- With a 2015 survey by the Council of State Governments Justice Center showing that only 13 states provided educational services for students inside juvenile justice facilities that were comparable to services for students in regular school facilities, more states are moving toward online instruction and blended learning models to help students in juvenile facilities earn diplomas, according to the Hechinger Report.
- In Illinois, data reveal that the number of students in state juvenile facilities dropped from 901 at the end of 2012 to 386 in 2017. However, the number of diplomas awarded have increased during that time.
- While some critics fear that too much online instruction can take the priority off classroom relationships, inhibit direct instruction and limit the quality of instruction, other educators feel that the model allows students to focus on gaining needed credits in a small class setting and that gaining a diploma reduces recidivism rates and increases the student’s chances of success once they are released.
While most schools are looking at alternative forms of discipline in efforts to disrupt the “school-to-prison” pipeline, such as restorative justice practices, there are still circumstances where time in a juvenile justice facility is warranted. Though these students may be paying for crimes they have committed, they need a quality education as well. In fact, the impact of a quality education may have even more impact on these students if it offers them a better way to navigate the world in the future. In the past, the quality of educational programs in these facilities has been questioned, and those questions continue in some states today.
States are dealing with improving the odds for these students in different ways. The Illinois Juvenile Justice Center has experimented with partnering with community colleges to offer summer courses. In California, some counties have hired juvenile detention transition specialists to help students ease into regular education or alternative programs after their sentence ends. The rules are changing again under the new Every Student Succeeds Act. These guidelines are designed to help improve instruction in juvenile justice facilities and aid in re-entry efforts afterwards.
Of course, schools can still implement policies and strategies that are less punitive and may keep students out of the juvenile justice system. Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy has developed a paper outlining some other alternatives to suspension. And the Education Commission of the States released a policy snapshot earlier this year outlining how states across the nation are addressing the issue.