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Blueprint for Change: Education Success for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System

How to Use the Blueprint

The Blueprint for Change is a tool for change. The Goals and Benchmarks are a framework for both direct case advocacy and system reform efforts.

Direct Case Advocacy

The Blueprint can be used as a checklist or guide by advocates for youth to ensure that all education issues are being addressed. The Blueprint examples provide ideas for legal remedies and strategies to use to achieve the best education outcomes for a particular youth or group.

System Reform

The Goals and Benchmarks can be used in numerous ways to spur broader system reform. The Blueprint can be used to accomplish the following:

  • Begin conversations among various stakeholder groups;
  • Assess a state or jurisdiction’s attention to the issue of education needs for youth involved in the juvenile justice system;
  • Create a template for an action plan for change;
  • Identify what data needs to be collected to measure outcomes;
  • Begin or enhance existing conversations about cross-system collaboration and information-sharing;
  • Structure components of curriculum development or training models;
  • Revise laws, regulations and policies; or
  • Guide systemic litigation strategies.

The Blueprint for Change is designed to be a tool for all stakeholders (including youth, parents, educators, lawyers, judges, caseworkers, probation officers, child welfare workers for dual status youth, juvenile justice and education system administrators, state and local agencies, and policy-makers). Stakeholders can use the framework of this Blueprint for Change to identify what they can do to promote educational success for youth in the juvenile justice system in their jurisdiction. Download a pdf of the Goals and Benchmarks here.

Context for the Blueprint

Being sent to a juvenile justice facility often causes more harm than rehabilitation. Almost always, the best place for a student to be educated is within the community and not in a juvenile justice facility. See, e.g., Just Learning: The Imperative to Transform Juvenile Justice Systems Into Effective Educational Systems – A Study of Juvenile Justice Schools in the South and the Nation, Southern Education Foundation (2014). The most effective long-term solution for education success is to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system entirely. While our organizations are dedicated to this long-term goal, the Blueprint focuses on the tens of thousands of youth placed in juvenile justice facilities on any given day, as well as those on probation or facing adjudication.

Additionally, many of the barriers affecting youth in the juvenile justice system are directly or indirectly tied to structural issues such as systemic poverty, institutional racism, mass incarceration, and a myriad of public health concerns. We are grateful for the excellent work many advocates and other stakeholders are doing to curtail the school-to-prison pipeline, reform detention, improve conditions in schools and courts that lead to entry into the system, and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities as well as other inequalities, all of which are also critical to life success. This Blueprint focuses on the key issue of education for youth in the juvenile justice system, maintaining the expectation that improving opportunities for these incredibly vulnerable youth will have a ripple effect on other systems.

While youth in the adult criminal justice system face many of the same challenges to education success as youth in the juvenile justice system, the Blueprint focuses on juvenile-justice-involved students. Specifically, this publication is focused on the educational needs of youth after they have been adjudicated, though some issues and resources are relevant to pre-adjudication as well.


The Blueprint is not legal advice and should not be relied upon to make decisions in individual cases.

The Legal Center for Youth Justice and Education presents the resources, policies or practices in the Blueprint to spark ideas for reform and replication, but has not formally evaluated their effectiveness.