New Guidance on Education for Youth in Juvenile Justice Settings

By Andrea Barnes

On December 8, the U.S. Departments of Education (DOE) and Justice (DOJ) jointly released a guidance package on meeting the educational needs of youth in juvenile justice settings. The package reinforces current civil rights law and regulations for secondary education, offers promising practices for secure care facilities, and clarifies eligibility for Pell grants. It comes in the wake of accumulating research suggesting that incarceration neither meets the needs of youth nor necessarily improves the safety of their communities. Furthermore, advocates and DOJ have filed numerous complaints and class-action lawsuits pertaining to the substandard education of youth in custody.

In Guiding Principles for Providing High-Quality Education in Juvenile Justice Secure Care Settings, DOE and DOJ identify five guiding principles, paying particular attention to youth with disabilities and English language learners:

  1. Facilities should make education a priority and provide behavioral and social support services for youth that need them.
  2. There should be adequate funding to support appropriate educational services and supports.
  3. Facilities should recruit, employ, and retain qualified education staff.
  4. Education programs should adopt rigorous and relevant curricula that meet state standards and prepare youth for college and career.
  5. Facilities should create partnerships and formal policies with other child-serving systems to ensure smooth reentry into communities.

DOE also released guidance clarifying Pell grant eligibility of youth in juvenile justice settings. Youth who are incarcerated in locations that are not Federal or State penal institutions are eligible for federal Pell grants. These facilities where youth are considered eligible include:

  • Jails, penitentiaries, and correctional facilities under the jurisdiction of local or county governments.
  • Juvenile justice facilities, which include all public or private residential facilities that are operated for the care and rehabilitation of youth. These facilities are not considered to be Federal or State penal institutions, regardless of whether the Federal government or a State operates or has jurisdiction over the facility.

Youth in the juvenile justice system, in particular youth committed long-term, are the most at risk for low academic achievement when they return to their communities. The more than 60,000 youth in over 2,500 juvenile justice facilities across the country are entitled to the opportunity to acquire the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to continue their secondary education when they are released, or advance to postsecondary education and join the workforce. Policymakers, juvenile justice agencies, education systems, and juvenile justice facilities can use DOE and DOJ’s guidance as a gauge to ensure they are adequately serving the youth in their care.