Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center

Minors and Education Programs

Minors and Education Programs

Unlike the adult criminal justice system which focuses primarily on punishing offenders, the juvenile system is intended to rehabilitate young offenders so that they can hopefully reintegrate back into society and become productive and law-abiding adults. One of the key components of any juvenile detention or grant of probation is ensuring that the minor receives and has access to educational programming, either in custody or while in the community.

Educational Issues Affecting Youth in Custody

Many of the minors in juvenile detention facilities have a wide range of educational, mental health, medical and social needs which affects their ability to learn and succeed in school. Many of young people who are sent to juvenile facilities are functionally illiterate or have limited literacy and may have experienced school failure in the past. A focus on literacy is critical as high levels of literacy are often associated with lower rates of juvenile recidivism and adult crime rates. This is a significant problem for minors in custody and a national study revealed that over one-third of juveniles who were 15 years old had reading skills below the fourth-grade level. Significant and unrealized learning disabilities disproportionately affect youth in the juvenile justice system, which can create unique challenges in ensuring that all educational needs are met.

Special Education in Juvenile Facilities

Under Federal law, juveniles who are eligible for special education are entitled to the same rights to educational opportunities as youth in public schools. However, states have been slow to implement and address the needs of special education students in juvenile detention facilities. Increasingly, juveniles with a wide range of mental health and other disabilities are facing lengthy detention periods without adequate education suited to their particular needs.

In many cases, juvenile detention facilities may fail to effectively screen, evaluate and identify minors who have special education needs and these minors are simply placed in general education programs. There may not be appropriate accommodations or education plans for these juveniles and they may suffer as a result. Minors with special education needs may become frustrated and experience a significant amount of stress when placed in a general education program. This can lead to further behavioral problems and other issues, especially for minors who are in custody. In many cases, juveniles who exhibit these behavior issues while in a juvenile detention facility will be sent to solitary confinement. For minors with developmental or mental health disabilities, this can be especially traumatic and can trigger long-term psychological effects.

Juvenile Court Schools

Many states provide public education for minors who are incarcerated in juvenile detention facilities or who are on juvenile probation. These schools are often located in juvenile halls, group homes, day centers, camps and other regional youth education facilities. In California, these schools are operated by the county and funded by the state.

Juveniles who are declared wards of the court are required to attend school and students in custody are provided a standard curriculum and are expected to take educational assessment tests. Minors can obtain a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate while in custody.

Those under the age of nineteen who have not graduated or received their G.E.D. are required to keep attending school once released from a juvenile detention facility. Minors between the ages of sixteen and eighteen who are released from juvenile court also must continue their public education.

The U.S. Department of Education has set forth specific guidelines addressing the educational needs of juveniles in custody. The five guiding principles adopted by the Department of Education include creating a safe, healthy learning environment that prioritizes education, ensuring that the necessary funding to support education opportunities is available, recruiting qualified educators to ensure minors in custody receive quality education, designing rigorous and relevant curricula that meet state standards and developing formal processes to ensure minors in custody have their educational needs met and receive what they need to successfully reenter society.