Literacy in the Lives of Formerly-Incarcerated African American Young Men

Embargo until
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Johns Hopkins University
An estimated 40,000 juvenile inmates are released from the carceral setting annually (OJJDP, 2017). Re-entry presents a host of emotional, behavioral, and academic challenges. Recidivism rates of juvenile inmates are high; many of them will experience incarceration throughout adulthood (Ayers, 1997; Foley, 2001; Gardner, 2010). The devasting impact of juvenile incarceration is disproportionately experienced by African Americans. Arrests, referrals to juvenile court, processing, adjudication, and confinement protocol reflect racial disparities between African Americans and their Caucasian counterparts (Henning, 2017; Rovner, 2014). This phenomenological study examined the lived experiences of African American young men between the ages of 18 and 30 who were incarcerated for at least three months in juvenile detention and who received a portion of their education behind bars as minors. Each participant was allotted ninety minutes for an open-ended, one-on-one, semi-structured interview. Participants indicated informed consent prior to the audio recording and transcription of the interviews. The study explored ways in which the participants characterized the role of schools, correctional facilities, and halfway houses in their formal and informal literacy development and usage. Further, the study sought the participants’ interpretations of the role of literacy in their academic, economic, and social lives. The researcher considered the narrative data through the lens of New London Group’s Multiliteracies framework. The researcher’s examination of participant narratives revealed the shared role of home and school environments in creating foundational literacy, the need for emotional and academic infrastructure in middle schools, the blunting effect of unstimulating coursework on the psyche and behavior of juvenile inmates, the lack of coordination between institutions responsible for academic records, and participants’ perception of the impact of literacy on high school completion, post-secondary education, gainful employment, and transformative participation in the community. Further, the researcher espied elegant ways in which African American Vernacular English (AAVE) was featured in participant narratives. The two implications that the researcher considers paramount include the need for public middle and high schools to hire re-entry coordinators for youth returning to school from detention, and the potential for universities to sponsor teacher-preparation programs offering a specialization in teaching incarcerated youth so that educators who instruct the population are equipped with an understanding of the physiological and academic needs of their students. The following individuals served on the dissertation committee: Dr. Norma Day-Vines (chair), Dr. Eric Rice, Dr. Mary Ellen Beaty-O’Ferrall, Dr. Katrina McDonald, Dr. Mavis Sanders, and Dr. Douglas E. Taylor.
Literacy, juvenile, detention, incarceration, African American