What it Takes to Transform a School Inside a Juvenile Facility: The Story of the Maya Angelou Academy
James Forman, Jr. Jr.
Yale University - Law School
University of Maryland
September 1, 2011
JUSTICE FOR KIDS: KEEPING KIDS OUT OF THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM, Nancy Dowd, ed., NYU Press, 2011
Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 242
Incarcerated teens suffer tremendous educational deficits: they disproportionately have attended failing schools, typically read and do math at the elementary school level, and often have dropped out or been kicked out of school before being arrested. In theory, commitment to a state facility offers them an opportunity to receive an education. In practice, however, most schools in correctional facilities are woefully inadequate. In a typical facility, academic expectations are low, the curriculum is not rigorous, special education services are wanting, and the teaching staff is under-skilled and demoralized.
For decades, the school inside Washington D.C.’s Oak Hill juvenile facility was no exception. In 1998, the Washington Post warned that Oak Hill had become "little more than a warehouse that rehabilitates no one." Today, however, the school — now named the Maya Angelou Academy — has been transformed. In July 2010, the monitor overseeing the court-ordered reform of Washington D.C.’s juvenile justice agency called the Maya Angelou Academy an "extraordinary educational program." After decades of documenting the school’s failures, the Washington Post finally had good news — it noted that the school had been transformed "from one of the nation’s worst programs to one of its finest."
In this Article, we tell the story of this transformation in detail, focusing on the following critical issues: People, Culture, Curriculum, Instruction, and Transition. In so doing, we provide an outline for school reform in the juvenile correctional setting. We also offer an argument about why schools in detention facilities remain inadequate — we point to the lack of collaboration between educators and juvenile justice reformers. Many educators doubt that techniques that have proven successful in schools in the community will work in a correctional setting. Juvenile justice advocates, for their part, have focused on reducing the number of children who are locked up, rather than with developing quality schools for those who remain behind bars. Both groups, we argue, should expand their visions to include high-quality schools in youth correction facilities. We use Washington D.C.’s transformation to suggest that, if they do, significant reform is possible.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 32
Keywords: juveniles, juvenile justice, juvenile detention, education, education reform, school to prison pipeline, black prisoners, civil rights, corrections, crime and punishment, criminal justice, criminal law, discrimination, imprisonment, incarceration, prisoners, racial injustice, race
Date posted: November 14, 2011 ; Last revised: December 8, 2011