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Monday, September 01, 2014
Southwest Louisiana ,
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(Special to the American Press)

(Special to the American Press)

Juvenile justice education failing

Last Modified: Monday, April 21, 2014 1:47 PM

A recently released report paints a damning picture of educational efforts in Louisiana’s juvenile justice system.

According to the study, by the Southern Education Foundation, fewer than 1 in 10 youths in the state’s juvenile justice system ever earn a high school credit while incarcerated.

The South’s average of incarcerated youths earning high school credits is 36 percent; Louisiana’s average is 8 percent.

That’s unforgiveable. These dismal results go a long way in explaining why Louisiana ranks No. 1 in the nation in per capita prison population.

Juveniles wind up incarcerated for crimes they have committed. That’s the punishment phase, the consequences to breaking the law.

But if there is a segment of this state’s overall prison population that cries out for rehabilitation, it is these juveniles.

Quite simply, the state’s juvenile justice system is failing them.

The foundation found in 2010 that nearly a third of all incarcerated youths in the United States had been diagnosed with a learning disability, almost half could not complete schoolwork at their grade level, and more than one in five had dropped out of school.

Yet in Louisiana, and many other states around the country, the education services that were being provided to imprisoned youths weren’t working.

“They arrive in the juvenile justice system with profound needs,” said researcher Steve Suitts.

He said the youth education that goes on behind the lockup is vastly inferior than what goes on in the outside world.

“There is very little being achieved,” he said.

It’s not for a lack of money. The state spent more than $16,000 per incarcerated youth in 2008, about three times what it spent that year on a public school student.

Yet Jolon McNeil with the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana said youths who had been released from the system said their educational options while locked up were limited. She said many of the youths were ill-prepared and behind when they re-entered public schools.

Not surprisingly, Thomas Blomberg, a Florida researcher who studied 4,000 incarcerated young men, said that the ones who fared well in prison schools were more likely to return to school afterward, and more importantly, not return to the prison system.

Clearly, what’s being labeled as education in the juvenile justice system isn’t working. And public officials from Gov. Bobby Jindal on down ought to be asking why.

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