Delinquency Education Essay

Cheap Custom Writing Service

School experiences are connected to issues of delinquency, and for adjudicated youth, negative experiences in school are common. As institutions of socialization and stratification, schools frame student behavior in the language of normal or deviant. Schools label students and student learning as successful or unsuccessful and stratify student achievement into separate curriculums. Research indicates that low school performance, experiences with truancy, and school leaving at a young age are factors related to delinquency; students who experience low school performance are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior. The educational history of incarcerated youth reveals low grades in school, behavior problems, and school leaving.

In the United States, less than half of the prison population has either a high school diploma or a GED. And although the majority of state prisons offer secondary education programs, less than one fourth of the prison population participates in GED and high school classes.

Education programs for youth in prison are cost effective, increase life skills and job skills, and reduce recidivism. Participation in education programs has been linked to decreases in the level of violence in crimes committed by youth after release from prison. Although education programs generate positive effects, historically, support for correctional education has waxed and waned, as this entry shows.

In The Beginning

The history of “delinquency education” extends back to the late eighteenth century. During the Revolutionary War, more revolutionaries died as prisoners in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions than as soldiers in combat. Unwavering in their defense of the ideals put forth in the Declaration of Independence, revolutionaries criticized the inhumane treatment perpetrated by the British during the war and worked diligently among White populations to use incarceration and the judicial system in constructive ways. Benjamin Rush, a signatory, along with Quakers from Pennsylvania, supported the idea of rehabilitation in prison. The idea of rehabilitation and reeducation expanded in the 1800s, particularly in regard to children; however, many prisons instituted rules of silence, restricted mobility, and abusive control of those who were incarcerated.

In the early 1800s as the concept of childhood developed, states began to distinguish differences between adults and children and founded separate institutions of incarceration. States established refuge houses and reformatories for boys and girls, separating them from the adult prison population. By the end of the 1820s the legal community recognized children who violated the law as belonging to a special category, and the first refuge houses opened in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Boys and girls were both sent to refuge houses, although always to separate quarters.

The judicial system framed the illegal activities of children as uncontrolled and unguided behavior that needed modification. Supporters of refuge houses recognized the problem of severe poverty and advanced the idea of giving young offenders education and vocational training rather than punishment. They hoped civilized instruction in reformatory schools and work in reformatory factories would alter the behavior of the children. Religious studies, vocational training, and hard labor defined the educational programs for delinquents. The reformation of the child, not punishment, became the goal. Unfortunately, many refuge houses exploited the labor of the children, and often staff abused the children.

The Reform School Era

During the latter half of the 1800s, reform schools grew with continued state support. In 1854 the Lancaster Industrial School for Girls in Massachusetts established the first reformatory exclusively for girls and introduced a new structure to reform schools—the cottage plan. Over the next fifty years, cottage plan systems emerged at reform schools across the country. Supporters of the schools believed that society needed to save children from poverty in industrialized urban centers. They sought to train children to work and become good citizens. Typically located in rural areas and often on farms far from urban centers, cottage plan reform schools provided surrogate homes for children as young as six years old. The cottage parent or parents, usually a matron or married couple, supervised about twenty children in a cottage.

Many reformatories identified themselves as training schools and scheduled the children for a half-day of work and a half-day of school. Vocational training dominated the education at most schools, and often consisted of the maintenance of the school and grounds. Many schools ran farms. Typically, boys worked on the farms, in the kitchen, or in print, wood, or auto shops. Girls worked on the farms, too, as well as in gardens and greenhouses. Some reform schools became almost entirely self-sufficient. Although the work boys and girls completed was similar, the amount of time they spent under state control differed significantly. Whereas the boys left reform schools often at age 16, at some schools, girls stayed until the age of 25. At many reform schools, like the refuge houses that preceded them, juveniles faced exploitation, corporal punishment, and abuse, and staff used solitary confinement and food deprivation as punishments. Maintaining control and order at these institutions often preceded secondary commitments to education.

States began to found training schools for White boys and boys of color, and for White girls and girls of color. In the North, most training schools were integrated; girls of color and White girls often shared the same cottage. During the same period in the South, training schools only accepted White children. Eventually, Southern states founded separate institutions for girls of color, and White girls, and boys of color, and White boys. Most schools provided an academic education that reflected the curriculum in public schools. Tragically, many training schools excluded boys of color from academic programs. Some schools failed to educate boys of color beyond the eighth grade. If boys of color arrived at a school with an eighth-grade education, staff forced them to work rather than continue their education. Similarly, when compared with their White counterparts, girls of color received substandard academic and vocational training. Often they served school staff in domestic capacities and lived in overcrowded conditions in their cottages.

A New Movement

By 1900, juvenile court laws made distinctions between youth and adult offenders, and many states adopted a parental role over children charged with juvenile offenses, the same role they had assumed with children suffering from neglect. The Progressive Era reformers worked from the early 1900s through the 1920s to improve the conditions of reform schools.

They believed fervently that boys and girls could not control their environments or their experiences. Believing that modifications would lead to social adjustment, they argued that training schools altered both the child’s behavior and the environment to positive ends. Focusing on the misbehavior of the individual child, reformers introduced the concepts of parole, probation, and intermediate sentencing.

The introduction of clinical psychology and clinicians to reform schools during this time individualized treatment and advanced the study of casework. Although some White training schools used psychological assessment tests in admission procedures, individualized assessments of a child’s mental health were not a part of integrated services. The tests redistributed the population along new lines of classification; test results labeled the majority of juveniles in reform schools as morons and dullards. The classifications reorganized custody responses to juvenile populations. Those juveniles whom the tests classified as capable received educational programs, vocational training, and recreation. In contrast, those juveniles whom the tests classified as dullards, administrations excluded from the educational programs and recreation.

Training schools using the cottage plan became widespread, and as schools developed, some progressive schools incorporated psychotherapy into their trade and professional training. Supporters of psychotherapeutic work critiqued the label “delinquent” and believed that individualized attention, nurturance, and community building would alter the ways in which boys and girls behaved.

In the 1930s the Hawthorne-Cedar Knolls School in New York established a groundbreaking psychotherapeutic guidance clinic with psychiatrists, psychologists, and case workers who became an integral part of their rehabilitation program. Demonstrating commitments to psychotherapy and individualized attention, the school allowed boys and girls to create their own combination of academic education, vocational education, and work programs. Believing that negative experiences in former classrooms and emotional instability prevented classroom learning, the administration provided flexibility in school and work schedules to increase overall student engagement. Although each student received instruction in English and arithmetic, all other areas of study became elective. Some electives included drama, music, photography, creative arts, and woodwork. Individualized assessment accompanied individualized plans. Students received qualitative feedback on their progress in ungraded classes, and the administration abandoned report cards. They situated learning within the larger context of social adjustment and rehabilitation.

Contemporary Programs

Although most training schools mirrored the public school curriculum in some way, with the rise of clinical case work and individualized treatment, the primary concern in many schools became the diagnosis and treatment of behavior. For the next forty years, systematic evaluation, the use of case workers, and therapeutic treatment became typical elements in rehabilitation programs. For although images of juvenile delinquency increased in the 1950s and 1960s, rehabilitation programs remained much the same until the 1970s.

In the 1970s reviews critical of rehabilitation programs challenged the traditional perspectives in correctional education. Citing high recidivism rates, conservatives attacked the ideal of rehabilitation and curtailed education programs and funding. The policy of incapacitation dominated the prison system, and emphasis on punishment and not rehabilitation emerged for the first time in over 100 years. The policy continued into the early 2000s. During that time, funding for prison construction increased dramatically. In contrast, funding and support for correctional education programs declined, even though the relationship between low performance in school and delinquent behavior remains strong.

In the late 1990s the education of young African American boys committed to correctional institutions reflected a fourth-grade reading level. Assessments revealed that most of the boys needed special education classes. Minority children, who are only one third of the population, were two thirds of the children who were incarcerated, and over one fourth of girls who were incarcerated had learning disabilities. In the early 2000s almost 100,000 juveniles were incarcerated in public and private facilities in the United States.

Although educational programs have been truncated, research on education services has continued to reveal that the replication of traditional schooling in correctional programs is ineffective, and that individualized attention and cooperative learning are essential. Other research has documented struggles with overcrowding in juvenile facilities, verbal and physical abuse of children by staff, education programs that are lusterless and incomplete, and policies that allow custody to call students from class to work.

Resocialization programs combined with academic and vocational work remain central components in delinquency education, and recent research findings have documented that interpersonal skills training, and the combination of psychotherapeutic work with an academic education, generates the lowest recidivism rates.


  1. Fine, M. (1991). Framing dropouts: Notes on the politics of an urban public high school. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  2. MacKenzie, D. L. (2006). What works in corrections: Reducing the criminal activities of offenders and delinquents. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Noblit, G. W., & Collins, T. W. (1978). Order and disruption in a desegregated high school. Crime and Delinquency, 24(3), 277–289.
  4. Polk, K., & Schafer, W. E. (1972). Schools and delinquency. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  5. Reeves, M. (1929). Training schools for delinquent girls. Philadelphia: Russell Sage Foundation.
  6. Slavson, S. R. (1961). Re-educating the delinquent: Through group and community participation. New York: Collier Books.
  7. Tueba, H. T., Spindler G., & Spindler, L. (1989). What do anthropologists have to say about dropouts? The first centennial conference on children at risk. New York: Falmer Press.
  8. Weeks, A. H. (1958). Youthful offenders at Highfields: An evaluation of the effects of the short-term treatment of delinquent boys. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

This example Delinquency Education Essay is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic please use our writing services. offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.

See also:



Always on-time


100% Confidentiality

Special offer!