Resource Guide: Working in Juvenile Facilities

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( Connecting Libraries, Underserved teens and Books)

The following guidelines will help you to establish credibility and respect with the facility administrators, staff, and, most importantly, the teens. All are necessary components for a successful juvenile detention center partnership and program.

  • Identify an internal contact: Possible contacts include directors, teachers, librarians, supervisors, counselors, etc. There may be a "Friends" of the Juvenile Hall group. Think about finding someone who has a role similar to yours in the way they interface with probation staff and youth, such as a teacher. This person can help to lead you through the process of starting the group and working with the teens. If you are unable to identify someone on staff at the institution, speak with one of the librarians already providing services to this population for support and feedback.

  • Listen more than you talk. As Patrick Jones, nationally known young adult librarian and author of several critically acclaimed books for librarians and educators, says, "When partnering with correctional facilities, we must understand the need to support the goals of that institution even if they may conflict with our values" ("Reaching Out to Young Adults in Jail," Young Adult Library Services [Fall 2004]: 14-17). Remember that you are a guest in this institution and be respectful of that.

  • Be aware of the issues that are likely to be prevalent in these institutions. They include:

    • Security: It may take time to get into the institution and set up the program. There are a lot of processes to go through, security clearances, etc. The institution's main concern is most likely security, and there are a great many things that fall under "security issues" that may surprise you.

    • Power and Control: Within the institution, you will need to be able to know what to stand up for and what to concede. It will be important to access that skill under pressure.

    • Change: The youth can be greatly affected by changes in staff, routine, etc. There can be a lot of change and turnover of youth. Youth may be removed in the middle of your program, in the middle of their most profound moment, etc. Learn to be more flexible and develop an even better sense of humor. Depending on what is happening that day with the staff or youth, your program may or may not happen. Sometimes there will be nothing you can do about it, and other times there may be something you can do. You will need to learn to tell the difference between those situations.

  • Remember that your "new" ideas may have been tried or implemented before. Make sure you ask staff as well as administrators about any history. Staff may have been there longer than the administrators and know more about what has gone on in the past as well as about actual daily operations.