School Discipline Update: Arkansas Considers Changes to Education Programs in Youth Lockups

Last Updated: September 28, 2011

This article appeared in the September 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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Across the country community groups and others concerned about young people have begun to push back against the growing trend for schools to use severe and punitive discipline in response to non-violent student misbehavior. Many rural community residents have identified school discipline practices, especially harsh punishments that push students out of school, as a major concern. This series highlights some of the most basic issues in the national conversation about school discipline.

Arkansas legislators are considering whether to shift responsibility for educational programs in the state’s eight secure youth lockups from private contractors to local school districts. Currently, local districts educate youth in state-run residential treatment facilities, youth shelters, and county detention facilities. But the Department of Human Services Division of Youth Services (DYS) contracts with private education providers in its eight juvenile correction centers.

Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell met with legislators and admitted not knowing how money is spent for education at the lockups. He also explained that the DYS juvenile centers use a different software that school districts making it nearly impossible for local districts to keep up with students who have been removed from their schools and ordered into the lockups.

Five years ago legislators toured one of the DYS facilities and found a number of problems, including violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and evidence that psychotropic drugs were administered to youths for restraint purposes. The private company contracted for services at that time was dismissed. The legislators are now revisiting the issue of who provides educational services to incarcerated youth.

The lack of educational opportunities in juvenile correction centers is considered one of many factors contributing to the school to prison pipeline because juvenile lockup is typically the first experience students have with the law enforcement system.

Many studies have documented the failure of secure juvenile facilities to provide adequate educational services, especially to students with disabilities. Because the percentage of students in juvenile facilities who need special education is three to five times higher than in the public school population, many juveniles with disabilities in detention do not receive the educational services to which they are entitled.

Poor governance of education programs in juvenile corrections and a lack of communication between public schools and institutional settings contribute to the problem.

Strengthening academic outcomes for adjudicated youth can improve social outcomes when students are released, reduce recidivism, and reduce the number of students who eventually end up in adult prisons.

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Background articles on the ongoing investigation that have been compiled by Private Corrections Working Group:


Read more from the September 2011 Rural Policy Matters.