Education programs for incarcerated youth are a low priority for states faced with budget problems.
Public concern is growing as the rate of juvenile crime increases. In 1991, juveniles were responsible for one in five violent crimes and committed 14 percent of all robberies and 21 percent of all assaults.65 The U. S. Justice Department reported in 1995 that it expects the juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes to double in 15 years. The current murder rate among teens has risen 165 percent in the past decade, according to the department.66
In 1990, over 680,800 juveniles under the age of 21 were admitted into traditional juvenile facilities such as detention centers, reception centers, training schools, and ranches. In 1991, there were 984 such facilities in the United States.67 Seventeen percent of juveniles confined in these settings were held in privately operated facilities.68 Eighty-eight percent of the incarcerated juvenile population is male.69
Because most juveniles are confined for relatively short periods, the population of incarcerated youth72 in institutional facilities on any given day is roughly 63,000 juveniles.70 An additional 29,214 juveniles in custody are housed in 2,224 shelters, halfway houses, and group homes. These alternative facilities are physically unrestricted environments allowing nonviolent juveniles extensive access to the local community. Eighty-four percent of shelters, halfway houses, and group homes are privately operated.71 (See Table 4).
State compulsory education laws requiring children to attend school until a specified age also apply to adjudicated and incarcerated youth.72 Private facilities, either nonprofit or for-profit, are subject to governmental licensing and regulations, but are otherwise privately owned and operated. The educational program in private facilities is usually provided by the facility operator, according to industry officials. In unrestricted environments, such as shelters, halfway houses, and group homes, students in some cases attend public schools.
In general, almost all juveniles are held in facilities providing basic educational services. The quality, however, varies greatly, with some facilities using classrooms only to warehouse students and others providing comprehensive individualized assessment and instruction.74 A U. S. Department of Justice survey found that most facility administrators believed improvements were needed in their educational programs.75 Little, if any, comprehensive research exists describing the outcomes and results of educational programs within juvenile facilities. A 1994 U. S. Department of Justice report recommends that "such a study be undertaken in order to better evaluate the capacity of educational programs in juvenile confinement facilities to serve [educational] needs. . . ."76
The same U. S. Justice Department report stated, "Although there is extensive anecdotal and experiential evidence on the educational deficiencies . . . of juvenile offenders, we have no systematic empirical data on confined youths educational or treatment needs and problems. Thus, we cannot determine whether facilities provide appropriate programs or whether juveniles make progress during confinement."80
According to Peter Leone, a juvenile corrections researcher at the University of Maryland, education programs for incarcerated youth are a low priority for states faced with budget problems. Says Leone, "the programs are highly variable with regard to both the skills young people learn and the resources to do the job. . . . In places, such as parts of the midwest, where there is a strong tradition of education, they have a pretty good program in correctional education." But, he says, "many abysmal programs continue to operate because theres no systematic oversight."81 Few states systematically collect longitudinal data on recidivism rates for juvenile offenders. Without such information, sentencing officials cannot determine which placements would be most effective at rehabilitating a particular juvenile. Furthermore, the absence of data about juvenile outcomes means providers (both public and private) face less competitive pressure to produce the desired results since they continue to receive referrals regardless of their performance.
Adjudicated and incarcerated youth present special problems for educators. They often have a prior history of truancy and test significantly below grade level. Many have been diagnosed with learning, behavioral, or other disabilities. Some 10,400 students in correctional facilities receive special-education services under federal law.82 Incarcerated youth may lack skills in moral reasoning. Many have been incarcerated because of their violent behavior; for educators, this means taking extra precautions. One federal study noted, for example, that educators often did not permit their students to take pencils outside the classroom, fearing they would be used as weapons. A missing pencil in one facilitys classroom resulted in a strip search of the students.83