Youths in jail
When young people who commit a crime are held by the state, especially when they are cast into the maw of the adult corrections system, we should pause to wonder just who it is who is really being punished.
As outlined in an article in the Christmas Eve edition of The Salt Lake Tribune, people under the age of 18 who have been treated as adults by the criminal justice system in Utah risk falling into a crack in the system that threatens to alter the course of their lives far beyond the time they are incarcerated.
Even though the state's compulsory attendance laws and the federal No Child Left Behind Act require otherwise, youths being held in county jails or state prisons are not always receiving the education they will need to survive on the outside.
And, for all but the most heinous crimes, sentences for young offenders will end, and they will be on the outside, looking to restart their lives, hopefully in a way that does not include committing more crimes.
The problem is not, necessarily, that youths who commit a serious crime are transferred to the adult system. That's common in the American judicial system and arguably necessary to separate mere wayward youths from underage violent criminals.
The problem is that those of high school age who are being adjudicated through the adult system are also treated as adults in terms of their educational decisions and needs. That is, the jails wait until the inmates ask to receive the educational services that are available.
It's not that jailers and wardens keep it a secret. The existence of educational resources, particularly a process that can lead to acquiring a GED certification, is universal and made known to all of those in prison or jail. But, while those held in juvenile facilities are required to participate, with consequences for failure, the adult lockups make it optional.
That's the only place where under-age individuals are expected to take the initiative on finishing a high-school level of education. And it's the place where it can make the most difference between failure and success in the future.
The argument that such offenders have, by their crimes, forfeited the right to a public education is bullheaded and cruel.
It is in the self interest of all those who stand to be the victims of the next generation of uneducated ex-cons to push, pull, prod and outright require education for those now in prison.