Juvenile Law Center


Bruce was 15 years-old when he entered the juvenile justice system. Over the next 16 months, Bruce went to four different placements, including spending 11 months in a facility more than 300 miles from his home. “The hardest thing about being in placement,” Bruce says, “is not being able to talk to your family and friends.”

 In some placements, youth of all ages and grade levels were in one classroom doing the same worksheets.

While in these facilities, Bruce witnessed and experienced aggression by staff. On one occasion, a staff member pushed Bruce and choked him after Bruce refused to stand in a corner.

Bruce remembers a separate incident in which he got into an altercation with a staff member. Later that same day, a different staff member tackled Bruce while he was making his bed and repeatedly pushed Bruce’s head into the bed.

Bruce says that juvenile justice facilities need to do a better job at providing a support system for youth. “I feel like it should be more mentor, less discipline,” Bruce says. “We should be taught how to be men instead of caged like wild ones.”

Bruce’s education also suffered while he was in the juvenile justice system. In some placements, youth of all ages and grade levels were in one classroom doing the same worksheets. “When you are in placement,” Bruce says, “the [school] work is not stimulating, and it’s at a lower level. It was nothing that I didn’t know already. I wish there had been more work, harder work, and something that would have me asking questions and thinking. I did not feel like the teachers cared if you were learning.”

Bruce was in 10th grade when he entered the juvenile justice system. He finished the 10th grade in placement and was one week away from completing 11th grade when he was discharged. But when Bruce returned home, the school wanted to re-enroll him in the 10th grade. After dropping out of school for a year, Bruce entered an accelerated credit program and obtained his transcripts from the juvenile facility and got his credits transferred. Finally, he was permitted to enter 12th grade. “At that point,” Bruce says, “I had enough credits to graduate but not the right credits.”

“Education is important to youth in the juvenile justice system because being in the juvenile justice system is depressing,” Bruce says. “If you had something different going on in your mind, you could learn something you are interested in, and it would take your mind off of home. Youth in the juvenile justice system should also learn skills that would help them succeed when they are released. If you get no education, you will stay at the same level as when you got in. With good education, the statistics of us going back to jail would go down because we learned something while we were there.”

Bruce successfully completed 12th grade and received his high school diploma. He then went on to graduate from both culinary school and medical assistant school. Bruce now works as a Youth Advocate for Juveniles for Justice, trying to make the juvenile justice system better for other young people.

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