Learning Disorder

The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections fails the state's worst kids

To make matters worse, unlike regular public school teachers, who get long breaks for holidays and summers, ADJC teachers work year-round. When the students are on break, the teachers are still working. Crunch the numbers, and the hourly pay for an ADJC teacher falls far below that of another public school teacher.

The federal court order contained specific provisions designed to fill in those inequities for the year-round teacher. But today, the average public school teacher starts at $32,000, while an ADJC teacher comes in at $35,000 -- not much more compensation for three months' more work. And most ADJC teachers haven't gotten a raise in five years.

The teachers interviewed say they stay at ADJC because they love the kids. They're seldom afraid, even though the rooms are cramped and there's rarely a corrections officer present in the classroom, as required by ADJC policy.

Public interest attorney Tim Hogan says every public school kid deserves the same educational opportunities.
Doug Hoeschler
Public interest attorney Tim Hogan says every public school kid deserves the same educational opportunities.
Kathleen Karol took over as ADJC's schools superintendent in October.
Dan Huff
Kathleen Karol took over as ADJC's schools superintendent in October.

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For the past year, New Times has been investigating conditions within the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections -- a state agency that, despite its name, has a mandate to rehabilitate, rather than punish, troubled kids. Earlier stories revealed that the department no longer follows the practices put into place by a federal court order in 1993 that were designed to ensure that proper conditions are maintained for youth in detention. Among the newspaper"s findings:

• Children are routinely put in solitary confinement in specialized "separation units" for days or weeks, sometimes even months.

• Children are locked in their cells for days at a time.

• ADJC provides substandard mental health services.

• Staff members often use violence to control kids when it is not necessary.

• Staff members have sexual relations with kids.

• Corrections officers and teachers are put at risk because of staffing shortages and because department policies are not followed.

• In many cases, children detained in Arizona are treated more harshly than their adult counterparts in the state. Kids serve time for petty offenses, receive longer sentences and are denied luxuries -- like radios and televisions in their cells -- that adult prisoners take for granted.

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At least these kids aren't stoned or drunk when they come to class, the teachers say. And they almost always show up.

But the kids don't always do as well as ADJC says they do, the teachers contend.

"We were kidding that you could come out of ADJC with an associate's degree," Naifeh says -- that's how easy it is to earn credits. The current teachers scoff at the statistics the department brags about, claiming that a kid improves 1.7 grades for every month he's institutionalized.

"We just cracked up. Actually, I think we were too mad to laugh," one of the current teachers says. "If that was the case, we'd have Einsteins leaving there."

Superintendent Kathleen Karol acknowledges that the TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) that ADJC gives to kids once a month doesn't accurately reflect a student's progress. A student can cram for the TABE test and do well initially, she says, but a year later won't recall much of what he knew -- she calls it a "halo effect."

In March, the Arizona Department of Education wrote to ADJC, requiring that the department administer the AIMS and Stanford 9 tests to its students, or risk losing federal funding. To date, only a handful of the kids eligible have taken the AIMS test (the Department of Education refused to release the scores, stating privacy concerns because so few results are available), and none has taken the Stanford 9.

The Department of Education caught up with ADJC on the testing issue, but often problems go unnoticed because no one outside ADJC is watching. Arlene Duston sat on ADJC's school board until 2000, when the Legislature eliminated it. The board wasn't like a regular school board; it had no power at all, but it did allow for some public input into education at ADJC. And it gave Duston a platform from which to argue for the creation of a full-fledged school board.

Parents line up for their kids' graduation ceremonies at Adobe Mountain and ADJC's other schools, but they're seldom involved in the day-to-day workings of the schools the way other public school parents are, says Duston, a former member of the Deer Valley School Board.

"They're using public funds, taxpayers' money [to operate ADJC's schools], and I felt that it was important to have public representatives making decisions, not just a state employee making a decision," she says.

That's crucial, says Peter Leone, because often in a bureaucracy like ADJC, hiring more corrections officers or paying for more beds will take priority over buying new textbooks.

Exactly, says the current Eagle Point teacher, who maintains that the department puts everything over education.

"ADJC would not have a single teacher out there if they could figure out a way to get the state money without us. We are overpriced and we cost too much and they don't really need teachers, they just need youth corrections officers. So if there was any way they could find to get the education money without having certified teachers, they'd get rid of us."


The teachers were disheartened when Larry Mazin was replaced by interim superintendent Peggy Eggemeyer, a bureaucrat with no real experience in education. In the past several months, ADJC risked losing hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant money simply because Eggemeyer hadn't spent it.

But Kathleen Karol took over in October, got the grant money and began to win confidence with her strong background in secure-care education and promises to reform the system.

The first boost could come later this month, if the Legislature and governor approve a measure that would give ADJC teachers their Prop. 301 raises, and make it retroactive. David Mendoza, executive director for the state employees' union, says almost every ADJC teacher has rallied to fight for that pay increase, and he expects it will go through.

Karol promises that all eligible ADJC students will take the AIMS and Stanford 9 tests this coming spring. She's working to create school-based advisory boards that would take the place of the sunsetted ADJC school board. And she says she'll approach the Legislature to finally clarify the law with regard to ADJC education.

If she doesn't -- or if the answers Karol gets don't satisfy Tim Hogan -- Hogan might head to court. But he admits it would be a tough case. Hogan hasn't found any interested parents to serve as plaintiffs, and ADJC certainly hasn't asked for his help. That lack of cooperation would make gathering data for a lawsuit difficult.

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