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OJJDP News @ a Glance April 2024

Educational Advocates Promote a Successful Transition From Detention to Community

Stock photo of a high school teacher working with a male student
© Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock (see reuse policy).

Youth transitioning from residential placement often face significant challenges when trying to reengage with the education system, as school districts may struggle to identify placements that meet students’ specific needs. An educational advocate can help turn a young person’s frustration to success.

When Keith (a pseudonym) left a correctional facility in Oregon at age 16, he sought to enroll in a public high school near his home in Portland. He had special educational needs, requiring targeted instruction in writing, reading, math, and study skills, as well as monthly counseling. Some of his needs could be met only in an in-person school setting. The local school district took a month to respond to Keith’s request and—despite his needs—recommended online classes. 

Keith turned to Youth, Rights & Justice for help. The nonprofit law firm in Portland assigned him an education attorney, who intervened with the school district on Keith’s behalf. Initially, the district offered Keith a place in an alternative school that his mother deemed unsuitable. At the attorney’s urging, the district reconsidered, then recommended a different alternative school, one better suited to accommodate Keith’s learning and behavioral requirements. Keith succeeded at the school. He consistently attended class and—for the first time—became immersed in his schoolwork.

With support from OJJDP’s Second Chance Act program, Youth, Rights & Justice serves young people like Keith through the Youth Education Supports (YES) program, which advocates for the educational needs of young people returning to the Portland metropolitan area after their release from an Oregon Youth Authority facility.

Students often do not return to school for weeks or longer following release from detention, in part due to incomplete or delayed transcripts that disrupt grade-level assessments or make it difficult to establish individualized education programs, explained Seth Lichenstein-Hill, staff education attorney for the YES program. Students receiving special education services may lack academic options in their school district. The YES program strives to eliminate some of these hurdles, as an education advocate helps ensure a young person’s “ball doesn’t get dropped,” Mr. Lichenstein-Hill said.

Accompanied by a social worker, the YES attorney first meets with the student while they are still detained, to develop an education transition plan. After release, the social worker might also help the young person with housing, food, transportation, and clothing. In some cases, a social worker might help the young person apply to a trade school or college, fill out financial aid applications, or enter a job training program.

In western Michigan, another OJJDP Second Chance Act grantee, Hope Network, offers a rehabilitation curriculum and career development services to male youth in residential treatment at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center. The program emphasizes both career skills and personal motivation to give youth the best chance of success in the workforce, according to Mary Scott, Hope Network’s executive director for Workforce Development.

The program’s rehabilitation component follows the Cognitive Self Change curriculum, an 8-week cognitive behavioral treatment program. Participants may also join a concurrent 4-week employment readiness training program. Hope Network’s Harnessing Our Potential to Excel program offers peer mentoring; other post-release services include weekly wellness check-ins, job search support, and resources for stabilizing families.


OJJDP's Second Chance Month webpage includes a new series of podcasts featuring conversations with grantees and their clients. An April 2023 webinar featured a youth panel discussion on ways youth justice agencies and community-based providers can improve their support during reentry.

Date Created: April 23, 2024