Opened Eyes and Closed Doors: How Juvenile Justice Involvement Affects School Performance

Paul J. Hirschfield, Northwestern University

A case-specific interview design (N=20) was chosen to explore the processes through which involvement in the juvenile justice system can shape educational trajectories. Informal interviews were conducted with ten Chicago youth, aged 18-19, who exhibited--according to official school and juvenile justice records--a pattern of academic failure or decline following juvenile justice contact and ten youth who evidenced at least one period of substantial educational achievement or improvement subsequent to juvenile justice contact. The interviews revealed that juvenile justice involvement was often precipitated by conduct in the school and that the experience generally was a serious educational handicap, poisoning their relationships with school administrators and leading to their immediate or eventual exclusion from mainstream school. On the other hand, participation in juvenile probation as well as alternative schooling reportedly bolstered the ability of the school to control students' conduct and attendance. The interviews also emphasize the importance of supportive relationships with family members and teachers in conditioning the impact of juvenile detention and formal sanctions on school performance. The theoretical and policy implications of the findings are considered.

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Updated 05/20/2006