Thinking exit at entry: exploring outcomes of Georgia's juvenile justice educational programs.A widely documented notion is that many of the individuals who enter correctional facilities within the criminal justice system, have an extensive history of academic failure. Typically, such individuals have done poorly in school, and/or have had significant behavioral problems. Perhaps the strongest evidence of this phenomenon is reflected in youth who enter the juvenile justice system.
Of the approximately 150,000 youth offenders incarcerated currently in juvenile facilities in the United States, it is estimated that nearly 75% are high school drop outs and lack basic literacy skills that would enable them to become gainfully employed. Researchers have noted that while a disproportionate number of these youth who are in confinement are male, poor and of an ethnic minority, they are also educationally disadvantaged on a variety of measures. For instance, the median reading level for a 15 year old offender is at the fourth grade level, while nearly one-third read below this level (Morrison & Epps, 2002). Moreover, it is estimated that anywhere from 12% to 70% of youth currently in confinement are eligible for special education and related services under IDEA guidelines (Foley, 2001).
Governmental agencies responsible for rehabilitating incarcerated youth place a major emphasis on academic and educational program services. Correctional facilities typically comprise educational programs that include general and remedial curriculums, special education programs, vocational training, which are designed to prepare youth to complete a High School Diploma or General Equivalency Diploma (GED) (Coffee & Gemignani, 1994).
Such educational programs are often considered the last opportunity for an incarcerated youth to prepare for successful transition into society. While there is considerable literature identifying and describing the characteristics of youth and program services for youth in correctional facilities, it is important to gain a better understanding of factors that lead to successful transitioning upon return to their home communities. This purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the educational programs in correctional facilities operated by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, and to report on the findings of a follow-up study exploring the outcomes of a cohort of youth that completed an educational program and received either a High School Diploma, a Special Education Diploma, or a GED.
Educating Youth in Correctional Facilities:
Educational programs within correctional facilities face the challenge of providing services for a diverse population of youth with specialized needs, and the impact of developing educational competencies in youth cannot be overstated. Reportedly, delinquents who earned a GED or completed a vocational training program were two times as likely to be employed 6 months after their release in comparison to youth that had not completed either program (Black, Brush, Grow, & Hawes, 1996). Moreover, incarcerated youth who earned a GED and a certificate for completing a vocational program, were three times more likely to be employed 6 months after their release in comparison to youth who had not completed such programs. These findings offer support to the notion that the benefits of educational programs in correctional settings may be interdependent on programs that focus on transitional services for youth once released from confinement (Foley, 2001).
In 1994, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention published a report that identified effective practices in juvenile correctional education. These practices were based on the emerging research and challenged the conventional wisdom in addressing the educational needs of disadvantaged youth in correctional facilities. The alternative practices identified were based on five areas, which included: (1) the conception of the disadvantage learner; (2) the challenge of the curriculum; (3) the role of the teacher; (4) the relationship between educational tasks and classroom management; and (5) the degree of accommodation of students of different levels (OJJDP, 1994).
Among others, one of the basic practices identified in the report was that correctional facilities should offer a comprehensive educational program that includes academic skills, special education, vocational training, and life skills courses that lead to a high school diploma or a GED. In addition, facility administrators must recognize that education is the most important component in the rehabilitation of youthful offenders. Educational programs should not have to compete with other institutional programs. Facilities should offer a productive, safe, and orderly school environment, supported with space, instructional materials, technology, and library services, which meet state and professional education standards (OJJDP, 1994).
An additional effective practice identified in the report, indicates that student/teacher ratios should be established for each program that meets the needs of the students and the requirements of the subject area. Also, there should be a coordination of instructional support services that monitor the student's progress, and that academic achievement should be positively reinforced through incentives including certificates and diplomas. Finally, the educational program in the correctional facility should have strong academic leadership that promotes collaboration with faculty and with the youth's parents and community (OJJDP, 1994).
Georgia's Department of Juvenile Justice:
Established in 1997, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (GA-DJJ) provides supervision, detention, nutrition, medical health, behavioral health and educational services to delinquent youth remanded to the department by the juvenile courts. Currently, approximately 4,700 DJJ employees operate and manage programs and services in communities and facilities throughout the state. DJJ serves approximately 52,000 youth each year who have been placed on probation, sentenced to incarceration for a specified period, or committed to the department annually. In addition to non-residential community programs located throughout the state, GA-DJJ provides academic programs to more than 3,000 youth each day in 22 secure short-term Regional Youth Detention Centers (RYDC) for youth awaiting trial or placement elsewhere, and 8 secure Youth Development Campuses for youth who have been committed to the custody of the DJJ for long term programming.
The GA-DJJ is responsible for the education of all youth confined in correctional facilities. Its educational program operates as the 181st School District in Georgia and meets all Georgia Department of Education requirements for public schools. The DJJ School System complies with all state and federal IDEA standards for special education programming (DJJ, 2008) and all school sites are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
In addition, the educational programs meet all of the No Child Left Behind standards for highly qualified teachers. All students receive 330 minutes of regular, vocational or special education programming daily. The majority of youth in confinement are African American (70%) and male (80%), and the average age in years is 16. Approximately 40% of the youth qualify and receive special education services daily (GA-DJJ, 2008).
Think Exit at Entry:
The mission of the GA-DJJ is to provide all youth with a comprehensive educational program, which will help facilitate the successful integration of the student into the community and workplace. Educational programs offered to youth in confinement include literacy and functional skills development for youth with cognitive, behavioral or learning problems; academic and vocational credit courses which meet Georgia DOE standards for students pursuing a high school diploma or GED (O'Rourke, 2003). A primary goal is for each student enrolled in the educational program at a GA-DJJ correctional facility to leave the facility with appropriate life skills as well as documentation of academic or vocational achievement (e.g., GED, diploma, vocational certificate), to return to the community and become a productive citizen.
The guiding philosophy supporting the GA-DJJ, Office of Education is "Think Exit at Entry". Effective practices note that quality education is linked to a youth's successful return to the community. The educational program utilizes a student transition model to guide the development of the youth's service plan. Figure 1 illustrates the "DJJ Student Transition Model" utilized by the educational programs in the long term YDC facilities, (O'Rourke & Satterfield, 2005).
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
The model in figure 1 identifies staff responsibilities, timelines, and a continuum of services and academic programs provided for each youth from the point of entry until release. This transition model is based on specific goals to support academic success for each youth.
The model provides each student with a comprehensive educational plan to serve as a guide while they are in the institution. This includes assessing and placing the student in the appropriate academic and or vocational courses of study. These courses will enable youth to gain the knowledge, attitudes, vocational and social skills necessary to become a contributing member of society. The model is designed to support collaboration between GA-DJJ, community schools, and agencies to assist the youth in securing employment, school enrollment and other post-release services as needed (O'Rourke & Satterfield, 2005).
There are four stages in the DJJ Student Transition Model, which outline specific tasks or activities to be implemented as follows:
Stage One: Intake involves the initial intake of a youth into the facility. Within the first 30 days, (normally within the first week) program staff review the student's academic records, assess vocational aptitude and interests, develop a class schedule and begin development of the student portfolio (Risler, 1998). This portfolio which includes academic records, vocational competencies, certificates of skill mastery, transcripts, resume, letters of reference, and other useful information (e.g., samples of work is used to track and document student progress and accomplishments while in the system. When released from confinement, the student and juvenile probation and parole specialist are provided the portfolio for use in the transition process into the home community.
Stage Two: Ongoing/Release is comprised of the ongoing activities of the identified service plan, which involves monitoring progress and modifying the student's academic goals as needed. A review of the youth's service plan is conducted by staff within 90 days of the student's confinement. The program counselors, the facility administrator, the juvenile probation/ parole specialist, and others review the student's overall performance including grades, behavior, interests and revise the plan of services based on progress.
Stage Three: A Release Review is conducted 60 days prior to release. Program counselors, the facility administrator, and the youth's parent or guardian meet to assess student progress, review the student portfolio, discuss transition activities, and finalize plans for the student's return to the community. Discussed at this meeting are issues related to housing, food clothing, educational or vocational training, and other follow-up treatment needs.
Stage Four: A formal Exit Interview is conducted 10 days prior to the youth's release from confinement. At this final meeting, the overall progress of the student is reviewed and appropriate documentation is added to the student's portfolio. This portfolio is provided to the student's parent or guardian, and the youth's probation/parole specialist to assist in the successful transition of the youth into the community.
A quasi-experimental cohort design (Cook & Campbell, 1979) was used in the present study to explore the outcomes of youth that completed educational programs in a long term GA-DJJ correctional facilities. The records of 100 youth who received a Special Education Diploma, a High School Diploma, or a GED in a GA-DJJ facility and were released, between the years 2003 and 2007, were reviewed on various outcome measures related to legal status, residential status, educational and employment status, and factors associated with general adjustment issues. Approval and consent for the study was obtained through the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice as well as the Institutional Review Board of The University of Georgia.
Approximately (N-500) youth completed an academic program in five long term YDC facilities during the period between 2003 and 2007. Of these youth, a nonrandom convenience sample of (N-100) youth was obtained through the GA-DJJ. A survey of the archival records was conducted by telephone with the youth's juvenile probation/parole specialist. The juvenile probation/parole specialist identified as the caseworker for the youth in the sample was notified of the study by a GA-DJJ administrator and instructed to respond to the survey that was conducted by the researchers. During data collection, the researchers noted that, at times, a particular juvenile probation/parole specialist was responsible for multiple youth and therefore provided data for each youth assigned from the sample.
The survey guide contained quantitative items associated with youth reentry into their home community including: current living situation, educational and employment status, legal status, and qualitative items on general adjustment issues. The current living situation explored whether the youth was residing with family members or independently.
The items for educational and employment status examined whether a youth was currently enrolled, either full or part-time, in school or gainfully employed. The youth's legal status was explored through items that examined rates of recidivism and overall compliance with aftercare conditions. Two qualitative items were included to identify factors that may have contributed to a youth's successful or unsuccessful transition into their home community. For comparisons, data was also examined across GA-DJJ administrative regions.
A sample (N-100) was chosen from five long-term YDC correctional facilities situated in Augusta, Macon, Milledgeville, Eastman, and Sumter. The Macon facility houses female youth, while the other centers all have males in confinement. The average length of stay in confinement for the sample was 22 months. The distribution of the (N-100) youth in the sample related to the correctional facility in which they resided is as follows: Augusta (N-4), Milledgeville (N-5), Macon (N-15), Eastman (N-38), and Sumter (N-38). Table 1 presents the demographic characteristics of the sample. Slightly more than half of the youth in the sample were African American (N-56), while (N-39) were identified as White. A small number of youth were identified as Hispanic (N-4), or another Ethnicity (N-1). Finally, the majority of the youth in the sample were male (N-85) were between 16 and 21 years in age (M-17.5) upon release from confinement.
Typically, youth who are remanded to a long-term secure facility have a significant history of serious offending. More than half (N-55) of the sample had committed crimes involving personal injury including murder, rape, aggravated assault, and child molestation. Other offenses committed by the youth included: arson, burglary and various forms of felony theft.
GA-DJJ operates and manages services organized in 5 geographic regions located in the Northwest, Metro (Atlanta), Northeast, Southwest and Southeast areas of the state. Table 2 illustrates the distribution and region where the youth in the study sample were identified as residing upon release from confinement.
More than half of the youth were reported to currently reside in Regions 4 (N- 22), and 5 (N-32). Region 4 is located in the Southwest area of Georgia and primarily contains economically depressed rural counties. Located in the Southeast and coastal area of the state, Region 5 is comprised mostly of rural and sub-urban counties; in addition to the larger municipality of Savannah. One-fourth (N-26) of the sample resides Region 3, the metropolitan area of Atlanta which contains a number of suburban counties. The remainder of the youth in the sample was evenly distributed residing in Regions 1 (N-10) and 2 (N-10); located in the Northwest and Northeast area of the state. Regions 1 and 2 comprise the mountainous areas of Georgia and although would be considered rural by some standards, they contain counties with a number of manufacturing businesses.
Each youth in the sample had completed an academic or vocational program upon release. Almost two-thirds of the youth in the study sample (N-60) completed the requirements for the GED and (N- 31) youth received a High School Special Education Diploma. The remaining (N- 9) youth in the sample earned a High School Diploma with a college preparatory, or vocational technical seal.
Although the total sample population was (N-100), the data reported on the items pertaining to youth varied as information was available. This should be taken into consideration in the interpretation of the data.
Out of the total sample of N-100, residential data was only available on (N-74) youth. Reportedly, (N-38) of the youth are residing at home or with a relative, while (N-20) youth were identified as living independently on their own. The remaining youth in the sample were reported to be incarcerated (N-12), or their whereabouts were unknown (N-4).
Interestingly, the reported living circumstances for the youth in the sample varied across regions in the state. Of youth (N-20) who were reported to be living independently, the majority were from the metro Atlanta area, Region 3 (N-12, 60%). In comparison, of those youth reported living at home or with a relative (N-38), most are from Region 4 (N-9, 41%). What is noteworthy is that Region 4, which has a larger number of youth living at home or with a relative, also has a higher rate of recidivism for any of the regions (N-10, 45%). On the other hand, Region 3, with the largest number of youth living independently, only 2 out of the 26 youth in the sample from the region was reported to have recidivated (.07 %).
Educational Status & Employment Status:
The majority of the youth in the sample received a GED (N-60) while (N-31) youth received a Special Education Diploma and the remaining (N-9) youth earned a High School Diploma. Region 4, Southwest Georgia, reported having the highest number of youth receiving a GED. 16 youth out of 22 (72%) earned a GED. In contrast, of the (N-32) youth from Region 5, almost half earned a Special Education Diploma (N-15, 46%). Interestingly, the majority of High School Diplomas (N-5, 18%) were awarded to those youth from Region 3, the metro Atlanta area.
However, out of the total sample of (N-100), data on the post-release academic status was available only on (N-68) youth. Of these youth, (N-9) were reported to be currently enrolled in a technical college, or university full or part-time. The youth currently participating in an educational program were enrolled in courses such as computer programming, business, and graphic arts. The survey respondents also indicated that the youth enrolled in educational programs were attending regularly and there were no behavioral problems reported.
Similarly, out of the total sample (N-100), data on post-release employment status was available only on (N-68) youth. Of these youth (N-29) were reported to be employed, while the remaining (N-39) were not employed. These youth were employed in jobs pertaining to construction, warehouse/manufacturing, fast food, landscaping, retail, barber, and poultry processing. Interestingly, one youth was reported to be employed as a mortician. However, the majority of the youth reported to be employed were working as construction laborers or warehouse employees. Work hours for the youth employed varied between 20 and 40 hours. Reportedly, only a small number of the employed youth (N-4) had experienced some difficulty on the job. Attendance issues were noted as the primary factor related to a youth's employment problems.
Legal Status & General Adjustment Issues:
A successful transition and re-entry means that a youth will not have any further involvement with the criminal justice system. Out of the total sample (N-100), data on post-release legal status was available on (N-97) youth. Of these youth only (N-18) of the youth were reported to have committed a new offense since released and, due to the youth's age, the majority of these youth (N-12) were reported to be in the adult system incarcerated or on probation. Interestingly, the most frequent and serious re-offenses were committed by those youth who resided in Regions 4. Of the 22 youth in the sample from Region 4, almost half (N-10, 45%) had committed a new offense after returning to their home community. Table 3 presents the distribution of youth who recidivated by Region.
Most of the youth in the sample (N-79) are complying with all or most conditions of aftercare, whereas 18 of the youth were reported to be complying with few or none of the conditions of aftercare.
The survey respondents were asked to identify those factors that were associated with a youth's successful or unsuccessful re-entry into their home community. Thirty-nine (N-39) respondents identified eight (8) factors related to a youth's success that included: a supportive family, community programs, education, stable employment, independent living skills, medication, the youth's attitude and maturity, and the relationship with the probation / parole officer. The factor noted most frequently for a youth's successful transition was a supportive family (N-17, 43%). This was followed by stable employment (N-5, 13%) and education (N-4, 10%). In addition, 13% of the respondents (N-5) indicated that a positive working relationship with the juvenile contributed to a successful adjustment into the community. Table 4 illustrates the factors that contributed to the successful or unsuccessful re-entry of a youth into the community.
Conversely, (N-41) the survey respondents identified eight (8) factors that were related to a youth's unsuccessful re-entry into the community. These factors included: unstable home, negative peers, lack of community support, drug use, bad economy, transportation, disability, and non-compliance with aftercare. Not surprisingly, the factors most frequently identified by the respondents related to youth's unsuccessful re-entry were an unstable home environment (N-13, 31%) and negative peers (N-9, 22%). Other notable factors contributing to a youth's unsuccessful transition included: lack of community supports (N-5, 12%), drug use (N-5, 12%), and a bad economy (N-3, 7%).
The present study explored outcomes of a cohort of youth who had earned a Special Education Diploma, High School Diploma, or a GED in one of five long term Georgia correctional facilities. An overview of the GA-DJJ student transition model for preparing youth for re-entry into the community was presented. Overall, it was found that even though youth earn a diploma or GED, there are many other factors, which impact a youth's successful re-entry into the community.
What the data seems to suggest is that once a youth is released from confinement, there may be systemic barriers in the community that present significant challenges for them. For example, even though only a small number (N-18) of the youth in the total sample were reported to have committed a new offense, it is noteworthy that more than half (N-10) were from Region 4, the most economically disadvantaged area of the state. In comparison to other areas of the state, Region 4 (Southwest, GA) can be characterized as economically depressed, with large numbers of poor individuals, high unemployment, and few opportunities for achievement (Risler, E., Nackerud, L., Ross, M., Brooks, F., Condrey, S., Lane-Crea, L. 2001). On the other hand, data suggests the youth from Region 3 (Metro-Atlanta) who are educated, employed, and living independently, are the least likely to re-offend. However, one could argue that the youth from this region had more resources and opportunities for self-sufficiency.
Even though a noteworthy low rate of re-offending in the sample was reported only 29 out of the reported 68 youth were employed, and even fewer (N-9) had entered an educational program upon return to the community. While an educated youth who returns to their home community is a desirable outcome, opportunity for stable employment must be made available. For example, youth in Region 4, which had one of the highest GED completion rates, are from an area where unemployment is high. This finding may suggest a stronger coordination between GA-DJJ, schools, community agencies, and local businesses to assist in the transition process.
The factors identified by the respondents that contribute to, or inhibits a youth's successful re-entry into the community are also worth mentioning. It is no surprise that a supportive family, or a dysfunctional home, were the most frequently identified protective and risk factors. The data seems to suggest that if an educated youth returns to a supportive family in a community that assists in job placement, work search, and other post release options, they have a better opportunity for a successful re-entry into the community. On the other had, if an educated youth returns to an unstable home in an indifferent, uncaring community with few employment opportunities, and engages with negative peers, they have little chance for success.
The purpose of an exploratory study, while descriptive in nature, is to investigate a phenomenon that will serve to formulate new and important questions for study. The following questions for consideration were generated from this investigation, with the goal of assisting in the development of strategies for the successful transition of a youth into the community.
1. Can a community develop and coordinate a system of resources designed to support youth who are released from confinement. For example, this could include agency collaborative, job placement, counseling resources, social work, and local businesses (etc.).
2. Should resources and assistance focus on a youth living independently? Given the fact that those youth in the sample who were living on their own were less likely to commit a new offense, suggest that this should be considered.
3. What treatment supports should be considered for those youth who are returning home to an unstable home environment? Does the fact that those youth in the sample who were most likely to recidivate and were from homes identified as being unstable, indicate a need for specialized services?
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Ed Risler, Ph.D.
Tom O'Rourke, Ed.D.
ED RISLER, PH.D. is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at The University of Georgia; Tom O'Rourke, Ed.D. is the Associate Superintendent for Educational Services with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.
TOM O'ROURKE, ED.D., is the Associate Superintendent for Educational Services with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.
Table 1. Sample Ethnicity and Gender Ethnicity N-100 White 39 African American 56 Latino 4 Other 1 Gender N-100 Male 85 Female 15 Table 2. Sample Population by Region Sample Population by Region N-100 Region 1--North West Ga. 10 Region 2--North West Ga. 10 Region 3--North West Ga. 26 Region 4--North West Ga. 22 Region 5--North West Ga. 32 Table 3. Recedivism by Region Region New Offense 1 - Northwest Ga. No 9 N-10 Yes 1 2 - Northwest Ga. No 8 N-10 Yes 2 3 - Northwest Ga. No 24 N-26 Yes 2 4 - Northwest Ga. No 12 N-22 Yes 10 5 - Northwest Ga. No 26 N-29 Yes 3 Table 4. Factors Factor for Frequency noted Factor for Successful Re-entry By Respondents Successful Re-entry N-8 N-39 N-8 Supportive Family 17 Unstable Home Stable Employment 5 Negative Peers Relationship w/PO 5 Drug Use Education 4 Lack of Comm. Sup. Community Prog. 3 Bad Economy Ind. Living Skills 2 Disability Youth's Maturity/Att 2 Transportation Medication 1 Non-Compliant Youth Factor for Frequency note Successful Re-entry By Respondents N-8 N-41 Supportive Family 13 Stable Employment 9 Relationship w/PO 5 Education 5 Community Prog. 3 Ind. Living Skills 3 Youth's Maturity/Att 2 Medication 1