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Post-Incarceration Schooling: An Examination of How Educational Resilience is Fostered and Cultivated in an Alternative School for Formerly Incarcerated Young Adults

  • Author(s): Lea, Charles Herbert
  • Advisor(s): Abrams, Laura S
  • et al.
Abstract

Formerly incarcerated youth often have low educational attainment following incarceration, leaving them at high risk for unstable employment and contact with the adult criminal justice system. Once they age out of traditional high school, community-based alternative schools are often the last option for these youth to earn their high school diploma or GED or receive vocational training.

While commitment to conventional activities (i.e., school and work) is known to prevent recidivism, less is known about how community-based alternative schools facilitate community reintegration among formerly incarcerated youth.

Guided by an educational resilience framework, this case study explored the elements of a community-based alternative school that provides education and vocational training to formerly incarcerated young adults aged 18 to 25. The research focuses specifically on young Black men as they are disproportionately pushed out of traditional schools and into the juvenile justice system, and are at high risk for school failure and recidivism. Data collection consisted of 12 months of observational field research, semi-structured interviews with four school employees and eight Black men students, one focus group with program case managers, and a review of school, classroom, and student documents. Each data source was analyzed and interpreted thematically using a three-step coding procedure that included initial, focused, and axial coding. Constant comparisons and memoing were also used to establish analytic distinctions and to generate meanings.

Study findings point to several important areas: (1) subjective definitions of successful community reintegration based on organizational goals and formerly incarcerated young Black men’s personal philosophies of survival; (2) culturally-relevant curriculum as a vehicle for academic achievement and social-emotional development; and (3) supportive services as a factor that influences academic engagement and persistence. Findings from this research highlight the important role relationships and space and place play in bolstering students’ resilience during their school reentry process. This knowledge is also significant given the move to shift the incarcerated population into community-based alternatives, and it is timely given bipartisan support to reverse the trend of mass incarceration.

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