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Sunday 8th of December 2019

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A path to college for kids in juvenile detention

Thursday 29th of August 2019 | North America, United States
CalMatters
News

A unique program that enrolls kids in juvenile detention in college classes could become a statewide model.

The 2019 high school graduation at San Mateo County juvenile hall’s Hillcrest School is a big affair. The facility’s gym, decked out with balloons and streamers, is packed with about 100 people, among them elected leaders and high-ranking county officials.

They’re all here late in May to celebrate a graduating class of four young men, dressed in ties and khaki slacks under purple gowns, each wearing identical county-issued white sneakers.

Graduating from high school, or earning credit toward graduation, is usually a best-case educational scenario in California’s juvenile detention centers. But in San Mateo, the crowd assembled for this graduation — an unusual alliance of probation officers, county education officials and local educators — has fought hard to make sure students can see a future for themselves in college.

At this juvenile hall, young people can take classes taught by community college instructors from nearby College of San Mateo through a program called Project Change. It’s one of only a handful of programs of its kind in the state, and it was one of the very first.

Some California lawmakers have taken note. Now they’re pushing to bring college classes to juvenile detention facilities around the state.

On stage at the gym, 18-year-old Ramone — just his first name is being used to protect his privacy — steps to the mic. “We should leave here with the legacy of being kids who were at their worst,” he tells his fellow graduates, “and who then became successful in ways that led to our high school graduation.”

After the ceremony Ramone is standing outside the gym holding a plate stacked with brightly frosted mini cupcakes. He says he’s proud to have his high school diploma, but he’s not getting out of detention anytime soon.

“I’ve been here already a year, and I got a year left,” he says. “I’ve been in and out of here for a while; I’ve been in different facilities. I’ve been incarcerated since I was 13, and it’s had a big impact on my life.”

Project Change is trying to reshape Ramone’s life by helping him see himself as a college student and giving him the support to continue in higher education when he gets out.

“We have to remember that these are children, these are young people. If they are going to be in custody, we want to make sure that they’re getting access to all of the programming they can, to be able to develop skills that will help them do well when they get out, and never come back.”

By law, the roughly 4,500 young people detained in state and county facilities in California must have access to a high school education, but that’s typically where the schooling ends. Probation officers often struggle to keep kids like Ramone busy after they have their diplomas. “We got a lot of time on our hands,” Ramone says.

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  • International Juvenile Justice Observatory (IJJO). Belgian Public Utility Foundation

    All rights reserved

  • Head Office: Rue Mercelis, nº 50. 1050. Brussels. Belgium

    Phone: 00 32 262 988 90. Fax: 00 32 262 988 99. oijj@oijj.org

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