This Bulletin is one of a series of OJJDP Bulletins focusing on both promising and effective programs and innovative strategies to reach Youth Out of the Education Mainstream (YOEM). YOEM is a joint program initiative of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice, and the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program, U.S. Department of Education. The YOEM initiative focuses on at-risk youth who are truant, dropouts, fearful of attending school, suspended or expelled, or in need of help reintegrating into mainstream schools from juvenile detention and correctional settings. Each Bulletin in this series highlights one or more of these five separate but often related categories of problems that cause youth to forsake their education and thus place themselves at risk of delinquency.

" We should rightfully have the power to arrest all these little beggars, loafers, and vagabonds that infest our city, take them from the streets and place them in schools where they are compelled to receive education and learn moral principles."

-- Chicago Board of Education,
44th Annual Report, 1898

It has been over a century since the Chicago Board of Education released its now-infamous edict to arrest disruptive youth and put them in schools where they would be compelled to learn and become responsible citizens. The Chicago Board of -Education understood that when young people were not in school, they were often out in the community committing delinquent acts. The Board also recognized that schooling was a key to crime prevention. While the Board's theory sounds simple enough, the process it implies is complex and is filled with both opportunities and risks.

With the approach of a new century, a new priority has emerged for schools to play a major role in the transition of young offenders from confinement within a juvenile justice setting to life in the community. Schools are being asked to shoulder the dual responsibility of preventing juvenile crime and developing a responsible citizenry. The public believes that school is the right place for young people to be if they are to stay away from trouble and focus on learning and personal development. This belief holds that the interests of young offenders can best be served in school, where these children can obtain academic and social skills that will enable them to become good students and productive members of the community. Thus, schools need to provide a coordination and support structure for promoting the success of young people who have had contact with the juvenile justice system.

The successful transition of juvenile offenders from correctional systems back to school and community environments can be a difficult one. Juvenile detention and correctional facilities are designed to provide a structured environment with continuous supervision and a wide range of services (medical and mental health services, education, training, counseling, and recreation). Moving from this environment, with its personalized care and intense supervision, to the relatively less structured environment of mainstream education settings presents problems for both the youth and the educators involved in the process. For the most part, neither group is adequately prepared to address these problems.

Young offenders making the transition back to school often are still affected by the social and personal influences that contributed to the conduct that placed them under the jurisdiction of the court in the first place. Such influences, or "risk factors," include delinquent peer groups, poor academic performance, high-crime neighborhoods, weak family attachments, lack of consistent discipline, and physical or sexual abuse.1A youth may also return to school with a variety of special service needs (such as individual counseling, drug rehabilitation, and family counseling) that are outside the scope of the mainstream education system.

Educators, including both teachers and administrators, face unique problems in helping young offenders make the transition back to school. The main problem often is a lack of complete information and documentation regarding these students' personal and scholastic histories, which makes it difficult to select appropriate educational placements for them. Educators must also deal with their own prejudices and fears regarding juvenile offenders -- attitudes that may impede decisions about placement and services for individual juveniles and thereby hinder their successful reintegration into the school setting.

A Note About Prevention

Although reintegrating young offenders into the education mainstream is a major concern, emphasis should also be given to building prevention programs for young people before they begin a life of crime and violence. Communities must improve their ability to identify and address the risk factors that cause troubled youth and their families to drift away from mainstream education.

Many at-risk young people make the disastrous choice of dropping out of school or of behaving in ways that cause them to be abandoned by or pushed out of the school setting. Next to the family, school is perhaps the most formative influence in a child's life. Providing meaningful educational programs together with support systems and networks to assist young people in the learning process is essential.

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