 2013 CEEAS developed “Words Unlocked,” a nationwide poetry contest to amplify the voices and creative talents of incarcerated youngsters. After speaking recently at an education summit hosted by The Atlantic, Domenici offered additional thoughts on why educating students in juvenile facilities deserves more attention and support. The interview that follows has been edited for length and clarity.

Melinda D. Anderson: “Education is the civil-rights issue of our time” is a recurring catchphrase in education policy, until the topic turns to the civil rights of incarcerated youth. The notion that youth in juvenile detention are “bad kids” who deserve their fate—and thus that educating them is immaterial—is a philosophical hurdle that activists and others engaged in this work must constantly strive to overcome. How do we begin to combat the belief that these children are expendable?

David Domenici (CEEAS)
David Domenici: These are not bad kids—they are poor, they have failed at and been failed by our school systems, they are disproportionately kids of color, many are victims of violence and abuse, and they mostly live in under-resourced neighborhoods, wracked by violence and high unemployment. And yes, many are hard to work with, and some have done some bad stuff. [Yet] I was the principal at what’s now known as New Beginnings Youth Development Center (D.C.’s secure facility for adjudicated youth formerly known as Oak Hill Detention Center) for four years. Hundreds of kids passed through Oak Hill during my time there. Not one was white.

I don’t want white kids locked up either—but we have to be honest about this. About 98 percent were black, the rest Hispanic. Almost all of the kids came from a handful of poor, segregated neighborhoods. None attended the city’s magnet schools, or the one integrated, high-performing high school. How is this not a Why Doesn't Society Care About the Education of Incarcerated Youth - The Atlantic:

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