Public Safety

Juvenile Offenders Offered Fresh Start in School

No teenager wants to go to a detention facility, but for some, it can offer a new beginning.

“I tell them, ‘the best thing you can do is start today, start fresh for success,’” says teacher Jiael Brownell, who teaches serious juvenile offenders at East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility. “I try to get them to believe they can achieve.”

Out on the streets, a juvenile offender is more likely to be distracted and not pay attention to school. Once incarcerated, however, teenagers are promptly guided back into the classroom where academics and socialization take center stage.

“A lot (of the juvenile offenders) weren’t in school and for some of them, this is the only way they can finish school,” said Luis Ojeda, a teacher at the East Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility. “It offers them an opportunity.”

Juveniles are enrolled in the Sarah Anthony School classes the next school day after they arrive, said Sean Morrill, senior director for Juvenile Court and Community Schools. The school offers a rigorous educational program for the juveniles and has about 600 students enrolled in the various facilities at any given time.

Language and math skills are assessed and student transcripts are requested so they youths are placed in the right classes. Probation staff also group the detainees based on their age, the severity of their offense, and gang affiliation, if they have one.

Teachers and staff have certificates and work under a contract from the San Diego County Office of Education. Juvenile offenders are measured by the same standards as those in public schools. All the credits they receive can be transferred to any school or college in the state, said Morrill.

“We test our students the same way other students are tested. Our G.E.D. (General Educational Development test) rates are admirable,” said Brownell.

In addition to the academics, teachers help the older teenagers learn job application and interview skills

“We do spend a lot of time and energy to help transition students back to school and the community to reduce the recidivism rate,” Morrill said.

Teachers also focus on character development and socialization skills to help the youths be respectful of others, Ojeda said.

Brownell said he considers teaching these students a special mission because many need the extra encouragement to believe in themselves.


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Yvette Urrea Moe is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact