_School Suspension

Juvenile offenders who seek to earn academic credit for their studies while in detention find the odds stacked against them.

_Naomi Goldstein

Goldstein is a professor of psychology in the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts & Sciences and head of the Juvenile Justice Research and Reform Lab.

When young offenders are sent to juvenile justice facilities, their education is supposed to continue behind bars. Yet they frequently don’t receive credit for the work they complete while there, according to a report co-authored by Psychology Professor Naomi Goldstein.

The report, “Credit Overdue: How States Can Mitigate Academic Credit Transfer Problems for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System,” is the first of its kind to analyze the problem from a national perspective, including the consequences youth experience. It also examines the legislative solutions necessary to ensure youth receive the academic credits they are due.

“Many youth spend months or years taking classes while locked up in juvenile justice facilities, and they appropriately expect their hard work to pay off and contribute to a high school degree,” Goldstein says. “Despite legal requirements that these academic credits should transfer, youth often lose months or years of credits. When they are discharged…many find they have to start over, an unwarranted setback that often results in drop out.”


Goldstein and her Juvenile Justice Research and Reform Lab recently convened a meeting to build what she calls, a “prison-to-school pipeline.” It’s a structured process to reverse the school-to-prison pipeline by successfully reintegrating youth into schools following juvenile justice confinement and supporting these youth on their paths toward graduation. Leaders of Philadelphia’s juvenile justice and child-serving agencies, legal advocates, researchers and individuals with lived juvenile justice experience came together for three days to develop and begin enacting policy and practice changes to promote youth offenders’ successful re-enrollment and engagement in school following release.

The authors, who included researchers from the Juvenile Law Center, Education Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center and Drexel, conducted a national survey of 208 professionals from 135 counties across 34 states and the District of Columbia. Just 9 percent of respondents said youth always earn credit for all their coursework in detention facilities, which are short-term centers that primarily hold youth waiting for their court dispositions. The figure was only 17 percent for juvenile placement facilities, which are used for longer-term youth confinement post-adjudication.


of survey respondents said that classes in juvenile detention facilities are not aligned with school or district standards.

Another 27 percent of survey respondents said that classes in these facilities are not aligned with school or district standards. A quarter of respondents also noted that many facilities relegate students to GED diploma classes rather than coursework to earn a high school diploma.

The report calls for more than just reform for the 48,000 youth incarcerated in the nation’s juvenile justice system. There must be enforcement measures to ensure reforms are effectively implemented.