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The Legislation That Has the Potential to Reduce Youth Recidivism in California

September 26, 2014
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The Legislation That Has the Potential to Reduce Youth Recidivism in California
Ann Johansson/Redux
Could this be the answer for students exiting the state's juvenile justice system?

The California juvenile justice system is caught in a depressing Catch-22.

It’s common knowledge that schools are one of the best ways to keep kids out of trouble. But for the troubled ones that are sent to juvenile hall, they face very difficult odds of reenrolling in class once they’ve served their time. This often means that if these kids aren’t readmitted, they are back on the streets — missing out on an education and possibly turning to a life of crime.

Nationwide, 80 percent of incarcerated juvenile offenders end up behind bars again. For California — the state with the highest rate of incarcerated youth — this has to stop. But now, a new bipartisan-approved bill (currently waiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature) could change this troubling statistic, VoiceWaves reports.

AB 2276, authored by Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra, could ensure “that juvenile justice-involved youth have a successful educational transition when they return to their local schools, and creates a process to help promote best practices for this transition.”

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California’s juvenile court schools have the highest dropout rates in the state. VoiceWaves reporter Michael Lozano explains that “of the roughly 42,000 youth who attend California’s juvenile court schools each year, only 20 percent successfully reenroll within 30 days of their release from the system.”

Why do these kids have so much trouble going back to school?

According to Lozano’s report, when a child is released from the juvenile court system, school records are not immediately transferred from probation officials to the county office of education. This means that schools might force these kids to take redundant classes, or in a much worse case, deny these students from enrolling completely.

What’s troubling is that the majority of the country’s incarcerated youth are locked up for non-violent offenses, such as California high schooler Tanisha Denard, who served time in juvenile hall after racking up repeated truancies because she often couldn’t afford the bus to school, VoiceWaves reports. After being released, school officials did not allow her to reenroll at her former school. Luckily, she found another school to attend — but it wasn’t easy. Denard tells the publication that she only had five days to gather her numerous academic records, find a school that would actually accept her, as well as negotiate with her probation officer for an extension during her search. “A lot of times you get out from juvenile hall, and they look at you like a criminal, [and] they’re not likely to send you to a school where you’re likely to be successful,” she says.

There’s also appears to be a lot of miscommunication between the state’s probation offices and education departments. AB 2276 aims to reform a current law that would require these agencies to work together, expedite a student’s documents, as well as collaborate with local education organizations that help a child successfully reintegrate back into school. The bill would also create a stakeholder group that would study successful reentry programs and report back to the legislature.

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It’s wrong to deny these kids another chance at an education, especially since most of them just want another shot. As Assemblymember Bocanegra says in his bill, “In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice found that more than two-thirds of youth in custody have ambitions of higher education.”

It’s currently unknown how much the bill would cost; the creation of the stakeholder group alone would reportedly require $100,000. The Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, who has urged passage of the bill, found that the cost of a year of incarceration for a youth who does not reengage is $180,000. Additionally, the organization says that “youth who do not successfully transition back into school after leaving the juvenile justice system and drop out cost the state $46 billion a year, including $12 billion in crime costs alone.”

For California’s formerly incarcerated youth, this might just be a very small price to pay.

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