The Double Jeopardy of Juvenile Detention

Georgetown Public Policy Review

By Krista O’Connell

Youth who have served time in the juvenile justice system face a double punishment: not only do they serve their sentence, but they are also less likely to graduate from high school or go to college because of that sentence. Each year in the US, approximately 100,000 young people are released from private, state, and locally-run juvenile correctional facilities, group homes, or, in some cases, adult prisons and jails. This population faces numerous obstacles when trying to reenroll in school, despite the fact that reenrolling in school is critical for helping them get back on track. In order to provide an equal opportunity for formerly incarcerated youth to succeed, schools and the juvenile justice system should work together to ease a student’s transition back into school; specifically, a student’s home school should not be permitted to deny them the opportunity to reenroll.

Two-thirds of youth don’t attend school after being released from the justice system. Many have been suspended or expelled from school because of their crime, while others have already dropped out. Formerly incarcerated young people face many barriers to education, which include receiving a substandard education while incarcerated, delays in transferring education records from the detention center, and difficulties with the reenrollment process. These difficulties are compounded by the fact that many of these young people also live in poverty, have been victims of child abuse or neglect, may already be behind in school, and/or live in bad neighborhoods. Furthermore, one-third of youth who have experience with the juvenile justice system need or already receive special education, yet the obstacles they face compromise their legal right to a “free and appropriate public education.”

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