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Jail Changes Young Offenders' Views of Education

The Ohio Department of Youth Services is introducing programs designed to reduce the recidivism rate among young offenders. Within three years of being released, one-half of juveniles are back behind bars in a youth or adult prison.

Ohio Department of Youth Services Director Tom Stickrath says the educational needs of young people in DYS facilities are considerable.

"They're well behind where they should be academically, on average about four grades behind their chronological age. And about 50 percent of the kids have special education needs."

Mark Jackson directs the Alvis House re-entry program and works with more than 90 young people in five of the 8 DYS facilities around Ohio. He finds that the young people generally do not test well. However, after working with them in small group settings and one-on-one, his view of their reading and writing skills is positive.

"90% of these young people read and write impeccably," says Jackson. "At some point in their life, they listened, they got it. Because these kids are survival of the fittest, they understand in order for them to be in the 'hood and not feel like they're dumb or like they don't add up, there are certain skills they need to have, and they have 'em."

Dion understands survival of the fittest. He is 18 years old. At the age of 14, he was sentenced to four and a half years behind bars for aggravated robbery with a gun specification.

"In a way I'm glad I came here, cause they help me, but it took the good years of my life - time I was supposed to be enjoyin'."

Dion finished high school two years ago in the Marion Juvenile Correctional facility. He regrets college courses are not available there. DYS is a chartered school district, but offers classes only to students in the 6th through 12th grades.

17-year-old Alexandra is at the DYS Freedom Center in Delaware for girls and young women with substance abuse problems. She is serving time for possession of cocaine. Alexandra says she started smoking pot and drinking alcohol when she was 14 years old and moved on to experiment with cocaine, ecstasy and Oxycontin. "I definitely did miss out on school due to my drug use, going to rehab and getting' locked up and getting' into trouble."

Alexandra finished her GED in December and expects to be released in March. She wants to attend the University of Akron in the fall.

Edgar is also 17 years old. He describes his past experiences in school as "terrible," He was sent to the Marion Juvenile Correctional Facility twp years ago.

"Somebody startin' shootin' at me an' I shot him. They call it felonious assault/dischargin' a firearm. I call it life preservation."

He says his past experiences in school were "terrible," but Edgar now sees education as the way to change his life. "I gotta get this GED, enroll myself in college. I been hustlin' for a long time, ain't got nothing to show for it yet."

Mark Jackson calls the youth "our young scholars" and says they deserve another chance. And Jackson wants young people take full advantage of having another chance. With some, that requires overcoming what he calls "generational curses." More on that in the third report.