Education Outcome Characteristics of Students Admitted to Juvenile Detention

September, 2019

Executive Summary

This report describes the characteristics of students admitted to juvenile detention in 8th or 9th grade and examines whether being detained for any reason has adverse effects on education outcomes in adolescence and early adulthood. First, we compare detained students with their non-detained counterparts in regard to their background characteristics, living conditions, academic performance, and education attainment. Then, we examine whether being admitted to juvenile detention predicts specific outcomes: 1) high school graduation, 2) high school dropout, 3) earning a high school equivalency certificate (GED) for those who did not graduate high school, and 4) postsecondary enrollment (enrollment in four-year and two-year institutions are examined separately).

The study found that detained youth differed from non-detained students in many observable ways. In particular, compared to students who were not exposed to detention, detained students were disproportionately boys, poor1, youth of color, over-age for a grade level, and had significant learning and/or behavioral problems that qualified them for special education and related services. For many detained students, these conditions were evident since 6th or 7th grade, i.e., two years prior to their exposure to juvenile detention. Regardless of detention, this group of students was at heightened risk for many behavioral concerns that may impact their educational attainment.

Key findings from the descriptive analysis:

We found that detained students underperformed on most markers of educational achievement compared to their non-detained peers. Also, students who had a more intense involvement with detention, characterized by either longer exposure and/or multiple detention episodes, performed at lower academic levels relative to students with less intense involvement with juvenile detention:

  1. Sixteen percent (16%) of detained students graduated from high school, compared to 72% of non-detained students. Among those who cumulatively spent more than a month in juvenile detention, 8% graduated.
  2. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of detained students dropped out of high school, compared to 14% of non-detained students. Sixty-two percent (62%) of students who accumulated more than a month in detention dropped out.
  3. Sixteen percent (16%) of detained students earned a GED certificate, in comparison to 2% of non-detained students.
  4. Postsecondary enrollment (for both two-year and four-year colleges combined) among detained students was lower (37%) than among their non-detained peers (51%). The gap in college enrollment was particularly large for 4-year colleges. Only 2.2% of detained students attending a postsecondary institution were enrolled in a 4-year college as opposed to 26% of non-detained students.

Key findings from the multivariate analysis:

  1. Although detained students generally had lower levels of educational achievement, juvenile detention, after controlling for student background, differences in service needs, and previous academic performance, was only a weak predictor of whether a student earned a high school diploma, dropped out from high school, or earned a GED.
  2. After accounting for differences in student background characteristics, service needs, and previous academic performance, the impact of detention on graduation, dropout status, and GED was comparable to the effect of poverty, homelessness, and school mobility.
  3. After accounting for differences in student background characteristics, service needs, and academic performance, the factors that increased a likelihood of high school graduation and decreased a likelihood of dropout were the factors related to student academic success: 1) meeting standard in writing on 10th grade assessment, 2) 9th grade credit accumulation, 3) meetings standard in reading on 10th grade assessment, and 4) 9th grade GPA.
  4. After controlling for student background, service needs, and academic preparedness, detention increased the likelihood of enrollment in a two-year college, but it was not predictive of enrollment in a four-year college. College enrollment was mostly dependent on the applicant’s possessing a high school diploma (for four-year colleges) or GED (for two-year colleges).
  5. The school performance of detained students indicates the need for further monitoring and better access to adequate educational services and social support, especially for students with risks similar to those of detained students.
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