Education for America's juvenile delinquents is in dire need of improvement, argued Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday, as they released new guidelines for state and local governments.

Holder and Duncan announced the new guidelines during a press conference at the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center School in Alexandria, Virginia. The guidelines come in multiple parts, including a 33- page outline of how to improve education in juvenile detention centers, as well as a series of Dear Colleague letters clarifying federal law and reminding state and local governments of their legal obligations regarding the treatment of juveniles.

Approximately 60,000 U.S. schoolchildren are in juvenile detention centers at any particular time, and several hundred thousand will pass through their doors in a given school year. Unsurprisingly, such children are often behind in school even before they go into juvenile detention, and the White House is concerned that while there they are only falling further behind. Duncan and Holder's recommendations emphasize the need for juvenile corrections facilities rely less on "drill and practice" teaching tactics, better prepare for students' reentry into normal society, and invest more resources in making sure that their curricula and opportunities imitate those available at ordinary public schools.

"Students in juvenile justice facilities need a world-class education and rigorous coursework to help them successfully transition out," said Duncan.

The guidelines are not merely a set of suggestions. In one of the Dear Colleague letters, the Department of Education emphasizes that states need to ensure that schooling in juvenile corrections facilities adequately accommodates the many disabilities students have, ranging from addiction to a host of mental disorders. Another letter emphasizes that children in juvenile detention remain eligible to receive Pell Grants to attend college, clearing up confusion created by a federal law that bans prisoners from receiving grants. Access to Pell Grants is valuable, as about nine percent of people in juvenile corrections facilities already have a high school diploma or GED (many states allow individuals to remain in juvenile corrections up to age 21). Giving these students Pell Grants will improve access to post-secondary education that could improve their standing in the workforce.

In the long run, the Cabinet leaders argue, better juvenile education could save money, by getting at least some youngsters back on the right track and keeping them from reoffending, whether as children or as adults. A year of juvenile detention, they said, can cost the government as much as $88,000.

"Investing in correctional education is not just the right thing to do to help our young people – it is also a wise investment of limited taxpayer resources," said Duncan and Holder in one of their letters. "Recent research findings suggest that a $1 correctional education investment can cut re-incarceration costs by between $4 and $5 during the first three years post-release.

The guidelines are an outgrowth of President Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" task force, which last May recommended general improvements to the juvenile justice system in order to improve long-term life success for troubled youth.

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