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Stanford researchers develop an intervention that cuts recidivism among children reentering school from the justice system

Two people walking down a school hallway.
Oct 5 2021
Faculty, Fellow, Research, Stanford

For a child leaving juvenile detention, building a relationship with a teacher who believes in them can make all the difference. A new Stanford-led study suggests that a personalized one-page letter can go a long way toward helping forge that relationship – and reduce the likelihood that the student will re-offend.

Researchers found that this letter, which articulated the child’s aspirations and asked for their teacher’s support, reduced recidivism to juvenile detention through the next semester from 69 percent to 29 percent in a small initial sample, published Oct. 4 in Psychological Science.

“Our goal was to create an experience where children could reflect on their positive goals and values, what they wanted to do in school and who they wanted to be, and then to identify an adult in school who they thought could help,” said Stanford psychologist Greg Walton, lead author of the study. “Then we gave kids a platform to elevate their voices directly to that person, introducing themselves in a positive way. We hoped that would help orient both the student and their chosen teacher toward each other, as people who could come together with trust and respect to do the hard work of reentry.”

The researchers also include Jennifer Eberhardt, a professor of psychology in Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, and UC Berkeley’s Jason Okonofua, who studied under Walton and Eberhardt during his doctoral studies at Stanford. The team worked closely with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) in partnership with the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center (JJC), as well as community after-school groups and programs across Oakland, California, to better understand the challenges young people leaving juvenile detention face and how teachers and students can work together to make the transition back to school successful.

Study co-author, Jason Okonofua, is a 2009 EDGE Fellow and 2013 DARE Fellow.

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