Study Highlights Little State Oversight of Educational Services Provided to Incarcerated Youth

November 17, 2015

By the CSG Justice Center Staff

A first-of-its-kind report released today by The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center found that most incarcerated youth do not have access to the same educational services as their peers in the community, and little accountability exists to ensure educational standards are met in lock-up.

The report, “Locked Out: Improving Educational and Vocational Outcomes for Incarcerated Youth,” reveals that despite spending between $100,000 and $300,000 per incarcerated child in secure facilities, only 13 states provide all incarcerated youth with access to the same types of educational services that students have in the community. Meanwhile, only nine states offer community-equivalent vocational services to all kids in lock-up.

MikeT“On average, what states spend on these kids while they are locked up is at least three times the cost of a Harvard tuition,” said Michael Thompson (pictured left), director of the CSG Justice Center. “Policymakers making this level of investment should be asking what type of education they expect to be provided to these youth.”

While most youth incarcerated 10 years ago were in facilities operated by state government, nearly two-thirds of youth locked up in the U.S. today are held in facilities operated by local government agencies or nonprofit or for-profit organizations.

The survey, conducted by the CSG Justice Center and in partnership with the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, asked leaders in each state: Who is responsible for educating kids incarcerated in this patchwork of institutions? The report found that in more than 80 percent of states, no single state agency is charged with this authority, leaving an absence of leadership and, ultimately, accountability for ensuring youth make sufficient progress towards college and career readiness. The report also found:

  • Fewer than one in three states is able to document what percentage of youth released from a juvenile correctional facility subsequently obtain a high school diploma;
  • In nearly half of the states, it is up to the parent or guardian of the youth, or perhaps a community-based organization advocating on his or her behalf, to get that young person enrolled in a public school or another educational setting after his/her release from a correctional facility;
  • In more than one-third of states, youth released from a facility are automatically enrolled in an alternative educational setting, which often do not meet state curricular and performance standards and suffer from lower graduation rates that traditional public schools.

aefcb20a-df40-44b8-afaa-52d1b3e78b55“This report shines a light on a group of youth who, for most people, are out-of-sight, out-of-mind,” said Susan Burke (pictured right), director of Utah’s Juvenile Justice Services. “For the first time, it’s clear that more state oversight is warranted to ensure all youth receive the necessary educational services they need to succeed later in life. I’m looking forward to working with leaders in the education community to figure out what we do about this important problem.”

On any given day, there are about 60,000 youth incarcerated in the U.S. This report examines the more than half of these young people—two-thirds of whom are black or Latino—who have been committed to the custody of the state, on average for three to 12 months. Incarcerated youth overall tend to be several grade levels behind their peers, more likely to have an educational disability, and have been suspended multiple times and/or expelled from local schools.

“Measurement and accountability have been the hallmarks of the public education system,” said Kent McGuire, president and CEO of the Southern Education Foundation. “But those values haven’t been applied as rigorously to the education provided to kids who are incarcerated. Educationally, these kids have fallen way behind their peers. It’s hard to think of a group of youth more acutely in need of educational services.”

The report also offers a host of recommendations focused on ensuring all incarcerated youth have access to the same educational and vocational services as their peers in the community, collecting and reporting student outcome data for youth incarcerated, and improving continuity of educational services after a youth is released from incarceration.

“With the progress we’ve already seen from states lowering their juvenile incarceration rates, it’s important that attention shift to improving services to help ensure these kids are not just reentering society, but succeeding in it,” said Michael Lawlor, undersecretary of Criminal Justice Policy and Planning for Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and chair of the CSG Justice Center. “Every state can learn from this national report and the recommendations it provides.”

The report is a product of the National Reentry Resource Center, a project of the CSG Justice Center, and was made possible through funding from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, and developed in partnership with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and Prevention.

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