Did you know that incarcerated teens attend school and go to the library? Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with some of the librarians at Passages Academy, a school program located inside correctional facilities for teens. Here's what they had to say:
Can you tell us a little bit about Passages Academy?
Passages Academy is a New York City Department of Education program serving incarcerated and detained youth ages 11-17. We are located in ten sites in three different boroughs. Students who enroll in Passages Academy are able to earn high school credits just like every other NYC public school student. We currently have a library team dedicated to providing the highest quality of school library services available at three of our four largest sites. It is our goal to provide the best possible school library services to all students at our school. Luckily, we have a supportive principal who values literacy and is working with us to realize our vision. —Jessica
What are some of the major reasons why teens are incarcerated at your facility?
Unfortunately for the reader, we really can’t answer that in terms of providing any insight. In our role as educators, we do not inquire into individuals’ reasons for detention. Remaining focused on getting to know each individual young person at our school, separate and apart from the story that brought them into the situation they are now in, offers the young people an opportunity to transcend whatever labels or allegations are currently weighing on them in court or in other spheres, and gives them and us a chance to interact in a way that is more normal during a time of crisis. For more information to answer your question, you can visit the Department of Juvenile Justice website which shows the 2010 demographics report, or click on this link to see the pdf. According to this report, the most common charge in the last fiscal year was “robbery,” and the total charges were pretty evenly split between misdemeanors and felonies. —Jessica
What is a typical day like for an incarcerated teen?
You can visit the Department of Juvenile Justice website, which describes what a typical day is like for a resident. Passages’ students take courses in English, Global Studies, Math, Art, Science and Physical Education during a school day that lasts from 8:40am to 3:00pm. There are seven periods in the day. Classroom lessons and activities look just like they do all over NYC because Passages’ students are instructed according to the same standards and are prepared for the same exams. Every January and June we offer Regents exams, and school follows the same calendar as public schools in the community. —Anne
How long do teens usually stay in juvenile detention?
This is a tough one to answer because it varies so much. Some teens stay only a few days, some stay a few months or more. Sometimes they have very complicated cases that keep them going back and forth to court, all the while waiting for their judgment in one of the juvenile detention facilities or non-secure group homes. They may also transfer between facilities quite a bit, which means they may have many short stays in different places. Unfortunately, even among those who get released to go home, we see many teens come back again and again. —Anja
What is the library like? Is it different than a regular school or public library?
The biggest difference is that our students can’t just walk in when they want to and leave when they want to. They can’t just stop by to look something up, borrow a book, or study—they can only come when travelling with a scheduled class or when escorted by a Department of Juvenile Justice staff member. We also have a lot more rules in place for borrowing books and students are not allowed any access to the Internet. Other than that, our libraries have a lot in common with regular school and public libraries. We have programs like author and artist visits, craft workshops, poetry readings and book clubs. We get new books as often as we can so that students have plenty to read. Teachers and students know they can ask us for resources on all kinds of things. And, we hear that our libraries are the most beautiful rooms in the not-so-beautiful buildings that we work in. —Anja
What are some of your favorite books for teens?
Well, some of our teens’ favorite books include:
Tyrell and Kendra by Coe Booth
The Bluford Series
Snitch and Street Pharm by Allison Van Diepen
The Drama High Series
The Twilight Series
Push by Sapphire
Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon
A Child Called It by David Pelzer
Any book about astrology
Can the teens at your library get fines?
The teens who use our library do not get fines at all. Per Department of Juvenile Justice regulations, students are not permitted to have money. But more importantly, we would never want students to be discouraged from visiting the library or prohibited from borrowing a book because they are unable to pay a fine or fear being chastised for losing a book. —Anne
Want to learn more? Check out Anne, Jessica, and Anja's blog What's Good? and learn all about the current books they are reading! Also check out the amazing NYPL Teen Librarian, Lindsy's post called Incarcerated Teen Book List to discover fictional stories about teens "on the inside".