Education Behind Bars: Can Young People Be Taught in Adult Justice System?

Mahari Simmonds, JJIE •

Mahari Simmonds is a rising second year law student at CUNY School of Law, where he is vice president of the Black Law Students Association. He completed a summer internship at Juvenile Law Center. Mahari intends on continuing his commitment to juvenile justice and education policy issues.

Is it possible to educate youth in the adult criminal justice system? As Marshall Project reporter Eli Hager recently observed, “In the U.S., there is adult jail and there is school, and the two rarely go together.”

Advocates continually grapple with the daunting barriers to educating youth in adult facilities due to the staggering number of youths being held in adult jails and prisons. On average, each day 10,000 youth — a disproportionate number of whom are African-American and Latinx — are detained in adult facilities. Youth are held in adult jails and prisons when they are prosecuted and sentenced in the adult justice system. While many jurisdictions historically provided for the prosecution of some youth as adults, most current laws originated in the “tough on crime” era of the 1980s and ’90s. Although the notion of “superpredator” youth who require harsh punishment in the adult justice system that led to such laws has been debunked and juvenile crime has steadily decreased, as many as 75,000 youth per year are still charged and prosecuted as adults.