An island of reading for youth in the California juvenile justice system
Alameda County Library staff fill in the gaps
CREDIT: BETTY MÁRQUEZ ROSALES / EDSOURCE
Through four heavy, locked doors, down a long beige hallway lit by bright artificial lighting, and past several locked rooms filled mostly with middle and high school students sits a room that feels far more inviting: a superhero-themed library with colorful furniture and enlarged, vibrant, culturally-inclusive artwork on the walls.
On a recent Tuesday morning, seven students were escorted to the library from room two, each of them dressed in khaki-colored pants, black shoes, bright green tees, and dark gray sweatshirts that all read the same stamped text: Alameda County Juvenile Probation.
The library staff waiting for them work for the Alameda County Library. They’re part of an innovative partnership between the county’s library, probation department, and office of education, which is in charge of the education of students inside juvenile halls.
What began as a volunteer program for UC Berkeley students to read with and mentor youth during the school year has since flourished into a year-round collaboration with permanent staff trained to teach literacy. It is unclear how many juvenile halls offer such resources, but at least two other counties in the San Francisco Bay Area now have similar partnerships with their local libraries.
At the Alameda County facility, called the Juvenile Justice Center, where youth reside while awaiting a court appearance or after being adjudicated, the program offers a library room, hundreds of books that are updated regularly, designated staff, and one-on-one literacy support to a population of students that has historically had low literacy rates.