On April 2, 2015 I took a trip down to Monroe County Children’s Center with my UTL crew. For those that may not know, Monroe County’s Children Center is a facility that houses juvenile delinquents and offenders from Monroe County, mostly from the city of Rochester (and thus the RCSD). From the MCCC: “Our charge is to provide for the temporary care of children accused of committing delinquent or criminal acts. Our mission is to utilize the time that children spend here for their positive growth and development, toward preventing future involvement in the juvenile justice system. We believe that children should be accountable for their behavior, but understand that each of them will be returning to their community.” The importance of this experience was thinking about the consequences for children that are detained as well as the factors that contribute to sending them there in the first place. Any of the detainees could have been in any of the classrooms I taught during my time student teaching, but what I find more important to recognize is that they will eventually be returning back to the community, to the classroom.
Now before I go through a breakdown of my thoughts on this experience, I will give a few stats and definitions that were so graciously provided by the staff of the MCCC. A juvenile delinquent is defined as a child over 7 and under 16 who has committed (or been accused of) an act that would be a criminal offense if he/she was 16 or over. A juvenile offender is a child aged 12-15 who has committed (or been accused of) a very serious act and is being treated legally as an adult. I hadn’t realized the age that one could be tried as an adult in NYS was 16, and NYS is one of two states that maintain this while every other state has the age set at 18. Currently, there is a “raise the age” initiative occurring to even the playing field amongst the nation (as it is pretty messed up that a 16 year old who murders someone in New Jersey will have a clean record, while a 16 year old in NYS who does the same thing would have that following them for the rest of their life).
Here’s a little about the detention population at MCCC. Their juvenile delinquents range from ages 10 through 18. Juvenile offenders make up 30-50% of the population depending on various factors. Most of the children are gang affiliated and 70% qualify for diagnosis of mental health issues. About 50% of the children have IEP’s and many have significant learning disabilities along with developmental disabilities. On top of that there are medical issues among the population including diabetes, pregnancy and childbirth, dialysis, asthma, gunshots, lack of dental care, ect. The MCCC provides a range of services to meet the needs of their adolescent population including medical treatment, education, psychiatric/developmental services, recreation, sociality, and casework activities. It is important to the staff of the MCCC that children feel safe and cared for.
The culture inside of the facility is very interesting. Everything is about power, which is also true for classroom management. Equity and consistency is important for all the staff that work with the kids to recognized. A child may offer another their food, but that transaction cannot be allowed to happen. It may look harmless enough, but it is a power play. There have been situations where children would threaten the family members of others for food. Besides that, planning to coordinate gang groups through the facility also need to be extensive.
Something to think about: not all juvenile delinquents or offenders are sent to the MCCC and are actually allowed to stay in their communities. Recent reforms have made it more difficult to have children sent to the detention facility and it only occurs when the child presents a danger to their community, themselves, if it is probable that they will commit another offense before they go to trial, or if there is a danger to them from outside forces. Even for those who do end up detained, the amount of time that they stay has decreased drastically over the last few years. A decade ago, problem children would get arrested and detained and wouldn’t be seen in class for months (and even the whole year). The shift in policy has made it so that children that would have been placed in the detention center wouldn’t be an issue any longer in the classroom. This would even include students who accumulated numerous absences from school (“I heard you liked absences…”). That is no longer the case and results in harder to manage students being left in the classroom which can be seen as a positive or negative depending on your viewpoint. I personally feel that teachers have opportunities to create great changes in their students, but that can only happen when the student is in the classroom. Detaining them in a facility such as the MCCC is counter-productive to this idea.