Michigan is one of only five states that treat 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, which harms not only those young people being jailed but also local communities and the state economy.
After years behind bars at Kern Valley State Prison and the state lockup in Chino, California, Martin Leyva had grown accustomed to the brutal violence and volatility of prison life. Showing up for his first day of college following his release, on the other hand, was truly frightening.
If we believe education is a civil right that improves society and increases civic engagement, then the purpose of prison education shouldn’t be about training people to develop marketable skills for the global economy. Instead, learning gives us a different understanding of ourselves and the world around us, and it provides us tools to become more empathetic.
As the labor market tightens in our expanding economy, companies will need workers. And people returning to society from prison need jobs. Keeping potential employers and employees apart is fear, lack of understanding, and about 20,000 statutes and regulations across the country that restrict the hiring of ex-offenders.
Regardless of the state’s structure, students in juvenile facilities should not be left behind. The Every Student Succeeds Act gives states the flexibility to rethink how juvenile justice schools might be included in a state’s accountability plan in a way that takes into account the unique context of the facilities and student population.
Heather Griller Clark was a teacher for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, which operates its own one-school district at Adobe Mountain. Its teachers are all Arizona-certified and subject to the same requirements as public school teachers outside the fence for core content areas. Some are certified in vocational education, and those are the teachers Griller Clark is working with to improve the odds of success for youths who leave Adobe Mountain.
Environmental training programs can play a major role in transforming both the prison system and the communities most affected by the system. A prime example is San Quentin’s Insight Prison Garden Program. San Quentin partners with Planting Justice to provide master gardener training to inmates while they’re incarcerated, as well as to offer job placement after release.
In Denver, Colorado, Mile High WorkShop wants to be the first employer of record for a string of former inmates. Inside a 12,000-square-foot warehouse, those employees handle woodworking, sewing, and order fulfillment, and they manufacture ceramic components. In just two years, 50 people have moved through the company, with half finding permanent employment; just two have reoffended.
In a 2014 study by the National Endowment for the Arts called The Prison Arts Resource Project, the authors conducted an evaluation of 48 evidence-based studies that evaluated the impact of arts programs in U.S. prisons. Many of the studies found that inmates who participated in arts programs showed significant increases in motivation, self confidence, self-esteem, and work ethic.
To date, none of the participants in the reentry program have been rearrested for a new offense and some have even gone on to attend college said Ashley Rohm, coordinator for the Cumberland County Adult Reentry Program. “These are people who came from our community and will be returning to our community,” she said. “Why wouldn’t we want to help them?”
Participants in workforce development courses will learn to write resumes and conduct mock interviews.
There is a national effort to transform schooling in juvenile education centers. Increasingly, officials are realizing that incarcerated youth are in a unique position to buckle down and focus on school.
Through the program, non-violent, low-risk ex-prisoners are taught to fight wildfires and undertake fire prevention tasks, building on an initiative that has been offered to inmates for more than 25 years.
Former visitation rooms have been converted into classroom spaces inside the detention center, and new exterior buildings are nearing completion. “Our goal is to have those areas occupied on at least a four- to five-hour basis daily, for inmates to be able to go to those programs,” Captain Chris Fly said.
Sheriff Loera said he has been in law enforcement for more than 40 years and believes this is one of the most successful programs he has seen. “I would encourage any county to get involved in a program like this. It works and it’s going to have a big payoff in the end.”
Edward Bohna says his job is just like that of any other principal, except his students serve time — including life sentences — for crimes ranging from assault and armed robbery to murder.
A new Illinois law gives a break to ex-offenders who finish high school and other courses while incarcerated by allowing them to apply to have their criminal records sealed without waiting years to begin the process.
Already, students reported feeling motivated and confident after completing the first course. “Next I’m going to work on my GED,” one even says.
The Justice Department announced today that it will award grants totaling $53 million to 45 jurisdictions, to reduce recidivism among adults and youth returning to their communities after confinement.
The Council of State Governments issued its School Discipline Consensus Report last week. It comes on the heels of a mountain of research on the “school to prison pipeline.” It is one more significant step in clarifying the practice of school discipline.