STAFF BLOG: Addressing the Educational Needs of Students in the Juvenile Justice System—Nicholas Demetriou, Correctional Education Coordinator
By: Staff Blogger
Like many states, Ohio is examining the way it approaches juvenile justice. Specifically, the Ohio Department of Education is looking at how we educate students involved in the juvenile justice system. The quality and type of education students receive while in juvenile detention are just two areas where we are beginning to see steady improvement. The importance of educating students involved in the juvenile justice system is clear. Money spent educating students in the system is a good investment and leads to a reduction in recidivism — the number of people who return to criminal activity.
While all high school graduates may face obstacles, imagine how much worse the obstacles facing students in the juvenile justice system can be. According to the Ohio Department of Youth Services, 47 percent of students placed in juvenile detention facilities need special education. This percentage is much higher than those students needing special education in Ohio’s traditional public school districts. As of 2017, the Ohio Department of Youth Services added a variety of educational services that give students the opportunity to earn their high school diploma or GED or participate in apprenticeships. Research shows that individuals leaving the juvenile justice system with a high school diploma or a GED is the single most effective tool to combat recidivism.
For more than 10 years, there has been a concerted effort to decrease the number of juveniles in secured detention. The Annie E. Casey Foundation believes juvenile justice, “can be smarter, fairer, and more efficient… that thoughtful, comprehensive reforms can reduce unnecessary or inappropriate confinement, improve public safety, redirect public funds to more positive youth development endeavors, and, in the long term, improve the odds that delinquent youth become productive adults.”
That brings us to the question, what can we do in Ohio to make the Annie E. Casey Foundation statement a reality? In 2014, former U.S. Department of Education Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder promoted a set of characteristics for providing students with a high-quality education in juvenile facilities. In a broad sense, these characteristics included:
- Recruitment of qualified and dedicated staff;
- Curricula that aligns with the local district and promotes postsecondary school readiness;
- Proper funding for educational programs and support services;
- Effective transitional services;
- A trauma-informed staff and environment.
While these characteristics were for the nation as a whole, Ohio also created its own plan for improving juvenile detention education through our state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Ohio’s plan includes the creation of a position for a corrections state coordinator at the Department. Under the plan, each school district must have a local liaison who will act as a point of contact for juvenile justice education concerns. The plan also includes a commitment to improving juvenile justice education in the state of Ohio. Specifically, we are creating a strategy for improved communication and coordination between all stakeholders working with justice-involved youth and education.
While some detention facilities in Ohio have excellent coordination between the facility and local school districts, others do not. The plan calls strengthened relationships among those distinct systems. The plan incorporates relevant strategies such as trauma-informed practices and improved data collection and use related to children and youth in the programs.
In the past, the educational needs of juveniles placed in detention facilities were overlooked. Building relationships with juvenile facilities was not a priority for school districts. The districts may not even have been aware that the students lived in their districts because the students never officially enrolled in the districts.
This disconnect between detention facilities and districts also makes it difficult to transfer credits earned by the students. Imagine dedicating yourself to your studies for the first time in your life only to learn months later that the credits you earned in the juvenile facility are worthless in your home school district.
You can read more about Ohio’s ESSA plan here. Contact me, the Department’s new correctional education coordinator, with questions about correctional education for juveniles. Currently, I am working with correctional facilities across Ohio to make sure justice-involved students are receiving the same opportunities as students in Ohio’s traditional school districts.
Nicholas Demetriou is the Department’s correctional education coordinator. He has worked with at-risk youth in alternative learning communities as both a teacher and administrator.