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Insider Article [July 2013] [07/02/13] (Reaching Out to the Juvenile Justice Community)
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Reaching Out to the Juvenile Justice Community

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness. New Press, Feb. 2012. 


Lankford, Susan Madden. Born, Not Raised: Voices from Juvenile Hall. Humane Exposures, 2012. pap. $24.95. ISBN 97 80979236631


Ross, Richard. Juvenile in Justice.  98p. Richard Ross. photos. notes. 2012. Tr $29.95. ISBN 978-0-9855106-0-2.





The challenges facing at-risk youth in the juvenile justice system are massive and endemic.  Several recent award-winning books outline the problems and issues (see Sidebar). With over 70,000 youth currently in lockdown across the country, and close to 10,000 in California, libraries and librarians are vital to the success of these youth and indeed, our society.

Many detention centers lack even space for a library, let alone funding for staff, books, or computers.  Even more significantly, the roles and attitudes of corrections administrators and probation staff often appear to be completely opposed to the freedom of choice and freedom to read that librarians hold so dear.  Many of them just don’t “get it” when it comes to the need for libraries and reading for troubled youth.  And with these problems occurring nationally, where do you even begin?  How do you start the conversation? The good news is the discussion is opening up.

Amy Cheney, librarian at the Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall and Jennifer Sweeney, adjunct faculty at Drexel University and juvenile justice advocate had the opportunity to present to and meet with over 250 professionals in the juvenile justice community at the 18th annual National Symposium for Juvenile Services in Las Vegas in October 2012.   This gathering is a unique forum that brings together the leadership and direct care professionals from juvenile services and other human services professionals for training, and the opportunity to network and share innovative program service approaches being implemented within the juvenile justice system throughout the country.

“We wanted to focus on the basics of why free and voluntary reading is so critical for these kids.  Nationally, those incarcerated read at about a 5th grade level. Low literacy is an indicator for imprisonment.   Literacy of at-risk youth is the one thing that is our ethical and moral obligation to address,” Amy points out.  While most of the attendees at their session were teachers and so didn’t need much convincing about the importance of books and reading in detention, what was crucial to share was the need for free choice and the removal of punitive consequences connected to library use.  The teachers were also eager to hear about the specific books and authors that appeal to these youth, and why.

The opportunity to network with the juvenile justice community has reaped further rewards: Amy and Jennifer have contributed the first of a series of consciousness-raising articles to the newsletter for the Council for Educators of At-Risk and Delinquent Youth (CEARDY), a national organization of educators who teach in non-traditional educational settings, such as detention and corrections facilities, special education programs, alternative schools, residential programs, day treatment, and mental health placements.

We all know it takes time to develop the relationships that make for good partnerships.  The juvenile justice community is one partner that we can reach out to.                                                                                         

To find out more about the NJPS and CEARDY, go to:

Written by Amy Cheney and Jennifer Sweeney