Building a “Prison-to-School Pipeline” in Philadelphia and Beyond: Leveraging Research-Practice Partnerships to Successfully Reintegrate Justice-Involved Youth into Schools
By: Angela Pollard, Rena Kreimer, Leah Brogan, & Naomi Goldstein
In Philadelphia, only 36% of students involved in the juvenile justice system graduate from high school. Unfortunately, this collateral consequence of juvenile justice system involvement is not limited to students in Philadelphia—successful reenrollment and reengagement of students in school following discharge from a juvenile justice facility is a nationwide challenge, and disproportionately impacts youth of color., Confinement in juvenile justice facilities can create high barriers for students to overcome to re-engage with school, such as inadequate educational programming offered in juvenile justice facilities that leaves students ill-prepared for the academic rigors of mainstream school settings, school re-entry policies that segregate students returning from confinement into disciplinary alternative education programs, and delays in transferring academic records between facilities and schools that result in students being barred from re-entry completely (for more details on these barriers, see Beebe & Rynders , Carter , and Southern Education Foundation ).
Building on existing collaborative efforts in Philadelphia to support youth with or at-risk of justice system involvement (see here for a key initiative to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline), the Juvenile Justice Research and Reform (JJR&R Lab) at Drexel University, with support from the Spencer Foundation, convened practitioners, advocates, community members, and researchers virtually across three days to develop a best-practice model for supporting the educational success of youth returning to their communities from juvenile justice confinement.
During this convening, local Philadelphia and national stakeholders worked to develop a prison-to-school pipeline model through active working groups and discussions and to set a strategic agenda led by cross-systems partnerships. A variety of individuals contributed their expertise and willingness to collaborate at the convening, with representatives from:
This diverse group of convening participants jointly identified the most important challenges to address in successfully re-enrolling youth in schools after they return home to their communities from juvenile justice confinement, re-engaging them in these educational environments, and supporting them on their paths toward graduation. Some of these challenges included:
Additionally, this group of stakeholders identified how these challenges fit into a comprehensive model for change. The model (pictured below) calls for practitioners, policy makers, advocates, and researchers to address the obstacles to successful school re-integration within the broader context of historical disenfranchisement, systemic racism, the punitive orientations of both the juvenile justice and school systems, and existing regulations. To address systemic barriers and support youths’ successful reintegration and their progress toward graduation, the group identified five primary areas to address, which are depicted in the five concentric circles at the center of the model. The group also highlighted interagency communication and oversight as essential to achieving meaningful system change.
Check out our next post for a deeper dive into the specific challenges identified and how participants planned to address these challenges in Philadelphia and beyond.
 Singer, S., Mozaffar, N., Burdick, K., Gardella, J., Kreimer, R., Chan, W., & Goldstein, N. (March 2019). Difficulties transferring academic credits from juvenile justice facilities: Understanding the scope and source of the problem and implications for students. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society, Portland, Oregon.
 Weatherspoon, F. (2014). African-American males and the US justice system of marginalization: A national tragedy. Palgrave Pivot, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137408433_1