Sang Dao and Noah Schultz were both sentenced to years in prison at 17 years old, under mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. Fortunately for them, both had access to mentors, role models and educational opportunities - and were inspired to turn their life around and make the most of the opportunities many others don't have.
Sentenced to serve time at Oregon Youth Authority Maclaren Youth Correctional Facility, Dao took the opportunities offered by mentors and supportive staff to participate in vocational programs, as well as a research internship focused on youth rehabilitation. He also completed a Bachelor's Degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Portland State University. While incarcerated, Dao acted as a mentor, including to Schultz, who was sentenced to the same facility a year later.
Schultz earned not only his high school diploma, but a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences, and a B.S. in Sustainability. Both men are now free after serving their sentences, Dao having been issued clemency because of his many accomplishments, and both are now working toward juvenile justice reform.
Dao has been a program aide and Juvenile Court Counsellor Assistant for the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice Juvenile Services Division, and Schultz has been involved with the Community Peace Collaborative Forum, and is also a spoken word poet, dealing with issues around violence and prison. The Community Peace Collaborative Forum holds biweekly meetings to develop solutions, interventions, and prevention strategies to reduce violence and crime in Oregon's Multnomah County.
Both Dao and Schultz advocate for justice reform because keeping teens locked up isn't the solution, nor is the branding of teen offenders, which can be detrimental to rehabilitation, and reduction of recidivism. Juvenile offenders need mentors and educational and occupational opportunities inside corrections facilities. Schultz also outlines how juveniles need to be treated as such - not as adult offenders being pushed through the system.
Dao and Schultz are great examples of not only the factors than can lead to youth ending up in the system - difficulties at school, cultural barriers, exposure to gangs and violence - but also of how important rehabilitation and educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals are.
Currently, not all youth have the same opportunities offered to Dao and Schultz - Maclaren Youth Correctional Facility not only offers high school education, workshops, mentorship, vocational programs such as welding and woodcrafting, but also participated in Project Pooch, which sees incarcerated youths paired with a shelter dog, training them and finding them new homes.
Through such programs the Oregon Youth Authority not only gives opportunities and builds skills, but reduces recidivism and sees a return on investment. For each $1 spent on treatment in life skills training, $25 in returns is seen, and the more education a youth receives, the less likely they are to reoffend. It only makes sense, from all angles, that these programs, and other forms of support, are established. And as Dao and Schultz have shown, give the opportunities, and they will be taken.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com.