Access to higher education for juvenile offenders during incarceration is more possible because the Obama administration has ruled that these youth are now eligible to apply for Pell Grants.
“(With access) to Pell Grants no longer an impediment, it puts pressure on youth correctional agencies and the school districts that run (teaching programs) inside of correctional facilities to rethink what they do,” said David Domenici, a corporate lawyer turned educator. He co-founded Maya Angelou Public Charter Schools in 1997. The schools target at-risk teens in the Washington, D.C., area.
Domenici was quoted in a Dec. 29 article written by Katti Gray, contributing editor of The Crime Report.
Pell Grants were once readily available to incarcerated men and women, but 20 years ago legislation was passed blocking inmates from access to the grants. The grants were named after former Rhode Island Sen. Claiborne Pell, with the intent to serve under-privileged people who sought higher education.
One of the possibilities afforded to these at-risk youths is their access to online college courses. Domenici pointed out that youth, who are at-risk for crime and have lower skill sets, do better with online courses, when access to a tutor is unavailable.
Other options include having local college professors come inside institutions to teach and tutor qualified students.
Of the 2,500 juvenile-only jails and prisons there are approximately 60,000 juveniles, with about 4,000 eligible for Pell Grants.
Very few juvenile offenders ever go on to get a college degree, said Domenici. For those who qualify, having access to financial aid that they do not have to pay back matters a great deal. The U.S. government is acknowledging the need for these youths to have an opportunity for higher education, thus exponentially changing the course of their lives.
|“You should not have a large attendance problem. You often have small classes”|
Juvenile justice facilities across the country are largely tough on the children as well as the adults who work in that environment. Therefore, trying to get quality education and instruction is an arduous undertaking, Domenici said.
In many states, juvenile institutions are an extension of the adult correctional system, and education takes a back seat to other institutional concerns, such as custody and security issues, he added.
However The Division of Juvenile Justice in California has accredited schools in each of its youth facilities, with a major emphasis placed on education, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation press office.
“The good news is if you get it going right, it is amazing for kids and for adults who are involved with this. You have these kids captive. You should not have a large attendance problem. You often have small classes,” Domenici said.
Though classes are smaller, having quality instruction as well as a host of administrators on board pushing higher education gives these young people a good chance to turn their lives around. They need to know that the adults charged with authority over them really believe that their lives are relevant, he commented.
For most of these children, having positive role models and peers to encourage the need for higher education was absent. Living in communities where criminal activity is lauded far more often than academic success does not leave kids with much incentive to excel in school, Domenici commented.
These kids need access to really good instruction as well as being surrounded by adults who really care. This will allow the platform for a more profound engagement of academic success, he noted. The kids will need much more triage, as they are ushered toward academic transformation, leading them to more opportunities and choices other than those associated with criminal activity.