Juvenile detention center teaching careers

Updated March 21, 2017

Teaching young people is challenging and rewarding for those educators who love kids as much as they enjoy their subject. When kids get on the wrong side of the law they still need to learn to read and write well. They still need to know how to multiply and divide and how to use fractions. Teachers who commit themselves to educating young people in juvenile detention centres are much needed and often go unrecognized.


The need for educators in the Juvenile Detention Centers is great and growing. According to Amnesty International, "The U.S. puts more of its children behind bars than any other nation on earth. To give you a comparison, the U.S. has more than five times the number of incarcerated children as India, a country of nine hundred million people." With this great number of children locked up, many for non-violent offences, the need to educate them on a better way of life is great. Amnesty International estimates that 89,000 young people are put into solitary confinement each year for more than one day. This time could be better invested in teaching youth skills they need to survive once they return to freedom.


Students in Juvenile Detention Centers can be highly motivated to learn. They have been made aware that their options in life are limited if they do not get an education. With educational options behind bars, they can take advantage of the opportunities they did not value while they were free. Many students in these programs prefer to be in classes than bored in their rooms. Learning becomes exciting. Staring at stone walls is boring. Students often have to earn the right to participate in the program. This gives teachers in these facilities a strong motivational edge in dealing with the kids.

Rebecca Sickels, adjunct professor of Sport Studies at Whitman, explains, "Sometimes they don't want to finish a class, but it's always better than being in their rooms. I would love to think they come for me, but I'm sure they actually just hate staying in the same place all day."


Education behind bars is challenging due to the fast rate of turnover. Most juvenile offenders are not behind bars for very long. The impact a teacher can have is limited by the amount of time the student is in the program. While everyone is supportive of the young person being given a new start and a second chance, the teacher who invested several weeks into the student must start the process afresh with someone new. Teachers who grow emotionally close to the students would find this very difficult.


Rehabilitation is possible if education is part of the process. Criminals need to think about their future and the consequences they suffer in the present. Pamela Monk Kelley, of the New Haven Teachers Institute at Yale, explained, "Crime begins in the mind, a juvenile has to think wrong before doing wrong." Teachers who dedicate themselves to the young people behind bars are rewarded with the prospect that their rehabilitation will be more successful. By changing their thought patterns they can choose better actions.


The National Juvenile Detention Association's Center for Research and Professional Development (CRPD) offers a National Training Curriculum for Educators of Youth in Confinement Facilities (Educator's Curriculum).

The program is funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). A specialised 40-hour training course helps prepare teachers, teacher aids, and others involved in the process of educating young people in Detention Centers.

This special training is above and beyond the bachelor's and master's in the content area you intend to teach.

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About the Author

Stephen Saylor is a bilingual educator and translator who has been writing since 2005. He has contributed articles to websites such as and XtremeMusic. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Michigan State University and a Master of Arts in education from San Diego State University.