Failure to Provide Decent Education to Incarcerated Children Discussed in NY1 Series; Legal Aid Lawyers Point Out Problems and Suggest Solutions
MONDAY, AUGUST 16, 2010

Lindsey Christ, NY1's Education Reporter, has investigated the failure to provide children in trouble with a decent education. Her findings are the focus of a week-long series in which Legal Aid lawyers point out problems and offer solutions. The series began Sunday night. The first segment has been aired Sunday night and all day today. Cara Chambers, the Director of the Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project, said that "the system compounds the trauma and compounds the problem. In many circumstances, you’re looking at children who have struggled for years and years with undiagnosed disabilities, with limited access to high-quality education, and then you put them into facilities that are also not capable of providing them with the high-quality education that they need and deserve."

"The children come to the jail with a long history of not receiving the education that they should get, that the schools have failed them, their teachers have failed them," said Mary Lynne Werlwas, Staff Attorney in the Prisoners' Rights Project. "It’s not just a problem of incarcerated youth; it’s a problem of the education given and especially education given to, the poor people and people of color that is at the root of this problem."

Read the full transcript below.

 

News At Eleven
NY1 New York
August 15th and August 16th, 2010

Cheryl Willis, Anchor: Almost 90% of the city’s incarcerated young people are rearrested by the time they are twenty-eight, and those odds might improve with a better education, but jail have proven to be much more successful at teaching criminal behavior than reading, writing, and arithmetic. Our education reporter Lindsey Christ has the first in a week-long series on reforms under way to rescue jailhouse schools.

Lindsey Christ, Reporter: Most kids’ educations have fallen off track long before they arrive on Rikers Island.

Devon Stephens, Former Inmate on Rikers Island: I wasn’t even in school; I was really chilling in the neighborhood, just doing things I’m not supposed to do.

Lindsey Christ: And although incarceration means mandatory class attendance, Devon Stephen says he was watching his back more than he was learning.

Devon Stephens, Former Inmate on Rikers Island: There would be fights in class. It’s like, it’s jail. Anywhere you go there’s going to have fights, ‘cause it’s jail. You can’t control—if you’re in jail, you’re going to become worse than how you was outside in the streets.

Lindsey Christ: More than 12,000 New York City students a year go to school behind bars. It’s a disorganized system, with 53 schools run by the city and more than a hundred by the state. Schools were opened haphazardly, often in response to lawsuits, and despite major national and municipal education reforms, the schools in jails have largely been forgotten. At Rikers the average student reads at a fifth grade level, and many of the 16-21 year old inmates are illiterate. Almost 50% have special education needs, many classified as emotionally disturbed.

Cara Chambers, Legal Aid Society: The system compounds the trauma and compounds the problem. In many circumstances, you’re looking at children who have struggled for years and years with undiagnosed disabilities, with limited access to high-quality education, and then you put them into facilities that are also not capable of providing them with the high-quality education that they need and deserve.

Lindsey Christ: And it’s not just the young people who suffer, but the communities they are from.

Gabrielle Prisco, Corrections Association Juvenile Justice: It makes all of us less safe, because we are basically taking young people, incarcerating them, and making them worse, so that when they do transition back to society, we’re all at greater risk.

Lindsey Christ: It’s an issue that hits home especially hard in the city’s black and Hispanic communities. While 70% of students in the overall system are black and Hispanic, 95% of students in jail are.

Mary Lynne Werlwas, Prisoners Rights, Legal Aid Society: The children come to the jail with a long history of not receiving the education that they should get, that the schools have failed them, their teachers have failed them. It’s not just a problem of incarcerated youth; it’s a problem of the education given and especially education given to, the poor people and people of color that is at the root of this problem.

Lindsey Christ: A problem that officials say they’re finally ready to face head on. On Rikers Island, Lindsey Christ, New York One.

Cheryl Willis: In our next segment of the series, we’ll look at what’s gone wrong at the Island Academy on Rikers Island. The department of education decided to shutter the school in June, and there are plans to open a new school to replace it in September. That story tomorrow night on News at Eleven.