The statistics are shocking. The Incarcerated Youth Tutorial Program’s (IYTP) former director, Hana El-Farra reveals, “Per student in Los Angeles County we only spend $5000 – $6000 [on education], per each incarcerated youth we spend $50,000… we are creating an economy and an industry within this [prison] complex…”
Youth incarceration is a national epidemic; the issues associated with it are deeply rooted and systemic. Specifically, Los Angeles County has one of the highest youth incarceration rates in the country. In recent reports, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has highlighted the need for community based partnership programs as a viable option to lower incarceration and recidivism (when a person repeats an undesirable behavior) rates.
Prevention of the circumstances that generally produce a path for criminal behavior in youth (those under the age of 18) would be the preferred method. Nonetheless, rehabilitation efforts for those who have already entered into the juvenile detention system should also be a priority.
This is one of the Incarcerated Youth Tutorial Program’s priorities. Since 1988, IYTP has coordinated with several juvenile detention centers in Los Angeles County to provide current UCLA students as tutors. IYTP’s mission includes providing narrowly tailored solutions to proven issues within the juvenile detention system.
ISSUE: Unjust One of the biggest criticisms of the juvenile detention system is the incarceration of a disproportional percentage of ethnic minority groups, relative to the population. According to the journalism center for children and families, Latinos represent 19 percent of all 10 to 17 year olds living in the United States, yet they represent 25 percent of incarcerated American youth. El-Farra points out, “The issue of incarceration is one that needs to be addressed…when you look to the school to prison pipeline you can see that it’s a certain population that is targeted within our society and it is a systematic push…” Albeit, several factors combine to create such circumstances, still unfair bias against ethnic minorities and those from poorer and less educated backgrounds is a reality.
1. SOLUTION: Providing Mentorship
- IYTP strives to create a support system for the incarcerated youth they encounter. Many of them do not have the luxury of this type of support at home or at school. These students are usually low-offense inmates so they are incarcerated due to tagging, vandalizing, curfew violations, or skipping school. Providing mentoring for the students plays an important role in encouraging them to re-evaluate their life trajectories.
ISSUE: Harmful Over 2225 juveniles (age 17 or younger) in the United States have been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. In California, Prop 21, which passed in 2000, increased a variety of criminal penalties for crimes committed by youth and incorporated many youth offenders into the adult criminal justice system. Many of these “offenders” are as young as 13 and may come from broken homes and have endured violence as children, which significantly adds to their self-destructive behavior.
2. SOLUTION: Raise Awareness
- Efforts from groups such as IYTP remind state legislators of faults and issues within the juvenile incarceration system. They also engage the UCLA campus in political activities regarding juvenile justice. By shining light on this issue, less youth will fall through the cracks of a worn and often unfair detention system. The harms that are currently being inflicted mentally and emotionally on many of these young people can be avoided, if not reversed, through raising community awareness.
ISSUE: Ineffective Studies indicate that incarcerating young offenders is not the most effective way of curbing delinquency and reducing crime. The relationship between detention of young offenders and the rate of overall youth criminality is not evident. According to FBI data, detention as a tactic of controlling young offenders has little to nothing to do with the rate of crime or the “threat” that youth pose to the public
3. SOLUTION: Break the Cycle
- IYTP tutors focus on areas necessary for incarcerated youth to attain GED’s and eventually attend college. Many of these youth may be the first in their family to attend college and many might not have thought this was a viable option for them. Creating a structure in which these students can empower themselves to do better academically is one of the main purposes of ITYP. Accomplishing this can break the cycle of missed opportunities and self-destructive behavior present in many incarcerated youth.
- Despite its many issues, the incarcerated youth system is not hopeless. El Farra emphasizes that IYTP, “shows that there are people out there who actually care… we’re here because we want to [be]… this is something we all feel passionate about.”
Photo caption: The Incarcerated Youth Tutorial Project’s campsite, Camp Miller, where UCLA students volunteer their time to mentor incarcerated youth.