Back on Track after Being Behind Bars

Returning to society after being incarcerated isn’t easy.  Yet a group of formerly incarcerated youth that recently met with U.S. Department of Education (ED) Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier are refusing to let their past lives determine their future.  They’re overcoming challenges and building better lives for themselves through grit and resilience.

Secretary Duncan praised the youth for their perseverance and willingness to challenge the system.  “Obviously there are a lot of young men and women coming up beneath you who have your talent and potential,” he said.  “But they may not have your toughness to get through.”

Youth shared their own personal experiences
Michael Kemp of the Campaign for Youth Justice (CFYJ) explained how his slide toward the juvenile and criminal justice system started with school suspension.  He said that such punishments might not be beneficial for students or society.

Brandon McMillan told Duncan and Dann-Messier that he has learned from his experience of being incarcerated and is now hoping to inspire others.  He recommended that ED increase Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.  “Some people don’t want to go to college,” he said.  “So automotive, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and other vocational career program should be put back in high schools.”

Secretary Duncan agreed with McMillan’s point and said that young people should be both college and career ready and allowed to follow their career passion.

Strengthening college and career readiness
The Department of Education recently hosted a Correctional Education Summit and released a Reentry Education Model guidance document to support individuals leaving prison to successfully transition back into society through education and career advancement.

“The prison industry has job skills training programs for careers that no longer exist,” Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier said. “So we are trying to modernize that and make sure there are funds available for those incarcerated to help them be successful.”

The Department also recently announced a $1 million grant program called Promoting Reentry Success through Continuity of Educational Opportunities that will invest in innovative programs to help incarcerated individuals become productive members of society.

After hearing the youth’s seven recommendations to improve the quality of educational services for detained and incarcerated youth, Duncan welcomed Reverend Jesse Jackson—who was at ED for other meetings—to offer his encouragement to the youth.

Additional educational resources for incarcerated individuals reintegrating into society is available through the Department’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education’s Take Charge of Your Future.

This discussion is part of the ongoing Student Voices Series, where students engage with the Secretary of Education and senior staff to solicit and help develop recommendations on current programs and future policies.

For more information, check out FindYouthInfo’s Youth Employment and Transition Age Youth topic pages.