The move from the closely monitored environment in a secure facility to less structured life in the community can be overwhelming to the juvenile offender. Youth reentering public school systems from custodial settings frequently are alien-ated from the formal education process. Without help, they may drop out of school or be expelled for exhibiting inappropriate behaviors. These high-risk youth cannot be expected to succeed in a vacuum. Young people, particularly troubled young people, need structure, supervision, and support. Schools and community agencies should seek to improve their capacity to respond effectively to the needs of these troubled youth.

A number of significant and innovative programs and strategies have been developed for helping delinquent youth reenter the education mainstream. Foremost is the trend toward improving communication among all of the agencies and other entities involved in helping these youth develop and achieve positive goals. Communities must forge partnerships among public and private youth-serving agencies to provide a continuum of treatment and aftercare services for juvenile offenders and their families.

Educational services provided to juvenile offenders, both within juvenile correctional facilities and outside in the community schools, must reflect current educational philosophy, curriculum content development, and instructional techniques. Instruction must be relevant to these students' interests and needs and must allow them to make connections to real-life situations. These students can profit from challenging tasks that allow them to develop problem-solving skills. They also need job skills training to prepare them for future employment. With the full support of their schools and communities, they can make the transition back to school and build a future as responsible and successful adults.

An Essential Ingredient

A story is told about Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States:

President Coolidge and Mrs. Coolidge were staying at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, during the President's first days in office. One night, the President awoke to discover a burglar in the room, going through the President's belongings and attempting to remove a wallet and pocket watch. The President said, "I really wish you wouldn't take that," referring to the watch. He asked the burglar to read the engraving on the watch, which said: "Presented to Calvin Coolidge, President of the Massachusetts Senate."

Coolidge then identified himself as the newly sworn-in President of the United States, persuaded the burglar to relinquish the wallet and watch, and then engaged the young man in quiet conversation. The burglar explained that he and his roommate were unable to pay their hotel bill or purchase their train tickets back to their college campus.

To the young man's amazement, Mr. Coolidge gave him $32 from the wallet, as a loan, and then advised him to leave the room as unconventionally as he had entered, to avoid detection by the Secret Service. The President chose to show compassion, but he did not want it publicly known that he had been so forgiving. After all, he was a "law-and-order" politician. The story did not become public knowledge for many years.

This story is not specifically about wayward youth returning to school from incarceration, but it does illustrate an essential ingredient of the process: compassion on the part of adults who are charged with shaping the lives of young people and helping them achieve responsible citizenship.

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From the Courthouse to the Schoolhouse: Making Successful Transitions Juvenile Justice Bulletin February 2000