A student uses a computer during a geography class at Wyoming Girls' School in Sheridan, a secure juvenile justice facility.
A student uses a computer during a geography class at Wyoming Girls' School in Sheridan, a secure juvenile justice facility. - 

Every year, the federal government spends more than $180 million to educate neglected and delinquent kids. A big chunk of that money goes to residential juvenile facilities. Tens of thousands of kids pass through these facilities each year — some for just a few months, others for much longer.

Historically, the juvenile justice system has not done a very good job of educating these kids. The challenges are well established: too few teachers, too few resources and a focus on punishment rather than rehabilitation.

Many juveniles enter the system already failing in school or far behind. Many also suffer from emotional problems, learning disabilities and language barriers.

Research shows that rather than making up lost ground, many juveniles lose ground while inside. Many never return to high school once they are released, or drop out once they do.

In December 2014, the Department of Education and Department of Justice issued new guidance urging states to make education a top priority in the juvenile justice system.

Among the recommendations: improve funding; focus on hiring and retain high-quality teachers; and provide students the type of education technology that is more common in public schools.

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Juvenile justice by the numbers

The numbers below reflect national totals for a single day as reported in 2011.

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