Setting Justice-Involved Youth towards the Path to Success through Career and Technical Training

In 2008, when Jose was released from his nine-month stay in a Pennsylvania residential placement for his auto theft adjudication and returned to Philadelphia, he had a 1 in 10 chance of graduating from high school, according to the Johns Hopkins study, “Unfulfilled Promise”.  Without marketable skills, he was likely to join the ranks of the young unemployed, and his chances of landing in prison as an adult were significantly higher than his chances of landing in a family sustaining career.

In four short years a great deal has changed.  If Jose were released today from one of the 28 delinquent facilities (including State facilities) that have affiliated with the PA Academic and Career Technical Training Alliance (PACTT), his prospects would be considerably brighter.  Indeed, if he doesn’t actually graduate on credits (or get his GED) while in placement, he is much more likely to return to his home high school with a higher literacy level, earned credits and documented career/technical skills aligned with industry expectations.  His career/tech skills and earned certifications such as OSHA-10, ServSafe or Microsoft Certification have prepared him for further training and make him attractive to an employer, despite his delinquent record.

The PACTT Alliance grew out of the MacArthur Foundation Models for Change aftercare initiative. Recognizing a significant need for reform of the academic and career preparation that delinquent youths receive in placement, and realizing that no government agency, not the Department of Public Welfare nor the Pennsylvania Department of Education , were monitoring the overall education and career preparation offered in these schools, the Pennsylvania Council of Chief Juvenile Probation Officers sponsored PACTT.  I received a Stoneleigh Fellowship to direct this project, the balance of which was funded by grants from the MacArthur and PEW Foundations and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

From the beginning, PACTT worked with the residential facilities to move the work forward. As a result, the collaboration bore fruit very quickly. Within several months, the founding programs upgraded their academics and introduced their first career/technical training programs, while the channels of communication between the facilities and the home school districts were established. 

The initial and ongoing focus of PACTT’s work has been training and providing technical assistance to facility teachers and administrators.  This includes making connections to the vibrant school reform discussions sponsored by Pennsylvania Department of Education, training on the Standards Aligned System, and individualized on-site training. PACTT provides training on literacy and learning strategies for teachers, including math and Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers.  PACTT also provides guidance on developing appropriate CTE programs using industry-aligned competency lists.

After several years, PACTT developed standards for the education and career training provided to youth in residential and day-treatment educational programs, and an affiliation process to identify agencies that meet all of PACTT’s standards. 

Requirements for affiliation include:

·       A rigorous and relevant academic program aligned with state standards and integrated with career preparation.

·       Opportunities for remediation, credit retrieval and acceleration in support of, not instead of the state-aligned curricula.

·       Career/technical training that will prepare young people for 21st century job tracks paying family sustaining wages.

·       The opportunity to earn basic certifications such as the OSHA-10, ServSafe and Microsoft Certification.

·       Training for all students on employability and soft skills, based on the PACTT Employability and Soft Skills Manual.

·       Opportunities for students to practice their new skills in authentic job experiences while in placement.

Though these efforts are critical to the reintegration of offenders into the community as productive citizens, what happens at re-entry will determine their success.  To ensure continuity at re-entry, PACTT has developed similar standards for the affiliation of community-based programs and is beginning the parallel process of training and affiliating these programs.

While the importance of education and career training for delinquent young people has never been in question, the issue has floundered because it is a shared responsibility of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the Departments of Education, Public Welfare and Labor.  No one agency has the mandate to ensure quality - and in a period of scarce resources, no one made this a priority.  PACTT’s success has compelled the agencies to collaborate to sustain the work.  As this is written, the agencies are planning ways for the Department of Public Welfare, in collaboration with the other agencies, to carry on PACTT’s work.

The need for programs like PACTT, which focus on improving the education and career training in correctional facilities, was recently acknowledged by the US Department of Education, in its Correctional Education Summit on that topic on November 19, 2012, in Washington, DC.  I was invited to describe PACTT’s work as part of the opening panel of this summit, which included both adult and juvenile corrections.  US Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan emphasized that this was only the beginning of the Administration’s commitment to address the educational needs of incarcerated individuals, both juvenile and adult, in order to ensure that they have a second chance to be productive members of our society.

Today, when Jose returns to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh or Chester, he is far more likely to be motivated to complete school, continue his training and work up the ladder of his career of choice.  The challenge is to ensure that he receives support in the community to continue on his positive path.

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