New Resources Released to Help Justice-involved Youth Transition Back to School

WASHINGTON — A new set of resources from the federal Education Department aims to help justice-involved youth transition back into school and avoid further offenses.

The department released Friday a guide for students and an updated transitions toolkit for administrators and practitioners who work with youth, emphasizing for both the importance of early reentry planning.

For more information, check out the JJIE Resource Hub | Re-entry

Research has found successful transitions back to school can increase the likelihood youth graduate from high school and reduce recidivism. But too few justice-involved youth do transition successfully: More than a quarter drop out of school within six months and half of youth released from juvenile justice facilities are locked up again within three years, the department said.

In addition, fewer than half of states track outcomes for youth, only 11 states have staff dedicated to public school reentry, and many justice-involved youth across the country are re-enrolled in alternative schools, many of which have poorer student outcomes than traditional schools, according to the department.

“It is in the interest of every community to help incarcerated youth who are exiting the juvenile justice system build the skills they need to succeed in college and careers and to become productive citizens,” Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said in a news release. “Unfortunately, many barriers can prevent justice-involved youth from making a successful transition back to school. We want to use every tool we have to help eliminate barriers for all students and ensure all young people can reach their full potential.”

The “You Got This” transition guide gives students information on school choice and a re-enrollment checklist, along with a Student Bill of Rights and information on filing a civil rights complaint.

The department recommended that those who work with youth provide the guide to juveniles as soon as they enter the justice system, so they can begin preparing immediately for reentry into their community.

The department also released a technical assistance website on improving outcomes for justice-involved youth with disabilities, and a fact sheet on education in juvenile justice facilities and students’ civil rights while housed in them.

What Will a Science-hostile President Mean for Justice Reform?

billkellyThis column was written for The Crime Report.

Concern about how the next administration will deal with criminal justice reform is well-justified. But possibly the most troubling clue to the policies of a Trump administration is contained in the attitudes of the president-elect to science.

Donald Trump does not appear to have much regard for scientific evidence. He believes, for example, that climate change is a hoax.

If he applies that know-nothing mindset to the evidence-based practices that have begun to inform new thinking about incarceration and sentencing policies, reformers are going to be in for a bumpy ride.

So far, we have been given bits and pieces of Trump’s positions, but little in terms of explicit policy statements. And what we do know of his thinking is rife with contradictions.

Trump branded himself as the “law and order” candidate during the GOP convention last summer. Earlier, in a November 2015 interview on MSNBC, he called himself “a believer in tough on crime,” and compared urban neighborhoods afflicted with violence to “the Wild West.”

He criticized the Obama administration’s decision to approve the early release of approximately 600 low-level drug offenders from federal prison. Not letting the facts get in his way, Trump declared that “Obama is even releasing violent criminals from the jails, including drug dealers, and those with gun crimes. And they’re being let go by the thousands. By the thousands. …”

And he went further: “Obama pushed for changes to sentencing laws that released thousands of dangerous, drug-trafficking felons and gang members who prey on civilians.”

Commentators have pointed out that Trump has changed many of his beliefs over the course of the campaign. While he once appeared to defend a woman’s right to choose, he has since become a staunch pro-lifer. But his “tough on crime” beliefs have been largely unchanged.

His 2000 book “The America We Deserve” rejected arguments made by social scientists and criminologists that suggested strong links between criminal offending and poverty or childhood maltreatment, insisting that such explanations are “soft on crime.”

As his campaign ratcheted up this fall, he strengthened the point.

“Tough on crime policies are the most important form of national defense,” he has claimed. ”Aggressive anticrime policies are the best social program.”

Advocates of reducing America’s overcrowded prisons are, similarly, unlikely to get a warm reception in the Trump White House or Justice Department. Trump is an avid advocate of imprisonment, apparently showing no concern for current levels of incarceration and a clear disdain for the recent, ever-so-modest reform efforts made at the state level.

Moreover, legislation supported by a bipartisan coalition that proposed modest changes to federal sentencing has been languishing in Congress for over two years. One of its most vocal opponents has been Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions — a key Trump ally who has been touted as a possible cabinet member.

It’s probably safe to conclude that the prospects of such legislation being resurrected under President Trump are bleak.

Most of the criminologists and policymakers who have examined the current research in criminal justice policy are aware that the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports reducing punitive policies, and of implementing comprehensive, evidence-based clinical intervention and rehabilitation programs.

But this growing intellectual consensus is not likely to persuade a Trump administration committed to the law-and-order, tough-on-crime rhetoric that excited crowds during the recent campaign.

The early speculation is that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is Trump’s first choice for attorney general. Giuliani remains one of the foremost defenders of the stop-and-frisk policing strategies which he instituted in New York — and which have since come under both legal and scholarly attack.

Trump, a native New Yorker who often refers to the city’s high-crime era of the 1990s, has long been a Giuliani fan. While his justice views have undoubtedly been influenced by the ex-mayor, he also appears willing to go even further in denying the validity of scientific research — or even evidence.

He argues for instance that the so-called Central Park Five — five young men imprisoned for a notorious attack on a jogger and eventually released when DNA evidence proved their innocence — are guilty. The fact that someone else actually confessed to the crime appears to have eluded him.

Evidence-based strategies are already influencing policies at the state level. There have been some state- level rollbacks of tough-on-crime policies, especially in terms of sentencing laws and prison populations. Fiscal pressures may keep some states headed in that direction; but to reiterate, this is very modest change.

The bigger challenge of criminal justice reform is much more extensive and comprehensive than what has transpired or been considered to date. For example, the recidivism rate of mentally ill prisoners is 80 percent. That screams revolving-door and should serve as a clue about diverting to clinical treatment many of the 40 percent of prison inmates with mental health issues.

So, too, for the vast majority who have a substance-use disorder, as well as those with neurocognitive and intellectual impairment and deficits.

But such evidence-based strategies may come to a dead stop in a Trump administration.

While much of criminal justice policymaking is local, the federal government has a huge impact on setting priorities through its funding power.

I fear a federal tough-on-crime agenda will increase the political risk associated with current reform efforts, in turn keeping any surviving reform efforts piecemeal and modest. And when it comes to extensive, comprehensive criminal justice reform, the prospects are even bleaker.

Reform requires effective leadership. From the evidence available to us so far, that’s not likely to come from a science-hostile Trump White House.

William R. Kelly is a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of three recent books on criminal justice reform, Criminal Justice at the Crossroads: Transforming Crime and Punishment, The Future of Crime and Punishment: Smart Policies for Reducing Crime and Saving Money and From Retribution to Public Safety: Disruptive Innovation of American Criminal Justice.

This column originally appeared in The Crime Report.

Data Don’t Lie: Erasing Zero Tolerance Adds Graduates, Lowers Crime Rate

Judge Steven TeskeWhen we began our journey in 2003 to dismantle our zero tolerance disciplinary system in our schools, an interesting thing happened along the way.

The crime rates went down, but not until we changed the way we disciplined kids in school.

I am not sure how many folks similarly situated in juvenile justice understand that how we treat kids in our schools is one of the most essential factors in reducing crime among juveniles, and later in reducing crime among the adult population.

As go kids, so go adults.

Our graduation rates were at an abysmal 58 percent when we embarked on our journey. Since creating our school-justice partnership program, our rates have increased every single year. This significant hike in graduation rates parallels a significant decrease in school arrests and suspensions.

Our school-justice partnership approach has resulted in a 91 percent decrease in school referrals to the court while simultaneously the overall graduation rates increased 24 percent from 2003-15. Since changing in 2012 how we report these rates from overall to on-time rates, our rates have continued to climb another 16 percent.

The correlation between school arrests as an independent variable and graduation rates as a dependent variable should not be underestimated. A regression analysis done on these two variables shows a strong statistical relationship between school referrals and graduation rates.

This is also true for suspension rates.

When undertaking reform in your system, you should guard against unintended consequences, and this requires an understanding of how differing systems interact with shared populations. When a change occurs in one place, there is a risk that a shift may occur in another place that will create problems.

This brings me to another important requirement: that data must be collected along the decision-making continuum.

For example, by removing school arrests as an option in the schematics of school discipline, how does it impact the other remaining disciplinary options? We did not plan for this, but we did collect data on out-of-school suspensions after we implemented the protocol to reduce school arrests. We discovered that these kids were shifted to the suspension option despite providing an educational alternative for these kids.

We were still battling the punitive disciplinary culture.

This brings me to another best practice in school-justice partnerships, sustainability using written interagency agreements. We would not have identified this problem shifting had we not placed our protocol in writing to include a continuing partnership. That group meets to review data to determine if the protocol was being implemented effectively, to watch out for unintended and harmful consequences and to provide oversight.

This conversation about our population being shifted from one poor response to another did two things: 1) it identified that the good news of decreasing school referrals by 54 percent within six months of implementing our partnership was not so good if we replaced it with another harsh option, and 2) it provided the opportunity to discuss how to solve the problem.

[Related: Strong Education Programs, Supports Can Be Potent for Justice-Involved Youth]

This led to the school system changing its code of conduct so that the minor school offenses that were no longer subject to referral to court were also removed from the list of suspensions. This was to prevent administrators from using out-of-school suspensions to replace arrests. We also introduced Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) as a tool for educators in the classroom. These changes have reduced the suspension rate to the levels they were in 1994 before zero tolerance policies were introduced and wreaked havoc on our graduation rates along with school arrests.

When including suspensions along with school referrals as independent variables in a multiple regression analysis, we found what we hypothesized in the beginning: Keeping kids in school and out of courts will significantly improve graduation rates.

But this brings me to the one thing we didn’t consider — the influence of graduation rates on crime as the new dependent variable.

Despite those who deny a “school to prison pipeline” exists, the research shows that school arrests double the likelihood a kid will not graduate and quadruple the likelihood if the kid appears in court. I am surprised that these “deniers” do not connect this statistic to the extremely high number of inmates in adult prisons who dropped out of school (70 percent in Georgia).

If that doesn’t grab you, consider that only 30.73 percent of Georgia kids with 15 or more days absent from school (including suspensions) graduate from school. The more we suspend and arrest kids on campus, the more likely they will drop out of school and enter our adult prisons.

A regression analysis of multiple variables including the reduction in school arrests and suspensions and the increase in graduation rates revealed a statistically significant relationship between these variables and a reduction in juvenile crime.

We hypothesized early on that as go kids, so go adults: Reducing juvenile delinquency will eventually influence the adult crime rate. Thus we looked at the crime index rates before and after enacting the protocol. What we found suggests there is a relationship between this model and growing kids into a healthier adult population with reduced risks for criminality.

Our crime rate index for the baseline year (2004) was 57 per every 1,000. The year we enacted the protocol, our crime index rate was 57 crimes for every 1,000 persons. By 2015, the rate fell to 48 for every 1,000. We also found that in the years of zero tolerance preceding our protocol, the crime index rate increased into the 60s per 1,000 suggesting a statistical relevance between zero tolerance policies and the increase in crime rates.

If such a correlation exists between crime rates and graduation rates, it would follow that the more kids we graduate, the fewer crimes. If true, this would suggest that over time, as more kids graduate each year, as in my county, and become economically mobile, the crime rate increase will slow and eventually take a downward turn.

I opine that a community that pursues a school-justice partnership with fidelity will not only improve the academic success of kids, but will improve the quality of life for the entire community in a matter of years.

It is my hope that one day our understanding of what really works to reduce crime will be so ingrained in our culture of justice that it will become intuitive for us, and no longer a challenge to do what is right for kids, which we consider counterintuitive today.

Steven Teske is chief judge of the Juvenile Court of Clayton County, Georgia, and vice chairman of the Governor's Office For Children and Families. He is a past president of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges and has been appointed by the governor to the Children & Youth Coordinating Council, Department of Juvenile Justice Judicial Advisory Council, Commission on Family Violence and the Governor's Office for Children and Families.

More related articles:

Racial Disparities Persist Even as School Suspensions Decrease, Federal Data Shows

GAO Calls for Reducing Barriers to College for Foster and Homeless Youth

Resilience: Our Nation’s Great Social Justice Issue for Kids

Strong Education Programs, Supports Can Be Potent for Justice-Involved Youth


Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” In my case, education fundamentally saved my life. At age 16, I was sentenced to serve six years at a secure juvenile detention facility in upstate New York for the crime of attempted murder.

I committed the offense when I was 15 years and 363 days old. If I been 16 at the time of the offense, I would have been charged as an adult and would have received a much longer sentence than six years.

When I entered the system, I was a completely different person; I was angry, impulsive, uneducated and gang-affiliated. To me, education played no important role in my life; as a matter of fact, very few things mattered to me, including my own life. It was not until I joined the college program of the juvenile detention facility that I was placed at that I realized the important role that education could play in helping young men like myself and others turn their life around.

Truth is, I could barely write when I entered the system and I only started reading after stepping into the system because it was something you could do to pass the time faster. However, what I also realized during my time incarcerated was that many of my peers had also just started reading and writing when they got into the system and so many of them struggled and acted out their frustrations by being disruptive in class or refusing to go to school.

For more examples of re-entry, go to JJIE Resource Hub | Re-entry

I, on the other hand, ended up getting into the GED program of the facility. Although I doubted my own ability to pass the exam, after six months of prepping behind a computer, I took the exam and passed it without a problem. Having come from a household with two undocumented parents who had essentially not continued their education after having come to this country, I felt like I had actually accomplished something. This confidence and the support that I received from a few staff led me to partake in the newly developed college program at my facility. The sad part of all of this, however, was that not all of my peers were gaining the same confidence and/or receiving the same support that as I was.

When I joined the college program, I did not know what I was getting myself into. To put it lightly, I had completely underestimated the program and I learned very quickly that EVERYONE in the program was held to a high standard. However, since I had never been challenged to push myself I constantly bumped heads with the director of the program, which inevitably led me to quit the program three times.

I quit the first two times because I could not write properly and because I was petrified of giving a speech in an English 101 course. However, even with all of my doubts and failures the director of this program still saw something in me and he brought me back into the program only to encourage me to try harder. And, just when I thought I was getting it together, I allowed all of the problems outside of the facility to get the best of me and I dropped out of the college program entirely for a third time. During this gap, my behavior in the facility dropped dramatically and I was steps away of being voluntarily transferred to the adult side of the system.

However, just when I had completely given up on everything, one lawyer, a volunteer of the college program, wrote a letter to me that completely got me to rethink my behavior and my decisions. In that letter she compared my story to that of Nelson Mandela and said that she truly believed that I had the capacity to be an agent of change just like Mandela.

Because of that letter, I decided to stay in the facility and get back into the college program. Although the director initially refused to let me back, thanks to the advocacy of several people I was allowed to return under two conditions: 1) I would take one semester without receiving any credit and 2) I would serve as a mentor to my fellow peers who needed support.

Although I was a bit skeptical about serving as mentor to the rest of my peers I slowly grew into my role and I learned to appreciate my education even more and the true meaning of responsibility. What I came to understand through this process was that youth need advocates who will push their educational needs but that they also need opportunities to make mistakes and be held accountable in ways that are more educational than they are punitive.

When I was released in June 2012, even after having managed to earn 54 college credits I struggled for six months with finding a job and getting into school. In January 2013, when I was close to giving up once again, opportunities began to present themselves left and right. Opportunities which came about through a bit of perseverance and a ton of good luck.

However, now that I look back at my experience I ask professionals in the juvenile justice and education arena this: Why was the transition so hard even for someone like me who was actually trying to do the right thing? Do we want success? Or do we want recidivism?

On May 2015, I successfully completed my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and, during the last four years, I have been actively working around the country to push for reforms that will give young people meaningful second chances (or several chances if needed). I went from being a gang-banging, illiterate, angry Latino kid to a successful advocate and true agent of change.

This all started when people in the system stopped looking me as a lost cause, started viewing me as a college student and who pushed me to think differently about the possibilities. If I had not made the decision to take my education serious while incarcerated and received the support that I needed, I would have likely found myself back in the system or dead on the streets. The problem is: Not every young person who goes through the system has a similar positive experience.

That said, to education and juvenile justice professionals, I provide these recommendations:

    1. Work together to provide youth with various educational options based on their interests and future aspirations: GED programs, college programs, vocational programs, leadership development programs; entrepreneurial training programs, etc.
    2. Provide youth with educational opportunities that promote civic engagement and that are heavily tied to the community.
    3. Connect youth with mentors and other supportive individuals who can provide guidance during their time in placement and who can help ease the transition back into the community.
    4. Push for legislation that removes barriers to employment, education and housing for youth coming out of prison.
    5. Hire enthusiastic facility staff who are ready to support, and not give up on, youth through hard times.
    6. Hire enthusiastic education staff who make learning interactive, engaging and relevant to the real world.
    7. Provide consistent and strong funding for educational programs in juvenile facilities.

Hernan Carvente is the national youth chair for the Coalition for Juvenile Justice. He focuses on promoting youth and family engagement and has conducted trainings with diverse stakeholders such as policymakers, researchers, students and professionals in probation, child welfare, juvenile justice and corrections.

Racial Disparities Persist Even as School Suspensions Decrease, Federal Data Shows

School classroom in Japanese high school

WASHINGTON — Out-of-school suspensions dropped 20 percent nationally in recent years, but students of color and students with disabilities are still more likely to face harsh discipline than their peers, according to new federal data.

The Department of Education said Tuesday the drop in suspensions from the 2011-12 to 2013-14 school years shows more schools are finding alternative ways to address nonviolent student behavior.

hub_arrow_2-01But sharp disparities endure in the results of the 2013-2014 Civil Rights Data Collection, which covers 50 million students in nearly every public school and school district in the country.

The data showed black students were more likely to be suspended than their white peers, a trend that begins in preschool and lasts through high school. They also were more likely to be expelled and to be referred to law enforcement.

In addition, students with disabilities were more likely to be suspended than their peers and disproportionately restrained or placed in seclusion.

"The CRDC data are more than numbers and charts — they illustrate in powerful and troubling ways disparities in opportunities and experiences that different groups of students have in our schools,” said Education Secretary John B. King in a news release.

Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the civil rights organization Advancement Project, said the data illustrate “persistent racism” in schools.

“Schools must change policies that allow for subjective decisions on the basis of race and move toward police-free learning spaces,” she said.

School discipline policies are an area of concern for juvenile justice advocates. When students face suspensions and expulsions, they are more likely to drop out of school and end up in the juvenile justice system, a phenomenon known as “school pushout” or the “school to prison pipeline.”

The survey’s findings include:

  • black children in preschool are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than their white peers;
  • black students in kindergarten through 12th grade are almost four times more likely to be suspended than their white peers;
  • black students are 2.3 times more likely to be referred to law enforcement or have a school-related arrest as their white peers;
  • students with disabilities are more than twice as likely to have one or more suspensions than their peers without disabilities; and
  • students with disabilities in kindergarten through 12th grade who are served by Individuals with Disabilities Education Act  (11 percent) are more than twice as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as students without disabilities.

The Education Department highlighted its topline findings in a “first look” report with additional releases expected throughout the summer. In August, the survey data will be available in a data reporting tool.

GAO Calls for Reducing Barriers to College for Foster and Homeless Youth


WASHINGTON — Burdensome paperwork requirements, limited academic preparation and a lack of adult guidance and support make it difficult for foster and homeless youth to pursue higher education, says a new report by the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO, an independent federal agency, called for streamlining federal rules that make it hard for youth to get financial aid or document their housing situation. It also urged studying how child welfare workers and others can better assist them with college planning.

Overall, about 14 percent of foster youth complete a bachelor’s degree within six years, compared with 31 percent of other students, according to federal data, GAO said. While less data is available about homeless students’ college completion rates, they have similar college enrollment patterns as foster youth, the report said.

Advocates hope the findings will encourage federal agencies and lawmakers to take steps to improve education access for foster and homeless youth.

[Related: California Law to Close Group Homes Stresses Importance of Family for Every Foster Kid]

“This very much validated our experiences, and hopefully this being in a GAO report will lend some urgency to executive and legislative efforts,” said Barbara Duffield, director of policy and programs at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

The Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act (S 2267) is a key piece of legislation that advocates hope lawmakers will take action on this year. The bill addresses many of the concerns identified in the GAO report, advocates say.

The GAO’s findings underscore the need for colleges and universities to improve outreach and resources, and for the federal government to streamline eligibility determinations for assistance, said Sen. Patty Murray, introduced the bill last year.

“Students from all walks of life should have the chance to pursue a college degree, especially because higher education can be a ticket to the middle class,” she said in a news release. The Democrat from Washington state is the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Massachusetts, has introduced companion legislation in the House (HR 4043).

Duffield said the report stressed the role of child welfare workers and liaisons to homeless youth in schools to help students navigate college preparation and enrollment. However, she noted the positions are not entirely analogous.

The representatives for homeless youth in schools under the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Program don’t have the same authority or resources to meet students’ needs, as much as they may try, she said.

“They’re the lifeline, the only ones trying to provide basic services,” but they’re functioning in the absence of a robust system for homeless youth, Duffield said.

Jenny Pokempner, child welfare policy director at the Juvenile Law Center, said education is a critical way to help foster and homeless youth.

“When kids have the skills that can get them into careers, that will get them a living wage, we know that will help them transition into adulthood,” she said.

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Resilience: Our Nation’s Great Social Justice Issue for Kids

christian_niceGrowing up, I didn’t have a lot of the same opportunities as other kids I knew. My parents struggled with mental health issues, and I was considered a “street kid.” I didn’t follow the rules, and no one expected a lot from me.

School was much of the same. With learning differences that made excelling academically virtually impossible, I focused on other things that I thought I was good at. This led me down a path of anger, crime and self-destruction. I was 14 years old, and I had given up on graduating high school.

I didn’t have direction in life until an amazing lady stepped forward. She was my best friend’s mom, and to this day I know her lovingly as “Mama Jackson.” With her help and the incentive of a warm meal, I started doing my homework and aiming for more in life. She was the first person to show me that I needed to hold myself accountable for the decisions I was making.

For more information, visit the JJIE Resource Hub

This relationship paved the way for me to graduate high school. With Mama Jackson’s support, I moved on into higher education and finished graduate school. Since the day Mama Jackson took me off the streets and under her wing, I have never doubted the power of a positive adult relationship.

What gave me these opportunities started with a relationship and became a journey to my own resilience breakthrough. I wanted to help students like me overcome their challenging life circumstances. I wanted to be that positive adult relationship and teach others to do the same.

I founded a program called WhyTry that has been delivered to millions of students worldwide. I wrote the book “The Resilience Breakthrough” to help the adults in these kids’ lives enhance their own resilience. I have worked for more than 20 years to show students they can be resilient, no matter what.

I firmly believe that resilience is not just something you’re born with — it’s something that can be taught to both children and adults. This breakthrough idea comes after years of working directly with students, but current research backs me up.

Ann Masten, Ph.D., directs the Project Competence Studies of Risk and Resilience at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development. Her work essentially shows that we can assume every individual has the capacity for resilience if provided with “assets” (like evidence-based programs and tools) and environments (like positive relationships at school) that help enhance it. This means that even when we can’t take away a child’s problems, we can equip that child to deal with them effectively.

Other studies also show that when students score higher on resilience measures, they have improved social skills, higher grades, a greater love of learning and better decision-making skills.

[Related: Troubled No More, Youths Bring Stories of Their Resilience to Probation Professionals]

If this is true, then how important is it for us as educators, counselors and teachers to provide these life-saving resilience skills through the use of social-emotional learning (SEL) programs. Don’t students deserve a fighting chance to face their struggles head on?

In education, life circumstances get in the way of learning. Children face many adversities that detract from the messages we are trying to send. Difficulties at home, bullying, poverty, depression, negative friendships, hunger, divorced parents, abuse, neglect and gang violence all supersede school and common core lessons.

How can a child learn math when the world around him or her is falling apart? Kids don’t feel connected to the message. They don’t see the relevance to real life.

We have a social justice issue on our hands. During the next 20 years, many students will get access to the evidence-based SEL and resilience tools I’m talking about, but many more will not. According to Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), only three states have developed standards for social emotional learning programs. The skills of resilience should be at everyone’s fingertips. No kid should have to make their way through life without them.

Resilience, as I have come to define it, is the ability to bounce back when you have every reason to shut down — but you fight on! What profound knowledge that we can give this gift to others.

By incorporating social emotional learning programs into our regular lessons — whether that’s in schools, correctional facilities or counseling sessions — we help students receive the tools they need to develop their own resilience. The access to social emotional learning programs is the responsibility of public education influencers — one that we need to focus on 100 percent.

We have an obligation to give students not just the answers to test questions. We must give them the answers to life and how to navigate it successfully. I argue that a kid who has the skills of resilience can have an advantage over a Harvard graduate. If that kid knows how to “flip the switch” and view adversity as a fuel source, the challenges of life won’t affect that kid as deeply as they would for someone who’s lacking resilience, however academically successful.

Children who have not developed important social and emotional skills will break when things get tough. Children who ultimately overcome are those who have been taught how to thrive under any circumstances.

And isn’t that our ultimate goal?

Christian Moore is a licensed clinical social worker and founder of the WhyTry Organization. He is the author of “The Resilience Breakthrough — 27 Tools for Turning Adversity Into Action.” Moore is also a national speaker on the topic of academic and corporate resilience.

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California College Programs for Current, Ex-inmates Win Grants Totaling $5.9 Million


College changed my life, but I didn’t think it would. I enrolled in Truett-McConnell College in Georgia in 1985 because I thought it would make my record look better when I came up for parole. I had been locked up in May, and sent to prison in October with a fresh life sentence. I hated high school, and I thought college would be more of the same.

It only took a few quarters to change my mind. I was still a teenager, but the instructors treated me as an adult. They valued what I said, but they also challenged my opinions and ideas. Because of the mutual respect we established, I was able to hear them in a way I had never heard adults. I became less certain of my own understanding, which was a good thing, since it had led me to commit a terrible crime.

The ground for the changes that I would make over the next 24 years of my incarceration, and for the work I do today. Sadly, lack of support for prison college programs led to the program ending in Georgia in the early ‘90s.

hub_arrow_2-01The mood of the country has shifted in the last few years though, and a college education is again being recognized as a powerful strategy to help prisoners reach their potential. The recently announced Renewing Communities project in California is an ambitious part of this resurgence.

The Opportunity Institute and the Stanford Criminal Justice Center announced this week that “an unprecedented collaboration among nine state and national foundations” has awarded seven grants, totaling $5.9 million over three years, to support college education programs for current and former prisoners.

The nine foundations funding Renewing Communities are The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation, ECMC Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Rosenberg Foundation.

Each grant will fund a pilot project. To support sustainability each project will be required to get 25 percent of their funding from public sources. Also, The Opportunity Institute will combine the funding with a larger effort to “remove barriers and assist all California’s public higher education institutes in making high-quality college educations available to currently and formerly incarcerated students.”

The seven programs include:

  • A partnership between Bakersfield College and several nearby prisons and other correctional settings along with community-based reentry organizations that will provide transferable credits to incarcerated students and support justice-involved students on campus.
  • An in-person bachelor’s degree program from California State University, Los Angeles.
  • A replication of an existing in-person associate's degree program that has been successful at the California Institute for Women and the California Institute for Men, near Chaffey College. The program will potentially serve as a model for other California community colleges.
  • The Five Keys Charter School, which already runs a successful high school and GED program in several California jails, will partner with City College of San Francisco to offer college courses that can be continued upon a prisoner’s release. The program is designed to then be replicated in other areas where Five Keys has programs.
  • San Francisco State University will replicate its successful Project Rebound, in operation for 40 years, in seven other colleges and universities. The project is being supported with $200,000 from the Office of the California State University Chancellor and is planned to expand to 23 campuses within three years.
  • Shasta College and Shasta County Jail will partner to offer an expansion of their program that releases convicted nonviolent offenders into the community to attend the college for career certificates and degrees.
  • Street Scholars, a nonprofit housed at Merritt College in Alameda County, will expand to four other area colleges. They will replicate their successful peer mentoring program for students on parole working toward an AA degree, with the goal of transferring to a four-year college.

Research has shown that prison college programs can lower recidivism rates. At least part of their success is an increase in a prisoner’s ability to get a job once released. The success of these programs goes much deeper though.

In my experience these programs not only give students skills and certifications, they can restore the prisoners dignity and unleash their creativity. Supporting these and other programs isn’t only the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing too.

Blueprints Conference Offers Lessons in Evidence-Based Programming


At a time when communities across the country are interested in evidence-based youth programming, an April conference will bring together leaders from the field to discuss what’s possible.

The Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development biennial conference will feature sessions on evidence-based programs that promote youth education, healthy behaviors, emotional and physical well-being and positive behaviors. Some of these programs are used in the juvenile justice field.

hub_arrow_2-01Policymakers, program developers and practitioners will explore how to select, implement and support such programs.

“There’s certainly a lot of discussion these days about what it means to be evidence-based and how to implement evidence-based programs. And I think a lot of funders are looking for accountability as well,” said Sharon Mihalic, director of the Blueprints initiative based at the University of Colorado Boulder.

[Related: Juvenile Offenders that Work Long Hours and Skip School More Likely to Engage in Antisocial Behavior]

Evidence-based programs are usually considered the gold standard by policymakers, but some argue the push to look at a limited number of models may limit reform efforts by discouraging new ideas.

Blueprints history

Blueprints began in the 1990s as an evidence-based registry of programs dedicated to violence prevention. Today, it studies programs for a wide range of youth outcomes, including academic success, mental health and physical health.

The researchers have evaluated hundreds of programs and given 61 their seal of approval as either promising or model programs. The online registry offers information about program design and costs, with the goal of helping youth workers navigate the complicated world of what truly helps children and teenagers.

“Our goal has always been to move the dial away from things people just hear about,” Mihalic said.

The conference highlights include guest speakers Nell Bernstein, an author who writes and lectures on juvenile justice and the effects of incarceration of children and families, and Gary VanLandingham, director of the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

A pre-conference also will feature several Blueprints programs that are popular among juvenile justice reformers, such as Functional Family Therapy (FFT) and Multisystemic Therapy (MST).

Lori Cohen, the chief marketing officer at MST Services, a conference sponsor, said the conference is one way to reach an audience beyond those who haven’t yet made major juvenile justice reforms but want to find better ways to care for youth.

The events and workshops won’t just provide additional education to those who have already selected a program but will give communities who are just starting out information about how to find and build an evidence-based program.

“If you want to change the status quo, it’s reasonable you would look at programs that have evidence,” she said.

More related articles:

OP-ED: Community Engagement as a Key to Juvenile Justice Reform

Temper Risk and Needs Assessments With Positive Youth Development

OP-ED: “It’s About Scarcity, Stupid”: Youth Development Needs Bigger Public Investment

Virginia Bills Would Put Limits on Role of Police in Schools

The Virginia State Capitol Building
The Virginia State Capitol Building

Center for Public Integrity

Legislation follows Center investigation of harsh punishments directed at even middle-schoolers

Virginia legislators are debating bills this week that would limit the role of school cops and prohibit charging K-12 students with “disorderly conduct” — a reaction to Center stories on unusually aggressive school policing there.

Among the reform proposals:  a measure that would release school administrators from state code requirements that they report a range of incidents to police, including potential misdemeanors.  Another bill under debate would strengthen the rights of students with disabilities if they’re charged with disorderly behavior and face prosecution in court.

Last April, the Center for Public Integrity published an investigation identifying Virginia as having the top rate of public school  referrals of students to law enforcement agencies.  Based on an analysis of 2011-2012 data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, Virginia’s rate of referring students to cops or courts was about three times the national rate of six referrals for every 1,000 students. Black students and those with disabilities were referred at even higher rates.

Criminal charges against Virginia students arrested at schools often fell heavily on middle-school kids and black students, the Center also found after examining local arrest records in some jurisdictions.

Among these students was Kayleb Moon-Robinson, an autistic sixth-grade student who was charged in the fall of 2014 with disorderly conduct for kicking a trash can after he became upset at his school in Lynchburg. The 11-year-old was also handcuffed, arrested and charged with felony assault on a police officer when he tried to break free from an officer’s grasp.

Kayleb’s story and other examples of the criminalization of young students were also featured in a report the Center produced in collaboration withReveal, an investigative public radio program.

The Center investigation helped “generate a lot of talk—and now action,” said Jason Landberg, education attorney for the JustChildren Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia.

[Related: Law Enforcement Forced Into Role Confusion in Schools]

JustChildren’s attorneys represent special-needs students in disputes over appropriate educational services at their schools. The lawyers have grown increasingly concerned that students are getting arrested and prosecuted for behavior at school that’s not uncommon for children their age, or conduct that stems from a disability. A number of conservative organizations in Virginia have also urged reforms to school policing, including doing away with disorderly conduct charges against students.

On Monday, three bills backed by JustChildren were referred to the full House Education Committee from the House Elementary and Secondary Subcommittee.  The measures are scheduled to be heard in the full committee later this week.

One proposal, HB1061, sponsored by Henrico County Democrat Lamont Bagby, would require schools to consider “feasible alternatives” before referring students to law enforcement or expelling them. The proposed requirement would not apply to students accused of having firearms or certain other kinds of weapons at school.

Two other bills that also moved forward,   HB 1132 and HB 1134, are sponsored by Republican Dave LaRock from Loudoun County.

LaRock’s HB 1132 would strike language from state code that some administrators interpret as a  mandate that they report any possible misdemeanor to law enforcement.  The other LaRock bill, HB 1134, would eliminate the option to charge elementary and secondary students with committing disorderly conduct at school or school events.

Another House bill that would also scale back the role of school police has already passed out of the House of Delegates with overwhelming bipartisan support.  HB 487, which was approved on a 95-to-2 votes in the House, is sponsored by Jennifer McClellan, a Richmond Democrat.

McClellan’s bill amends language in state legislation that authorizes state grants to pay for school resource officers; the legislation currently requires such grant-funded officers—who are a minority of the state’s school cops—to enforce “school board rules and codes of school conduct.”

Striking this language, McClellan said, will provide more discretion to school administrators and officers so they don’t have to feel compelled to involve police in relatively minor violations of school rules.

“That’s not really the officers’ job,” McClellan said.

McClellan said she thinks another bill she is co-sponsoring—LaRock’s proposal to end disorderly conduct charges against students—could likely face amendments if it is to move on.

Legislators, she said, have discussed the idea of applying a prohibition on disorderly conduct charges to younger students only, or limiting the prohibition to cover only students enrolled at schools where an incident takes place. That way, she said, school officials could have some flexibility to react to a disruption created by minors who aren’t enrolled at a school but cause a disruption.

McClellan is co-sponsoring another bill related to school policing —HB 1213—along with David Albo, a Republican delegate from Fairfax Station.

Focused on special-needs students,  that measure would require that students charged with “willfully disrupting” school be afforded the opportunity to submit special educational plans or behavior assessments as part of their defense in court. The minor, at least 10 days before trial, would have to inform prosecutors of the intent to use the documents as evidence and provide prosecutors with copies.

McClellan acknowledged that a number of her colleagues in Virginia legislature support a hard “law-and-order” line and are reluctant to embrace some of the proposals. “But this is an area I know has bipartisan support,” she said, referring to calls to reform school-policing policies.

After the Center report was published and aired last April, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, appointed a cabinet-level task force to come up with ideas for how to reform school policing. Last October, members of the task force said they were launching a “Classrooms, not Courtrooms” initiative to retrain all school police in the state and help schools embrace the use of alternative discipline methods.

This story is from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, independent investigative news outlet. 

More related articles:

Cops in Schools Need Special Training About Children and Trauma

Obama Administration Unveils School Discipline Guidelines

OP-ED: When the Stupidity of Adults Hurts Kids