Learning Behind Bars
Why doesn’t education in juvenile detention facilities get any attention or support?
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.
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: 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: