Summary Report for the U.S. Department of Education, Offce of Special Education Programs, From:
ARIZONA: Project RISE (Reentry Intervention and Support for Engagement)
Arizona State University, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
MINNESOTA: MAP Project (Making a Map—Finding My Way Back)
University of Minnesota, College of Education and Human Development, Institute on Community Integration
OREGON: Project STAY OUT (Strategies Teaching Adolescent Young Offenders to Use Transition Skills)
University of Oregon, College of Education, Secondary Special Education and Transition Research Unit
David R. Johnson, PhD, Principal Investigator
Institute on Community Integration
College of Education and Human Development
University of Minnesota
102 Pattee Hall, 150 Pillsbury Drive SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Sarup R. Mathur, PhD, Principal Investigator
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Arizona State University
P.O. Box 871811
Tempe, AZ 85287-1811
Deanne K. Unruh, PhD, Principal Investigator
Project STAY OUT
Secondary Special Education and Transition Research Unit, College of Education
University of Oregon
212 Clinical Services Building 5260
Eugene, OR 97403-5260
Arizona State University:
Heather Griller Clark, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator
James T. Short, MS, Project Director
Leslie LaCroix, MA, Transition Specialist
University of Minnesota:
Jean Echternacht, EdD, Research Associate
Xueqin Qian, PhD, Research Associate
University of Oregon:
Miriam Waintrup, MEd, Project Manager
Mary Jo Erickson, BS, Research Assistant
Mari Hoiland, Transition Specialist
Nick Moore, Transition Specialist
Jermaine Whitaker, Transition Specialist
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP):
David E. Emenheiser, EdD, Project Officer
Published November 2017
This report is based on work supported, in whole or in part, by funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) to Arizona State University (Grant No. H326M1200004 and H326M160022), University of Minnesota (Grant No. H326M120002 and H326M160021), and University of Oregon (Grant No. H32M120007 and H326M160023).
The contents of this report do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Readers should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
This report is published by the:
Institute on Community Integration (UCEDD)
College of Education and Human Development
University of Minnesota
firstname.lastname@example.org • 612-624-4512
Publication of the report was supported, in part, by Grant #90DD0001 from the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Recommended citation: Johnson, D.R., Mathur, S.R., Unruh, D.K., Griller Clark, H., & Qian, X. (2017). A better path, a better future: Three federally-funded projects supporting community reentry of youth with disabilities leaving juvenile justice facilities. Retrieved from University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration website: z.umn.edu/A-Better-Path.
This report is available in alternate formats upon request.
The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
In the year 2000, the United States saw an unprecedented 108,802 youth held in detention centers awaiting trial or confined by the courts in juvenile facilities (National Juvenile Justice Network & Texas Public Policy Foundation, 2013). This increase in the number of youth incarcerated occurred primarily during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, driven by highly publicized increases in youth arrests, growing public concern about youth crime, and state juvenile justice policies favoring increased reliance on incarceration. Since then, the rate of juveniles committed to correctional facilities in the United States has dropped by 53% (The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2014). The reversal is associated with changes in state, county, and municipal policies that reflect declines in youth arrests, cost containment strategies that resulted in closure or down-sizing of youth confinement facilities, increased availability and use of evidence-based alternatives to incarceration, and a reduction in schools’ reliance on the justice system to address discipline issues (National Juvenile Justice Network & Texas Public Policy Foundation, 2013).
While the overall trend has been to reduce the number of incarcerated youth in the United States, today it is often the case that many of the youth who are remanded by the courts to correctional facilities are youth with the most intensive needs. They include youth with disabilities.
It is estimated that 30% to 70% of incarcerated youth have disabilities that require special education and related services.
What we know is that youth with disabilities are disproportionately represented and underserved within juvenile corrections facilities nationwide (U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Justice, 2014). The most recent Juvenile Residential Facility Census, conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, reported that in 2014 there were 2,429 public and private juvenile correctional facilities across the country, serving 52,726 justice-involved youth (Hockenberry, Wachter, & Sladky, 2016). While it is difficult to determine the precise number of incarcerated youth with disabilities due to methodological difficulties and varying definitions of what constitutes a disability, it is estimated that 30% to 70% of incarcerated youth have disabilities that require special education and related services (Quinn, Rutherford, Leone, Osher, & Poirier, 2005).
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) sets forth a legal framework to ensure that youth with disabilities are identified and receive the special education and related services for which they are eligible while incarcerated. The availability of special education services provided in residential facilities in the justice system varies across and within states, with not all youth with disabilities receiving the special education and related services they need and are entitled to receive (U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Justice, 2014).
In 2014-2015, approximately 6.6 million children and youth, ages 3-21, in the general population received special education and related services, which is about 13% of all public-school students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). States reported that in 2012-2013, of the students with disabilities ages 6-21, 16,157 received special education and related services in correctional facilities. Overall, youth within the juvenile justice system have complex and multi-faceted needs. These youth typically have histories of academic failure, poor school attendance, dropping out, and learning and/or behavioral disabilities (Leone & Weinberg, 2012).
Students identified as having specific learning disabilities and those with emotional/behavioral disturbances represent the largest percentage of students with disabilities in correctional settings. A national survey of youth with disabilities in juvenile corrections (Quinn, et. al., 2005) reported that, as a percentage of all youth identified with a disability in correctional facilities, youth with emotional/behavioral disturbance comprised 47.7% and those with specific learning disabilities 38.6%. In addition, a substantial portion of incarcerated youth (up to 50%) may have diagnosed or undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Rutherford, Bullis, Anderson, & Griller-Clark, 2002).
The reentry process from incarceration back into school and community is far from smooth for many youth with disabilities. They are at a higher risk for recidivism upon release from correctional facilities (Zhang, Barrett, Katsiyannis, & Yoon, 2011) and experience negative post-release outcomes in attempting to adjust back into school and work (Griller Clark & Unruh 2010). They have multiple needs that must be met by multiple agencies within the community, and navigating the system to obtain needed services often becomes overwhelming to youth, far too often resulting in additional referrals to the juvenile justice system.
Figure 1 illustrates possible pathways during the transition process from residential placement to reentry back into the community for youth in the juvenile justice system. Each young person’s pathway can be different, based on the needs of the individual youth and family, and, realistically, the supports and services available to them in the community. Throughout the United States, places that incarcerate youth vary in terms of type of setting and approaches to education and treatment. These include residential treatment centers, detention centers, shelters, group homes/halfway houses, training schools, forestry camps, boot camps, juvenile correctional centers, and juvenile halls. The types of services provided within residential facilities also vary across the country in both public and private facilities.
The most recent Juvenile Residential Facility Census found that 83% of the youth in custody were in facilities that provided educational screening to all youth to assess educational needs (Hockenberry, Wachter, & Sladky, 2016). In addition, 77% of facilities said they offered special education services, 58% said that they evaluated all youth for mental health needs, and most facilities (87%) said that at the point of reentry into the community they communicated education status information for youth departing the facility. Although many facilities have staff dedicated to reentry, they often work in isolation and without necessary internal and external support and resources (U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Justice, 2014). Planning for reentry does not start early enough in many cases, nor does it engage the youth and family in decisions regarding reentry. Further, the responsibility of the juvenile correctional system typically ends at the point of contact and reengagement of the youth with school professionals and family.
Because youth involved with the juvenile justice system have multiple needs, schools and families, even with the best of intentions, are almost certain to be unable to meet all of the youth’s needs. Collaboration among agencies, facilities, families, schools, and other community stakeholders is important during the reentry process, but difficult to achieve in practice.
As noted earlier, IDEA sets forth a legal framework to ensure that youth with disabilities are identified and receive the special education and related services for which they are eligible while they are incarcerated. Absent specific exception, all IDEA protections apply to students with disabilities in correctional facilities and their parents. The rights of students with disabilities in correctional facilities are also protected by two other federal laws: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), which prohibits disability discrimination in programs or activities of entities, such as public schools and correctional agencies, that receive federal financial assistance; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II), which prohibits disability discrimination by public entities, including public schools and correctional agencies, regardless of whether they receive federal financial assistance.
In December 2014, the U. S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” to clarify state and public agency obligations, including the obligations of correctional facilities under IDEA (U.S Department of Education, 2014). There are several key components of IDEA which directly pertain to the delivery of special education and related services to youth with disabilities being served in correctional facilities. It is important to note that this report does not address all the requirements of the IDEA regulations. The intent, here, is to highlight the major requirements that have a direct impact on the services received by youth with disabilities in correctional facilities. These legal requirements include:
Child Find and Evaluation. States and their public agencies must have child-find policies and procedures in place to identify, locate, and evaluate youth who are in correctional facilities who may have a disability under the IDEA and are in need of special education and related services, regardless of the severity of their disability and consistent with the state’s child-find standards. This responsibility includes finding youth who may never have been identified as being a student with a disability prior to their entry into the correctional facility.
Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Every agency at every level of government that is involved in the provision of special education and related services to youth in correctional facilities must ensure the provision of free and appropriate public education (FAPE), even if other agencies share that responsibility. When a student with an individualized education program (IEP) transfers to a correctional facility in the same state, in the same school year, the new public agency (in consultation with the parents) must provide the student with FAPE through services that are comparable to those prescribed in the student’s IEP from the previous public agency until the new public agency either adopts the previous agency’s IEP, or develops and implements a new IEP for the student. IDEA has always made it clear that there are some possible exceptions to the requirement of providing FAPE. Several of these exceptions apply to incarcerated youth. With respect to students with disabilities ages 18-21 in adult correctional facilities, the obligation to make FAPE available does not apply to the extent that state law does not require that special education and related services be provided to students with disabilities who, in their last educational placement prior to their incarceration in an adult correctional facility, were not actually identified as being a student with a disability and did not have an IEP under IDEA.
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The IDEA requirements related to Least Restrictive Environment apply to the education of students with disabilities in correctional facilities. IEP teams or placement teams that make individualized placement decisions may not routinely place all incarcerated students with disabilities in classes that include only students with disabilities, even if this means creating placement options or using other arrangements, to the maximum extent appropriate to the student’s needs. This may include, for example, having special education and general education teachers co-teach in the regular classroom.
Individualized Education Program (IEP). All of the IEP content requirements apply to students with disabilities in correctional facilities. When a student with an existing IEP from another public agency arrives in a correctional facility in the same state, the facility either must implement the existing IEP or hold an IEP team meeting to modify the contents of the IEP. If a student with an existing IEP from another public agency arrives in a correctional facility in a different state, the new public agency either must conduct its own evaluation and make a new eligibility determination, or develop and implement a new IEP for the student. In addition, special factors that the IEP team must consider in developing, reviewing, and revising the IEP of each student with a disability are particularly relevant to students with disabilities in correctional facilities. Among these special factors is a requirement for the IEP team to consider the use of positive behavioral interventions and supports and other strategies to address behavior in the case of a student whose behavior impedes his or her learning or the learning of others.
Secondary Transition. Public agencies must comply with all applicable IDEA secondary transition requirements. Accordingly, beginning no later than the first IEP to be in effect when the student turns 16 (or younger, if determined appropriate by the IEP team), as updated annually thereafter, the IEP must include: (1) appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and (2) the transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the student in reaching these goals. In addition, the public agency must invite the student with a disability (and parent) to attend the IEP meeting if a purpose of the meeting will be the consideration of postsecondary goals for the student and the transition services needed to assist the student in reaching these goals, as required by IDEA. If the student does not attend the IEP meeting, the public agency must take other steps to ensure that the student’s strengths, preferences, and interests are considered.
Reentry and Transfer of School Records. The rules governing the responsibility for FAPE in connection to students with IEPs who transfer from one public agency to another apply when a student with a disability is in a correctional facility, and the responsibility for the provision of FAPE transfers from one public agency (generally a local education agency [LEA]) to another public agency (generally another LEA that is, or includes, the correctional facility). All agencies involved must have policies and procedures that ensure that the educational records of students with disabilities who move to, and from, correctional facilities are transferred as expeditiously as possible.
Additionally in 2014, the U. S. Department of Education and U. S. Department of Justice issued, as part of a Correctional Guidance Package, a document describing guiding principles to promote the provision of high-quality, free, and appropriate public education in juvenile justice secure-care settings. As a whole, these guiding principles serve as a framework for implementing promising practices to promote high-quality education in juvenile justice settings. The principles are as follows:
Positive Climate. A safe, healthy, facility-wide climate that promotes education; provides the conditions for learning; and encourages the necessary behavioral and social support services that address the individual needs of all youth, including those with disabilities and English learners.
Adequate Resources and Comparable Opportunities. Necessary funding to support educational opportunities for all youth within long-term secure facilities, including those with disabilities and English learners, comparable to opportunities for peers who are not system-involved.
Qualified Personnel. Recruitment, employment, and retention of qualified education staff with skills relevant in juvenile justice settings who can positively affect long-term student outcomes through demonstrated abilities to create and sustain effective teaching and learning environments.
Rigorous and Relevant Curricula. Rigorous and relevant curricula aligned with state academic and career and technical education standards that use instructional methods, tools, materials, and practices that promote college and career readiness.
Formal Transition Processes and Procedures. Formal processes and procedures – through statutes, memoranda of understanding, and practices – that ensure successful navigation across child-serving systems and smooth reentry back into communities.
In 2016, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) developed a voluntary State Correctional Education Self-Assessment (SCES) to assist states in self-assessing their systems for providing special education and related services to students with disabilities in correctional facilities (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). This self-assessment is intended to guide juvenile correctional facilities in meeting most of the Part B requirements of IDEA that apply to states. Also in 2016, the National Juvenile Justice Network called for additional facility reforms, including ensuring that correctional facilities take adequate measures to ensure that youth with disabilities are identified and receive appropriate educational services, as required under IDEA as well as under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; are safeguarded from excessive use of seclusion and restraint, which restrict their ability to access education; have access to a full continuum of educational opportunities to meet their individual goals, including pathways to achieve high-school diplomas, GEDs, college preparation, and career and technical training; and have correctional education programs that are aligned with state and local graduation requirements. Requirements such as these, they noted, help to improve educational quality and the graduation rates of youth with disabilities (National Juvenile Justice Network, 2016).
One of the goals of juvenile justice programming is to prevent recidivism and to allow young people with disabilities to successfully rejoin their communities upon release. This includes re-engaging with school, family and friends, and other aspects of community life. Evidence strongly supports the notion that juvenile offenders, both with and without disabilities, are significantly more likely to experience successful reentry into their home schools and communities if appropriate programs and supports are in place and discussed with the young person prior to his or her release. Several components of effective reentry plans are mentioned in the literature (Griller Clark & Unruh, 2010; Quinn et al., 2005; Zhang et al., 2011), including: (a) transferring records before the youth re-enrolls in a school program upon release; (b) assigning teachers in classes before re-enrollment; (c) conducting a meeting with parents, the youth, teachers, counselors, and other relevant personnel; (d) identifying possible difficulties for the youth when returning to school; (e) ensuring that the youth and parents understand school policies; and (f) having a liaison from the correctional facility transfer information involved in the re-enrollment process directly.
Studies, unfortunately, report that the transition from the correctional facility to community is far from smooth. Nationally, as many as two-thirds of youth eventually drop out of school after being involved in the juvenile justice system (National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability, 2015). In several states, it has been reported that as high as 55% of young people released from juvenile justice facilities are re-arrested within a year following release from custody (Harris, Lockwood, & Mengers, 2009). The re-adjustment to community is challenging for youth both with and without disabilities. There are several “system level” steps that can be taken, however, to ensure that youth with disabilities successfully make the transition. Identified, here, are several strategies and reforms to improve the school and community reentry of youth with disabilities:
Interagency and Community Cooperation. There is a need to clearly identify the roles and responsibilities of various agencies and personnel involved in the reentry process. Collaboration and cooperation across agencies is necessary to ensure that information regarding youth, including school records, are readily transferred in a timely manner. It is reported that youth often have difficulty returning to school because of missing school records and lengthy delays in the transfer of their records due to perceived or actual confidentiality barriers that limits information sharing (National Juvenile Justice Network, 2016). Interagency collaboration is also critical in ensuring that release plans containing pertinent information on other community-based services that support a young person’s needs - such as mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, and safe and secure living arrangements - are systematically followed through on by community service agencies.
Youth and Family Involvement. Youth with disabilities and their families need to have a voice in the development of release plans and plans that are established with schools to support successful reentry. While family involvement has been difficult to achieve, establishing meaningful connections with families is essential. Whether it is the young person’s natural parents, extended family, foster family, or other parties responsible at the time of reentry, a formal connection clearly needs to be established.
Speedy Placement. The National Juvenile Justice Network (2016) calls for ensuring that young people become enrolled in school the same day they are released or very soon after. This often involves improving record transfer practices and school re-enrollment practices.
Improved School Re-Enrollment Practices. The Federal Interagency Reentry Council (2016) has identified additional barriers to re-enrollment that justice-involved youth face, including: lengthy and complicated processes for youth to re-enroll in school, and laws that some states have enacted to create obstacles for youth attempting to re-enroll. Based on their review, reforms that states have enacted to facilitate reentry include establishing reintegration teams; developing reintegration plans at a minimum 45 days before youth are released; employing transition coordinators to work across juvenile justice and education systems; and use of mentors to serve as advocates for the youth to help them navigate back to school, re-connect with families, find employment opportunities, and engage in positive community social and recreational activities.
Dropout Reengagement Programs. The National League of Cities (NLC) has established a dropout reengagement network involving approximately 20 cities across the country that operate reengagement centers and programs (see http://www.nlc.org/reengagement). These centers have been established to reengage youth back into school and community activities that get them back on a positive path to complete their secondary education, set career and life goals for the future, make referrals to appropriate community service programs, and support the youth in attaining postsecondary education and employment opportunities.
The information presented in this section of the report describes the context within which the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs established the Model Demonstration Projects on Reentry of Students with Disabilities from Juvenile Justice Facilities into Education, Employment, and Community Programs. The many challenges identified and recommendations suggested here represent an important call to action to improve special education and related services to youth with disabilities while in custody and, upon release, during the transition back to school and community. The next section of this report describes the model demonstration program and the three model demonstration projects funded over the period 2012-2017 to develop and test strategies to improve the reentry of youth with disabilities from juvenile justice facilities into education, employment, and community programs.
In 2012, the U. S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), issued the competitive grant program entitled Model Demonstration Projects on Reentry of Students with Disabilities from Juvenile Justice Facilities into Education, Employment, and Community Programs (CFDA #84.326M). The purpose of this priority was to support the establishment and operation of three four-year model demonstration projects that would develop, adapt, refine, and evaluate models for facilitating successful reentry of youth from juvenile justice facilities to school and community. The projects were to be designed to reduce recidivism and increase high school completion, postsecondary education participation, and employment. The three projects awarded funding were:
Although each project was unique, their overall goal was to determine what supports benefit young people with disabilities, ages 14-21, and their families in the reintegration process from incarcerated settings back into their home, school, and community. Each model demonstration project included the following common elements:
This section of the report profiles each demonstration project in terms of its community setting, interagency partnerships, juvenile facilities, unique model features, project staffing, and youth participants, and discusses each of the model’s sustainability beyond the period of federal funding.
Project RISE (Reentry Intervention and Support for Engagement) was a collaborative partnership between the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University and the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections (ADJC). The focus of Project RISE was to improve outcomes for youth with disabilities through evidenced-based reentry services and post-release opportunities, resulting in an increased rate of student engagement in school, work, and community activities after release, and a reduced rate of recidivism.
Maricopa County served as the geographic setting for the project. Approximately 50% of all juvenile offenders in Arizona come from Maricopa County, which is the largest county in Arizona with approximately 4.2 million people. The county has a total area of 9,224 square miles, containing Phoenix and the surrounding suburbs. The largest racial/ethnic groups are White (57.3%) followed by Hispanic (30.1%) and African American/Black (4.9%). The poverty level in Maricopa County is 12.2%.
This model demonstration project was conducted in partnership with ADJC, which is responsible for juveniles adjudicated delinquent and committed to its jurisdiction by various county juvenile courts throughout the state. ADJC operates and maintains one secure-care facility, Adobe Mountain School, for the custody, treatment, and education of committed juveniles. A total of 159 youth were committed to ADJC in FY 2016, with an average daily population of approximately 180. Currently, the statewide average age at commitment is 16.5 years; 88% are male and 12% are female.
Students with disabilities in secure care need continuous support, from custody to community, to both help them productively engage in school, work, and community activities, and to prevent them from re-incarceration. The first essential feature of Project RISE was hiring of project key personnel that included a Transition Specialist well-versed in providing community resources to youth post-release, and a Project Coordinator knowledgeable about community partners and employment agencies. By providing continuous contact with youth within the facility and post-release, the Transition Specialist regularly monitored and tracked youth progress in academics and vocational skills. She adopted a case management approach and provided the needed support in a timely manner that promoted trust and resiliency. The Project Coordinator created a network of employers and sought their commitment to hiring youth who demonstrated the needed skills for a specific job. These processes provided structured, sustainable transition programming between schools, employment, and community agencies.
The first essential feature of Project RISE was hiring of project key personnel that included a Transition Specialist well-versed in providing community resources to youth post-release, and a Project Coordinator knowledgeable about community partners and employment agencies.
The next essential feature was to establish individualized and systemic goals for youth reentry. Individualized goals were those goals that pertained to each individual student with a disability and systemic goals were those that pertained to the overall juvenile justice and education system. The individualized and systemic goals in Project RISE were as follows:
Goal 1: To provide intensive educational and vocational programming that follows Individualized Education Program (IEP) and Individualized Transition Plan (ITP) goals. To accomplish this goal the Transition Specialist worked in collaboration with other special education teachers and staff to obtain and implement or modify the IEP and ITP for each youth with a disability. She worked with the administrative team to ensure that youth with disabilities received instruction in core academic subjects through several different modalities. She continued to collect academic assessment and progress information for youth with disabilities.
Goal 2: To systematically assess youth engagement. Youth engagement was defined as a dichotomous variable: Youth were identified as either “productively engaged” or “not productively engaged.” Youth that were identified as “productively engaged” were those motivated to participate in activities that were intrinsically “good” for them, such as school and work, and who behaved in ways that conveyed their motivation to participate and succeed in these activities. Engagement measures – including enrollment in school, employment, compliance with parole plan, and positive community activities – were collected for each youth at 30-day increments after release for six months past age 18.
Goal 3: To develop a transition portfolio for youth with disabilities. The Transition Specialist for youth with disabilities started working with the teachers to assist students in creating a transition portfolio to facilitate their transition to school, community, employment, or other residential treatment providers after release.
Goal 4: To provide individualized aftercare and community supports for youth with disabilities.The Project Coordinator worked closely with the Transition Specialist to provide pre-release programming and after-care supports. The Transition Specialist began this process by conducting a transition interview with each youth to determine strengths, preferences, and needs. Four principles of programmatic action that underlaid the Project RISE model were: 1) preparing youth for increased responsibility and freedom in the community, 2) facilitating youth-community interaction and involvement within targeted community support systems, 3) developing new resources and supports where needed, and 4) monitoring and tracking the youth and the community agencies’ interaction with each other.
Goal 1: To establish a seamless transfer of educational records and services. The Transition Specialist and Project Coordinator worked with public and alternative school personnel to expand these efforts and develop common assessment and portfolio information that was relevant across all education programs in which students with disabilities were placed. The goal was to ensure that youth with disabilities in the correctional facility and their education records move seamlessly as they transition from one setting to the next.
Goal 2: To increase interagency linkages and communication. In order to accomplish the four individualized goals of Project RISE, the Project Coordinator and the Transition Specialist established a 12-member advisory board to elicit support and problem-solve issues related to transitioning ADJC youth. The advisory board included representation from parole, education, mental health, community service providers, community college, foster care, residential treatment facilities, employment agencies, and employers. The board members met quarterly at various sites. The Reintegration Framework Toolkit (a tested framework developed at the Institute on Community Integration to support interagency collaboration; see https://ici.umn.edu/evaluation/docs/ReintegrationToolkit.pdf) was used to further develop stakeholders’ awareness of the reentry process. [For more information on the role of the advisory board and outcomes please refer to Mathur & Griller Clark (2014).]
Goal 3: To establish a youth tracking system. The state secure-care facility partnered with Project RISE to establish an online tracking system and create a dashboard that captured information such as the number of days a youth was in the project and his/her status (active, pending adult court, pending approval, discharged successfully, discharged unsuccessfully). This dashboard retained youth information for the duration of the project. Recidivism measures were collected by reviewing new charges, violations, and re-detainment for each youth at 30-day increments after release for six months past age 18.
Lastly, another essential feature was biweekly meetings with partner and project staff scheduled to discuss youth progress and supports needed. The quarterly meeting with advisory board members provided external expertise and guidance to project staff. The annual independent evaluation was another important feature of the project; each year the independent evaluator provided the project staff with a report that included yearly progress in each goal followed by recommendations.
The principal project staff at Arizona State University (ASU) included a Principal Investigator (PI), a Co-Principal Investigator, a Project Coordinator, and a Transition Specialist. A sub-contract was established with ADJC to support reentry services for youth during incarceration and post-release and the Associate Superintendent of Education served as a PI to support reentry. An independent evaluator was contracted to provide external evaluation of project activities and services on a yearly basis. Both Co-PIs provided overall leadership for project management, budget, implementation, dissemination, and evaluation. The Project Coordinator regularly communicated and coordinated with the community agencies to ensure that project outcomes were being achieved. The Transition Specialist was responsible for tracking youth progress and data collection.
The demonstration project provided services to 38 youth with disabilities over the four-year project period, with a range of ages 14-17 (average age of 16.21) at intake into the program. The majority of the students were male (35) and three were female. Primary disabilities included emotional/behavioral disorders (58%) and learning disabilities (42%). The racial diversity included 37% African American, 34% White, and 29% Hispanic. Of the 21 youth that exited Project RISE, their length of enrollment ranged from 262 days (8.6 months) to 697 days (22.9 months), with an average duration of approximately 474.5 days (15.6 months). Primary offenses leading to incarceration included property offenses, crimes against persons, and drug offenses.
Several developments have occurred over the past four years to support the project’s sustainability. First, many of the resources and processes that Project RISE implemented at ADJC have been adopted and will continue to be provided by agency staff. These include new vocational assessments, the Read 180 curriculum (see http://www.hmhco.com/products/read-180), motivational/transitional interviewing, transition portfolio development, and increased business and community partnerships.
Additionally, person-centered approaches to productive engagement have been established to promote reentry success of youth with disabilities. To address individualized needs of youth in the juvenile justice system, specific barriers have been identified that can restrict their productive engagement in school and employment. Efforts are being made to overcome these barriers in conjunction with the partnering agency. Administrators from secure care, schools, and other service agencies are jointly taking responsibility for keeping youth engaged in school, work, or community activities. ADJC has identified a contact person in community corrections who is designated to promote safer communities though successful reentry of youth. ADJC has also recognized the need to follow up with youth who are over age 18.
Project RISE practices have gained attention and recognition at the state, national, and international levels. At the national level, Project RISE has been involved with the Neglected and Delinquent Technical Assistance Center (NDTAC) and the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR) to provide training and technical assistance, and create guidelines and toolkits to promoting transition. At an international level, a collaborative partnership has been established with faculty at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia; through this partnership expertise, scholarship, and research has been shared with university faculty, students, and local correctional facility staff.
The principal applicant of this model demonstration project was the Institute on Community Integration, a federally designated University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), located within the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. The MAP Project was based on prior and current research and development on transition planning and services, student engagement, and interagency collaboration focused on secondary-age students with disabilities. This project also built on broad-based partnerships with community education and corrections agencies.
Ramsey County served as the geographic setting for the project. Ramsey County is located in the center of the seven-county Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area in the east central portion of Minnesota. Ramsey County is the smallest and most densely populated county in Minnesota, with an estimated total population of 532,655 living in an area of approximately 170 square miles. St. Paul is the largest city in Ramsey County, with an estimated population of 297,640. Persons of color comprise 29% of the total Ramsey County population, compared to Minnesota, where persons of color comprise 14% of the total population. In the county, 12% of the population is Asian, 11% is Black/African American, 5% is Hispanic, and 1% is Native American. The poverty level for families in Ramsey County is 15%, higher than the national poverty level (12%) and higher than the rate for Minnesota overall. Approximately 11% of all juvenile offenders in Minnesota come from Ramsey County.
This MAP Project was conducted in partnership with Ramsey County Community Corrections, St. Paul Public Schools, and Volunteers of America’s AMICUS program. The following is a brief description of each:
Ramsey County Community Corrections. The Juvenile Services Division includes Juvenile Probation, the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC), and Boys Totem Town (BTT). Consistent with national trends, Ramsey County Community Corrections has dramatically decreased the total detention admissions and incarcerations of juveniles over the past decade. Since 2005, the county reduced total admissions to the JDC by over 70%, and experienced similar declines in the incarceration of juvenile population at BTT. In 2014, the JDC admitted 950 youth and the BTT residential treatment center served 123 boys. During that same year, Juvenile Probation served 100,064 youth, ages 10-21, who had committed offenses and who had either been placed on probation or released from a residential facility.
St. Paul Public Schools. The St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) is one of Minnesota’s largest school districts, with more than 39,000 students in pre-K-12. The school district is racially diverse, with 32% Asian American, 30% African American, 22% White, 14% Latino, and 2% Native American. Students attending SPPS speak more than 100 languages and dialects. Approximately 71% of SPPS students participate in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program (FRLP), compared to 38% of students statewide. The four-year comprehensive graduation rate is 75%. The majority of students admitted to JDC or served through the residential treatment program at BTT were students attending the SPPS. Students served through JDC and BTT also come from neighboring suburban metropolitan school districts in Ramsey County. The SPPS offers a wide range of special education and related services through 15 middle schools, nine high schools, and several alternative education options. SPPS is a provider of educational services at JDC and BTT, including comprehensive special education and related services.
Volunteers of America’s AMICUS Program. Volunteers of America (VOA) is a faith-based, non-profit organization founded in 1896 that provides affordable housing. VOA assists veterans, low-income seniors, children and families, people who are homeless, individuals with intellectual disabilities, people recovering from addiction, and individuals formerly incarcerated involved in community reentry. AMICUS is a Minnesota non-profit organization with 44 years of experience in building positive and constructive relationships between offenders and their communities. In 2013, AMICUS merged with VOA. AMICUS provides reentry and other services to over 4,000 adult and juvenile offenders annually. Volunteers partner with inmates, ex-offenders, juvenile offenders, and communities to support individuals involved with the justice system in re-establishing themselves in the community. In the model demonstration project, AMICUS staff were contracted to serve incarcerated youth at JDC and BTT as Mentors to support their reentry into school and community.
The MAP Project served incarcerated youth with disabilities from Ramsey County’s Juvenile Detention Center and Boys Totem Town residential treatment program. A brief description of each facility is provided below:
Juvenile Detention Center (JDC). The JDC is a secure, 24-hour detention facility for male and female offenders who have been arrested and are waiting for an initial hearing, trial, court disposition, or placement. A maximum of 44 youth can reside in JDC, with an average length of stay of eight days. Over the course of the year, the JDC houses approximately 1,000 juveniles admitted from Ramsey and surrounding counties and law enforcement departments. Youth in the JDC have access to a variety of supports and programs, including education, mental health, health, and skill-based training. Students attending school within JDC are served by the St. Paul Public Schools. Since 2005, Ramsey County Community Corrections has been implementing the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI). JDAI works with Ramsey County juvenile justice agencies and community organizations to establish community-based alternatives to detention and to reduce the over-representation of youth with color in the justice system. Since 2005, Ramsey County reduced total detention admissions to the JDC by over 70%.
Boys Totem Town (BTT). The BTT residential treatment facility has a capacity for up to 36 males who have been court-ordered to treatment. Incarcerated youth include those who are 14-19 years of age and are placed in the BTT facility for criminal offenses, such as felonies, gross misdemeanors, and misdemeanors. BTT provides a variety of in-custody and after-care services for juveniles, including treatment, risk-assessment, strength-based programming, culturally-responsive programming, counseling, transition services, and family engagement and therapy. Juveniles typically remain in custody from 60 days to 12 months. Residents in the facility attend school provided through SPPS and earn credits toward graduation. Licensed special education teachers are included in the staff complement at BTT to ensure that students receive appropriate special education-related services consistent with their IEPs.
The strategies and interventions used in the MAP Project were based on over 25 years of research on interagency collaboration, mentoring, student engagement and dropout prevention, transition planning, and self-determination at the Institute on Community Integration. Three primary design components – all developed at ICI – were included in the model: the Reintegration Framework Toolkit, Check & Connect school engagement model, and Expanding the Circle transition curriculum:
Three primary design components – all developed at ICI – were included in the model: the Reintegration Framework Toolkit, Check & Connect school engagement model, and Expanding the Circle transition curriculum.
Reintegration Framework Toolkit. The Reintegration Framework is based on more than a decade of research and development and is intended to facilitate communication in the development of a common vision of what constitutes best practice in transition. Interagency teams use this self-assessment tool to better understand current agency operations; identify areas of strength, weakness, and opportunity within the community service delivery system for youth; promote planning and continuous improvement; and develop action plans for improving service based on interagency collaboration (see https://ici.umn.edu/evaluation/docs/ReintegrationToolkit.pdf). The Framework includes five primary domains, focusing on interagency collaboration, team planning, educational services, supporting youth life-skills, and maintaining continuity during and post-transition. A 12-member Interagency Steering Committee was established for the purpose of guiding the MAP Project and included representatives from the afore-mentioned agencies in addition to law enforcement, mental health, community social services, and other participants. The Reintegration Framework Toolkit is typically used at the initiation of an interagency team process and can be used intermittently (e.g., annually) to re-assess the interagency team’s focus. Given the multiple agencies involved in serving youth with disabilities involved with the juvenile justice system, a structured approach to facilitate interagency planning and discussions was an important feature of the project.
Check & Connect (C&C). Check & Connect is a nationally validated research-based model designed to enhance student engagement at school for marginalized, disengaged students in grades K-12, through mentoring, problem-solving, capacity-building, and persistence (see www.checkandconnect.umn.edu/). In 2006, C&C met the evidence standards of the U.S. Department of Education’ s Institute for Education Sciences and was included in the What Works Clearinghouse (https://ies.ed.gov/ncee.wwc/). The C&C model is both data- and relationship-driven, characterized by four important phases. First, C&C addresses four types of engagement: academic, behavioral, affective, and psychosocial. Thus, it is concerned with the whole person, not simply one aspect of engagement, such as behavior that led to incarceration. Second, C&C requires Mentors to persist with youth for a minimum of two years. AMICUS staff were contracted to serve as Mentors to youth with an on-average caseload of 8-10 students concurrently throughout the project. C&C Mentors worked with students while incarcerated, participated in the development of reentry plans, and supported the students in making a re-connection to family, school, and community. The C&C Mentors were involved in a continuous “checking” process, using a structured student-monitoring data collection system. Third, C&C data were used to inform juvenile facility and school staff on the progress the youth were making toward their personal, educational, and reentry goals. The “connect” component included both basic and intensive interventions, based on the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) framework (Sugai & Horner, 2009). All youth involved in the MAP project were provided with basic interventions (e.g., daily/weekly monitoring, checking on academic progress); intensive interventions were used to supplement the basic interventions when a student’s level of engagement and/or need for specialized support required them. Intensive interventions focused on three primary areas: problem-solving (including mediation and social skills development); academic support (e.g., schedule changes, accommodations, tutoring, communicating with correctional and school staff); and social engagement and positive behavior development.
Expanding the Circle: Respecting the Past, Preparing for the Future (ETC). The Expanding the Circle transition curriculum provided a positive framework for transition goal-setting, planning, and decision-making for youth in the MAP project. Developed as a culturally-relevant curriculum for American Indian youth preparing for postsecondary education and employment, ETC was used in helping incarcerated youth to identify specific educational and personal goals pertaining to their plan for reentry into family, school, and community. ETC was also used to help facilitate IEP transition planning discussions. [For additional information on this curriculum see etc.umn.edu.]
The principal project staff at the Institute on Community Integration included a Project Director, Coordinator, and two part-time staff providing training and technical assistance on the Reintegration Framework Toolkit and process, Check & Connect model, and Expanding the Circle transition curriculum. Additionally, a part-time staff member was assigned key evaluation activities to evaluate the process, progress, and outcomes of the project. A sub-contract was established with VOA’s AMICUS for the purpose of employing a part-time Project Coordinator and two full-time Check & Connect Mentors who were directly responsible for providing mentoring services to youth during incarceration and the reentry process. The Mentors were specifically responsible for providing comprehensive follow-up for an extended period (approximately two years) following the youth’s reentry back, into family, school, and community.
The demonstration project provided services to 63 youth with disabilities, ages 14-18 (average age 16 years), over the four-year project period. Because the primary focus of the model demonstration project was on incarcerated youth at the BTT facility, the majority of the students (60) were male and three were female who were served at the JDC. Primary disabilities included emotional/behavioral disorders (58%), learning disabilities (32%), and other health impaired (e.g., attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) (10%). Racial/ethnic diversity included 76% African American, 10% Hispanic, 6% Multi-racial, 5% White, 2% Asian, and 1% American Indian. The length of stay at BTT ranged from 60 days to 12 months, and average length of stay was approximately eight months. Primary offenses leading to incarceration included felony arrests, gross misdemeanors, and misdemeanors. Approximately two-thirds (65%) were previous students of the St. Paul Public Schools. The remaining students were served through suburban metropolitan school districts within Ramsey County, as well as several referrals from other counties in Minnesota.
Several developments have occurred over the past four years to support the project’s sustainability. The Minnesota Department of Corrections has adopted the Check & Connect mentoring model at its juvenile residential facility at Red Wing, Minnesota. Red Wing provides treatment, education, and transition services for approximately 100 serious and chronic male juvenile offenders from Minnesota, as well as neighboring states. Red Wing facility staff received training and technical assistance from project staff over the past two years on Check & Connect. In addition, BTT has established a new Transition Specialist position to further support reentry planning and to assist youth in reconnecting with schools, and community service agencies. The St. Paul Public Schools is also in the process of implementing Check & Connect throughout all middle and high schools in the school district. Part of this effort is supported by a contract to ICI from the Minnesota Department of Education to also address the specific needs of African American and Native American youth with disabilities. Further, the St. Paul Public Schools recently received a three-year, federally-funded demonstration project grant from the U.S. Department of Education to further expand services to incarcerated youth. The design of this new demonstration project was modeled after the MAP demonstration project.
Project STAY OUT (Strategies Teaching Adolescent Young Offenders to Use Transition Skills) is a collaborative partnership between the University of Oregon and three local school districts or education service districts in Oregon. As with the other model demonstration projects, the focus of Project STAY OUT was to improve outcomes for youth with disabilities through evidence-based reentry services specifically targeting school engagement, resulting in an increased rate of student engagement in school, work, and community activities after release; and ultimately reducing the recidivism rate. The model demonstration project was based on prior and current research and development on transition planning and services, student engagement, and interagency collaboration practices focused on secondary-age students with disabilities.
Three demonstration sites located in urban, suburban, and rural communities in Oregon were identified for inclusion in this project: The Portland metropolitan area (urban), Eugene (suburban), and Woodburn (rural). These demonstration sites were purposefully selected to help understand how the contextual needs of providing reentry services to youth with disabilities vary across settings. The Portland metropolitan area is comprised of a population of over 2.3 million people. The racial composition is 72% White, 9.2% Hispanic, 6.3% African American, and 7.5% Asian. Almost 21% of Portland residents fall below the poverty level, higher than the state average. The suburban demonstration site, Eugene, is comprised of about 166,000 people, with a racial composition of 81% White, 7.5% Hispanic, 1.6% African American, 4.1% each of Asian and mixed. Twenty-nine percent of Eugene residents live under the poverty level. The rural demonstration site was located in Woodburn, population just under 26,000. The majority of the population (57.4%) in the town are individuals who identify as Hispanic or Latino. Additionally, the Woodburn area has a significant population representing the Russian Orthodox faith. Thirty-two percent of Woodburn residents live under the poverty level. All three sites were above the state average for number of residents living under the poverty level.
Partnering with the University of Oregon on Project STAY OUT were three school districts or education service districts in each of the communities described above: (a) Helensview Alternative School operated by Multnomah Education Service District (MESD), (b) Eugene 4J School District, and (c) Woodburn School District. Helensview School, the urban demonstration site, provided specialized alternative education services and is an accredited middle school/ high school that offers multiple pathways to graduation for students grades 6-12. The students graduate with a regular diploma and have the opportunity to work with a coach each week to assist with postsecondary options (college or trade schools). Student racial composition includes 40% African American, 31% Hispanic, 15% Multi-racial, and 13% White. Almost 40% of the student body has an active Individualized Education Program (IEP). Eighty-seven percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, with 4-5% of students homeless.
The suburban site, Eugene 4J School District, maintains a diverse set of education options for adolescents; school placement is defined on the unique needs of the individual student ranging from the traditional high schools to multiple alternative options. One option used frequently for Project STAY OUT students was an alternative school located on the local community college campus. The racial composition of students in this district is 71% White, 14% Hispanic/Latino, 10% Multi-racial, 4% Asian, and 2% Black/African American. Forty percent of students are defined as economically disadvantaged and 13% are students with disabilities.
The rural demonstration site was located in Project SUCCESS, an alternative school in the Woodburn School District. Eighty-three percent of students in Woodburn high schools are Latino. All students qualify for free and reduced lunch and migrant students represent 6% of all students, with 3% reporting homelessness and 13% students with an active IEP.
The strategies and interventions used in this project were based on more than a decade of research and program development at the University of Oregon Secondary Special Education and Transition Research Unit. The primary core components of Project STAY OUT included: (a) functional skill and vocational assessment, (b) self-regulation/self-determination, (c) individualized education and employment support, (d) competitive job placement, and (e) service coordination. Each component is described below:
Functional Skill and Vocational Assessments. (i.e., assessments of work, living, and social skills). The Transition Assessment and Goal Generator (Martin, Hennessey, McConnell & Willis, 2015) and the Social Skill Information System (Gresham & Elliott, 1990) were used by the Transition Specialists on the project to define the reentry transition plans for the youth. In addition, the Transition Specialists were trained to use motivational interviewing to define needs and strengths of the student. Even though Transition Specialists did not achieve clinical mastery/fidelity of this skill, it was useful mechanism to support developing a sound transition plan.
The primary core components of Project STAY OUT included: functional skill and vocational assessment, self-regulation/self-determination, individualized education and employment support, competitive job placement, and service coordination.
Self-regulation/Self-determination. Each youth, and, as appropriate and available, family members, and staff from community-based social service agencies (e.g., parole officer) were involved in planning each youth’s transition services. This involvement was facilitated through a strengths-based motivational interviewing process facilitated by the Transition Specialists in which the youth was encouraged to share future goals based on his or her strengths, interests, and barriers. Following goal setting, both short-term and long-term strategies for reaching those goals were brainstormed by the various community stakeholder participants.
Individualized Educational Placement and Employment Support. The Transition Specialist, through both formal and informal assessment, assisted the youth to determine the best route to achieving their career goals. These activities included: (a) helping the youth develop employment skills through entry-level competitive employment, (b) working with vocational rehabilitation or work-based counselors/instructors to develop an employment training plan, and (c) defining the best school placement for the youth.
Competitive Job Placement. Depending on the age of the youth, every effort was made to place work-eligible youth in competitive jobs. These placements often complemented an educational placement. The job placements frequently were part-time and temporary, allowing youth to experience different types of jobs and develop basic employment soft-skills.
Service Coordination. Based on evidence of the importance of interagency collaboration, the Transition Specialist was charged with building strong relationships with the juvenile justice services in addition to other important community agencies needed for the successful reentry of youth into the community (e.g., mental health, addiction services, vocational rehabilitation).
This STAY OUT service model (a) identified targeted youth prior to exit; (b) developed a service plan surrounding the youth’s interests, needs, and life goals through a mentoring model; (c) facilitated the youth to access identified services immediately upon exit from the correctional facility (e.g., community college training program); (d) continued to support a youth’s practicing of skills learned; and (e) once a youth had stabilized in the community provided follow-up transition support as events or needs arose (e.g., finding a new apartment, completing taxes, searching for car insurance). Services were based on the Transition Specialist and collaboration between and among (a) schools (b) parole/probation officers, and (c) community-based education programs.
The primary project staff at University of Oregon included a Principal Investigator and Project Coordinator/Trainer. Three sub-awards were issued to the three participating school districts or education service districts. Each school/service district provided a Transition Specialist to implement project services. An independent data analyst was contracted to provide external evaluation of project activities and services on a yearly basis. The PI and Project Coordinator/Trainer provided overall leadership for project management, budget, implementation, dissemination, and evaluation. The Project Coordinator held monthly meetings with the Transition Specialists. The Transition Specialists were provided all direct services to students, collected project data, and participated in defined trainings and professional development.
The demonstration project provided services to 64 youth with disabilities over the four-year project period, with a range of ages from 14-20 (average age of 17.09) at intake into the program.The majority of the students were male (57) and seven were female.Primary disabilities included learning disabilities (41%), emotional/behavioral disorders (32%), other health impaired (e.g., attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) (17%), autism (5%), and intellectual disability (5%). The racial composition included 37% White, 30% African American, 25% Hispanic, 6% American Indian, and 2% Other/Multi-racial. Of the 41 youth that exited Project STAY OUT, the length of enrollment in the project ranged from 21 days to 806 days (26.5 months), and the average duration of enrollment in STAY OUT was approximately 360.1 days (11.8 months).For STAY OUT participants, a status offense was committed by 4.5% of participants at entry (e.g., drinking under age), property offense by 36.4% (e.g., theft, unauthorized use of motor vehicle), person to person offense by 36.4% (e.g., assault, robbery, attempted murder), and behavioral offense by 13.6% (e.g., drug offenses, disorderly conduct).
The goal of this model demonstration project was two-fold: 1) Embed project services through professional development and training of school professionals in strategies to engage adjudicated youth in a school setting once they were released to the community; and 2) build a strong relationship and procedures with the local juvenile services agency and other critical community organizations to support a young offender’s engagement in school. To date, all three school sites will maintain a Transition Specialist position, with a portion of their job responsibilities to serve adjudicated youth with disabilities in their districts. In all three sites, these Transition Specialists will also broaden their scope and serve any adjudicated youth – not just those with an IEP – to support their school engagement.
In this section of the report, findings from the data collected across the three model demonstration projects – Project RISE, MAP Project, and Project STAY OUT – are presented. It is not inclusive of all data and information gathered by the projects. Rather, it presents a cross-site summary focusing specifically on:
Each of the three demonstration projects established an interagency stakeholder group. Their role was to provide advice and guidance on ways to support project implementation and ultimately improve participant outcomes. While membership varied somewhat across the three projects, administrative and program staff were from the following agencies: state and/or local juvenile justice facilities, public school special education and transition programs, alternative education programs, vocational rehabilitation, community and technical colleges, mental health service agencies, child protective services, and parole offices. On average, interagency stakeholder meetings were conducted on a quarterly basis.
The Reintegration Framework Toolkit (https://ici.umn.edu/evaluation/docs/ReintegrationToolkit.pdf) was adopted and used by each of the projects to identify stakeholders’ knowledge of juvenile justice policies, practices, and operations to support incarcerated youths’ reentry back into school and community. It was viewed as important by project planners to use this structured self-assessment process to promote communication and sharing within and among interagency stakeholders in establishing a common understanding of what constituted best practice in transition and reentry for youth released from juvenile correctional facilities.
The framework was developed by the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Education in 2006 (McEathron, Fields, & Schafer, 2006). It is comprised of five domains: interagency collaboration, team planning, education, supporting life skills, and continuity of supports during and post transition (see Table 1). A four-point rating scale (Always Evident, Usually Evident, Seldom Evident, and Not Evident) was used to assess the extent to which each indicator was evident within their agency or their local community at large. The information obtained was used by the projects in a number of ways: (a) as a method for interagency stakeholders to identify priorities and develop action plans for program improvement, (b) as a method of identifying differences among agencies on the domains and indicators to promote discussion, and (c) as a pre- and post-test measure to assess changes in interagency stakeholders’ perspectives.
|1.1||Procedures and interagency agreements are established with appropriate agencies.|
|1.2||Timely transfer of all appropriate youth records occurs between releasing and receiving programs.|
|1.3||All involved agencies are aware of the youth’s needs and of the services that each agency is providing to meet those needs.|
|1.4||Communication occurs regularly between agencies.|
|1.5||Resources and technical expertise are shared across systems.|
|1.6||There is joint responsibility for planning and implementing services.|
|1.7||Systems are developed and maintained that eliminate duplicated efforts.|
|1.8||Staff are aware of and familiar with all state, county, local, and private programs that receive or send youth to/from jail, detention centers or other separate site facilities.|
|1.9||Ongoing training and staff development are planned and conducted.|
|1.10||Special funds are earmarked for transition and support services.|
|2.1||A planning team is established, including the youth, parents, and representatives from all agencies involved in the youth’s program, to design a reintegration plan.|
|2.2||One of the members of the planning team is identified as the youth’s key contact or advocate for the entire reintegration process.|
|2.3||A decision-making protocol for the team is established in the pre-transition phase.|
|2.4||The youth is an active participant in the planning process.|
|2.5||Family and/or guardians are informed of and involved in the planning process.|
|3.1||Youth has an education plan (e.g. IEP) with well-established academic, behavioral, and vocational goals and objectives.|
|3.2||Reintegration/transition is addressed in youth’s education plan.|
|3.3||Staff-to-staff (case manager-to-school counselor, teacher-to-teacher, etc.) contacts are made between receiving school and sending school staff.|
|3.4||Youth’s receiving school is notified and involved in the reintegration process.|
|3.5||A plan is in place for school reentry that includes sending and receiving schools’ responsibilities.|
|3.6||Aftercare conditions are communicated to receiving school and agreements are made regarding monitoring prior to integration.|
|3.7||Paperwork arrives at the new site ahead of youth or follows in a timely fashion.|
|3.8||A pre-release visit and admissions interview is scheduled with receiving school and youth shares his/her transition/reintegration plan with admissions interviewer.|
|3.9||Student, parents, and receiving school staff sign a behavior contract or reintegration plan.|
|3.10||Receiving school supports reintegration by matching curriculum and teacher assignment to meet youth’s needs (as outlined in student’s IEP).|
|Supporting Life Skills|
|4.1||Youth receives social and independent living skill training.|
|4.2||Youth receives vocational assessment, counseling, and training.|
|4.3||Youth receives training for parenthood, if appropriate.|
|4.4||Youth receives alcohol and drug abuse counseling, if applicable.|
|4.5||Youth receives ongoing support for mental health needs (e.g. therapy and follow-up), if appropriate.|
|4.6||Youth has access to a resource center that contains a variety of materials related to transition and support services.|
|Continuity of Supports During and Post Transition|
|5.1||Youth meets with receiving school counselor within first two weeks of placement.|
|5.2||Youth meets with receiving school counselor on a regular basis.|
|5.3||Youth has ongoing contact with staff from a previous facility for at least 6 months.|
|5.4||Staff-to-staff (case manager-to-school counselor, teacher-to-teacher, etc.) contacts are continued between receiving school and sending school staff for 6 months after reintegration.|
|5.5||Involved agencies maintain interagency communication once youth has been integrated into school, work, and community.|
|5.6||Youth, parents, and service providers receive information about continuum of services and care.|
|5.7||Follow-up occurs at the program level to verify that agreed-upon transition processes occurred for the student.|
|5.8||Systems are in place for periodic evaluation of transition and reintegration processes.|
Source: McEathron, Fields &: Schafer, 2006.
Three sets of information were gathered to create a picture of the youth with disabilities who were project participants. The specific methods for collecting this information are described below:
Youth Demographics. Demographic information was gathered on all project participants to provide a basic understanding of the youth served in the projects. Information regarding age, gender, race/ethnicity, and disability was readily obtained from juvenile facility and school records. Documentation regarding criminal offenses leading to incarceration was challenging to obtain, based on facility policies for releasing this information directly to project staff. The primary offenses leading to incarceration, however, included property offenses, crimes against persons, and drug offenses. Additional information was also obtained through project records on length of enrollment in the program and services provided.
Youth Post-Release Interviews. Structured interviews were conducted by project staff with 15 youth, five from each of the projects. A common protocol for interviewing youth was developed collaboratively by the three sites. Data were collected between February-June 2017, and all youth interviewed were in a post-release status. Table 2 identifies the questions specifically addressed to each youth interviewed. The primary focus of the interview was to obtain information about their experiences during incarceration and following reentry back into school, community, and family. Data from the interviews were transcribed verbatim and imported into the Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) software program for thematic analysis. Following this initial review, interview transcripts were exchanged across the three sites to establish inter-coder reliability and the emergence of common, agreed-upon themes. Each site coded and analyzed student interviews they were responsible for conducting.
|1||What types of services, supports or activities were you involved in during a typical day while incarcerated?|
|2||What were the greatest challenges you experienced while incarcerated?|
|3||What strategies were most helpful to you in planning for your reentry back into school and community?|
|4||What concerned you most when you were nearing release from the juvenile correctional facility?|
|5||Following release, what did you value most about being back in school?|
|6||What was most challenging or difficult about returning to school for you?|
|7||What supports helped you remain in school and be engaged in the community?|
|8||Aside from school, what do you value most about being back in the community?|
|9||Since release, what have you been doing to stay out of trouble?|
|10||Have you had contact with law enforcement or probation officers since release?|
|11||What do you see yourself doing in the next couple of years?|
|12||What kinds of help and supports would you have liked to receive that were not made available to you?|
Youth Follow-up Survey. Data and information on all project participants were systematically collected across the four years of project implementation at each site. For the purpose of creating a cross-site summary of the most recent school, community, and family status of project participants, a common follow-up survey was developed by the three projects. Follow-up surveys were conducted during January-July 2017. The process involved attempts to re-establish contact with youth who had been served through the projects at any point during the past four years. This required extensive efforts by project staff to locate youth within communities. The participants were highly mobile youth who often moved from living situation to living situation, community to community, and even state to state. Interviews were conducted face-to-face. In several instances, third-party respondents (e.g., parent, caregiver, or community-service agency professionals working with the youth) were involved in providing information on the current status of youth in the community. The follow-up survey requested information on current employment situation, educational status, living arrangement, and history of re-offense since release. Data were analyzed using basic descriptive statistical methods.
A family/caregiver interview protocol was developed by the three projects to generate an understanding of family/caregiver views and perspectives on youths’ experiences while incarcerated and following reentry back to school and community (see Table 3). For the purposes of this report, “family/caregivers” refers to relatives such as grandparents, as well as to foster care parents, in addition to the youth’s biological parents. Face-to-face interviews were conducted by project staff during January-June 2017. A total of 15 interviews occurred, with each of the three sites conducting five. The qualitative analysis procedures used in analyzing the family/caregiver interviews were similar to those used in analyzing the youth interviews.
|1||What involvement did you have in your child’s treatment or programming when he/she was in the facility? If none, why?|
|2||How were you involved in planning for his/her reentry? If not, why?|
|3||What, if any, programming or supports were offered to you and your child after reentry?|
|4||When thinking about your child’s reentry from the residential facility, what were the biggest challenges you faced?|
|5||When thinking about your child’s reentry from the residential facility, what were the biggest challenges he/she faced in terms of re-enrolling in school, reconnecting with friends, structuring free time, staying out of trouble, and remaining drug free?|
|6||What agencies (e.g., school personnel, juvenile justice/probation/parole, mental health/family counseling, etc.) were most helpful to you and your child during his/her reentry?|
|7||What types of services or supports would be useful to young people when they leave places like the residential facility, re-enroll in school, obtain a job, and become positively engaged in their communities again?|
Figure 2 provides a cross-project summary of the interagency stakeholder knowledge and perceptions, as identified through use of the Reintegration Framework Toolkit, across the five domains at Time 1 (Pre-Test) and Time 2 (Post-Test). Each demonstration project varied in its application and use of the toolkit. As noted in Figure 2, a minimal level of change was experienced between Time 1 and Time 2. Responses are best characterized as falling within the range of Usually Evident to Seldom Evident. It is of note that stakeholders perceived a relatively stronger evidence for practices related to Interagency Collaboration and Team Planning, and exhibited less awareness of practices or indicators in Continuity of Supports During and Post Transition; the continuity domain included indicators concerning the extent to which formal follow-up processes were in place to facilitate the reentry process from correctional facility to the receiving school in the community. The finding of lower reported awareness regarding continuity may reflect the challenges incurred by agencies in determining the extent to which the sending agency’s responsibilities end and the receiving agency’s responsibilities begin.
There are several limitations that caution any over-interpretation of the data presented in Figure 2. First, the strength of any conclusion is tempered by the understanding that each project used the Reintegration Framework Toolkit with somewhat different agency stakeholder representatives, different project designs, and the differing service delivery contexts of each state and community setting within which the projects were conducted. One of the more significant limitations were the changes in agency staff involved in the interagency process. Consequently, interagency stakeholder participation varied over time, and not every agency stakeholder participated in every round of the survey. Perceptions therefore varied as the composition of the interagency stakeholders changed.
A total of 165 youth were served by the three projects during the four-year period of funding. As shown in Figure 3, 152 were male (92%), and 13 female (8%). Figure 4 shows the primary disabilities of the youth participants in project. Primary disabilities included emotional disturbance (50%), learning disabilities (34%), other health impaired (e.g., attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) (12%), autism (2%), and intellectual disability (2%). Figure 5 identifies the racial diversity of project participants across the three sites. Overall, 49% were African American/Black, 24% White, 20% Hispanic, 3% American Indian, 3% Multi-racial, and 1% Asian. Based on an analysis of project records, the average length of stay in a juvenile correction facility was 10.2 months, ranging from less than one month to 2.5 years.
The following summarizes the findings from the interviews with youth with disabilities to gain insights into their positive, as well as challenging, experiences while incarcerated and following reentry:
Positive Experiences While Incarcerated. Youth reported several aspects of positive experiences while they were in residential facilities. They viewed the help received from Mentors or Transition Specialists to be positive. One young person described his Mentor as “Someone who was all about finding their [youth’s] goals, finding their careers and wanted to see the best out of them.” Different programs offered by residential facilities, including anger management, counseling, career readiness, and academic classes, were found to be supportive to the youth in their reentry. For example, in one facility career readiness was offered weekly and youth learned how to fill-out job applications and do practice interviews. Participants also reported positive experiences with community employment agencies that connect youth to local companies. One young person had a job the day after he was released from the facility because of the help from the community employment agency. One youth shared, “I would have never gotten my diploma if I hadn’t been here, at least I don’t think I would have because it was too hard for me to do school.”
Challenging Experiences While Incarcerated. Several themes highlighted identified challenges for youth while in custody. They mentioned that administration and learning to navigate the rules of the facility were challenges. It seemed that for many, being sent to a closed space was the only option for disobeying staff in facilities. One youth mentioned that, “Sometimes they make you do stuff that you don't want to do and you have to listen, otherwise you're going down for like, you're just in your room locked up all day basically.” Another theme based on interviews with youth was the responses received from the staff at facilities when procedures and rules were not followed. Youth talked about not feeling respected by staff. Some shared that they felt facility staff favored some youth over others. One mentioned not feeling respected because staff “try to pick other people over them.” In several cases across all three sites, youth mentioned that some staff did not care about their job. One said, “Some of the staff are cool, I guess, but some, they don’t even wanna be here.” A young person from another project described how two staff cared about him when he was in the facility: “Out of everybody, it seems like them two came for the kids instead of the paychecks. Then everybody else would just come just so they have a plate of food on the table.”
Despite challenges faced in correctional facilities, some youth described how they coped with negative interactions with peers. One youth said: “I know if I get into a fight with another kid that we both get in trouble and end up staying in the facility longer. I get that and just try to avoid fighting by talking to my counselor. It’s really hard, but I want to be able to get out and get back home as soon as I can.” Developing an understanding of the consequences of negative interactions with peers and learning how to self-regulate and control their behavior was a common theme.
Positive Experiences Following Reentry. Youth reported positive experiences returning to schools. In one young person’s words, “Not being told what to do by kids, just finally back at a home school, not a jail school, and it feels good.” One theme mentioned was the ways in which youth perceived school staff to be helpful and caring, as well as unhelpful and not as caring. For example, it was a positive when school staff (e.g., social workers, special education teachers) helped students to get to the right classes and school programs when they first came back from the facility. One youth mentioned that it was helpful when his teacher would help him go through his schedule in the morning before classes started. When youth were asked about the difference between the staff whom they felt connected to and those whom they felt were distant, they often described the difference being the caring staff would talk to them and help them see the consequences of their behavior. One said the following describing this difference: “It’s kind of obvious just like how [the student’s Mentor] would go out of his way to take time and talk to you about what you’re interested in doing or the problems you have at school in getting along. This was important to me and it helped keep me in the game, you know staying in school and staying out of trouble. Mostly, staff people didn’t do that. They’d just put you in the seclusion room and leave you in the seclusion room. Or when I was trying to keep showing my teacher I could do the work she wanted me to do, she didn’t listen to me.”
Another theme that emerged was that self-efficacy was the strongest motivation to complete school. When youth were asked what kept them wanting to go back to school, a strong sense of “achieving something” was what motivated them. One young person commented on working toward his GED while at the correctional facility: “What motivated me to go to school the most... was probably the GED classes, because when I started taking the GED classes, I was doing really well, and I guess it showed me that I could do it. And, then, it just gave me a lot of motivation to want to go to school and get it over with when I got out.” Fostering competence in these youth by adopting a personalized, strength-based approach is what seemed to be helpful based on the interviews with youth participants.
Challenging Experiences Following Reentry. Across the three projects, several themes emerged related to challenges in schools: (a) following rules, (b) friends/peers, and (c) falling behind academically and being unable to catch up. One youth mentioned that in one school the rule is that if a student was caught in the hallway without a pass twice, the student would be sent home. Other instances included suspensions for fighting with others students and losing credits if homework wasn’t completed.
Additionally, many youth who dropped out of school or thought about leaving school stated that challenging peer relationships was the main reason. One stated, “Because of old friends, I just didn’t start going to school.” Because of the negative influences from peers, a number of students had to switch schools on several occasions during the year.
Feeling academically disengaged in class was another theme. One youth described his school experience using the following words: “Like, when I’d just started coming back to school, like a week or two ago …and I went to one of my classes I did not know what to do. I was just sitting there looking at the same piece of paper like, what is this? And the crazy part about it, I asked one of my teachers to help me. He was trying to help me, but I just couldn’t get it. And then it was just like, but I should know this. It’s just from not going to school and missing out, leaving for months at a time and then coming back.” Many were far behind as a result of gaps in their education due to being absent from school or attending multiple schools prior to incarceration. Although education was mandated in residential facilities, there may have been a significant gap between what was taught in facilities and in high schools. It was common that youth across the three projects reported that classes provided in the facility were much easier than those provided in traditional schools. Many were far behind in terms of earning high school credits.
Each project collected information on youth participants during their period of incarceration, upon release, and after reentry into school and community. For the purposes of this cross-site summary report, a follow-up survey was developed and conducted during the period January-July 2017. Information was requested on current educational status, postsecondary education and employment involvement, living situation, and history of re-offense since release. Of the 165 project participants, 65 youths completed the follow-up survey. This represented a response rate of approximately 40%. As noted earlier in this section of the report, this involved extensive efforts by project staff to locate youth who had been served through the projects at any point during the past four years. Survey results included the following findings:
Education. Figure 6 illustrates the educational status of youth who participated in the follow-up survey. As shown, 31% were still attending high school at the time the survey was completed, 24% had graduated, 9% had received a GED, 25% had dropped out, and 11% reported other situations, such as involvement in a treatment program. Youth were also requested to respond to questions concerning their postsecondary education and employment status. Approximately 16% of those who were not currently enrolled in high school responded that they were enrolled in a postsecondary training program, community college, or university.
Employment. Youth were also asked if they were working at the time of the interview. Thirty-nine percent (39%) reported that they were actively working. On average, these youth reported working more than 20 hours per week and receiving at or above the minimum wage. Figure 7 reports on reasons youth were not currently working. As shown, 40% were enrolled in school, 11% could not find a job they were interested in doing, 7% lacked job skills needed for employment, 7% quit their last job, 7% reported not wanting to work, 4% reported not wanting to lose government benefits, 4% indicated a health or disability concern, and those identified as responding “other” (20%) refused to answer the question.
Living Arrangements. Figure 8 reports on the youth’s current living arrangement. At the time of the follow-up interview, over half the youth (57%) lived with a family member, 20% reported being in a correctional facility or youth detention center, 11% were homeless, 7% were living with a spouse/roommate, 3% resided in a medical/mental health facility, and 2% identified other arrangements.
Developing a common cross-project recidivism rate was not possible. Each state’s juvenile justice system differs in organization, administration, and data capacity. These differences influence how states, as well as jurisdictions within states (state vs. county), define, measure, and report recidivism rates. The following describes the data sources and outcome findings in relation to participant recidivism for each project:
Minnesota. Minnesota’s MAP Project recidivism rate was derived from multiple data sources, including project records and the follow-up interview surveys; Minnesota State Court System, Minnesota Court Information System (MNCIS); and Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota Automated Reporting Student System (MARSS). While Minnesota has measures of adjudication (conviction) and commitment (to juvenile or adult facility), the state does not have a system for reporting recidivism rates annually. Reliably tracking project participants across differing correctional jurisdictions (state vs. county, or from county to county), across multiple independent school districts, and from juvenile to adult correctional facilities was challenging. Based on a fundamental definition of recidivism to mean “a return to secure care,” typically 12 months after release, the recidivism rate calculated for the MAP Project was 21%.
Arizona. The Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections (ADJC) defines recidivism as a return to custody resulting from either a parole revocation or a new charge following the release from a first-time commitment to secure care. The rate is calculated by dividing the number of juveniles in a specific cohort that were returned to custody within one, two, or three years by the total number of juveniles released in the respective cohort. Based on the most recent data available, ADJC’s reported recidivism rate at one year post-release is 35.9%. The Project RISE recidivism rate at one year post-release was 18%.
Oregon. Defining recidivism in Oregon, as in other states, is difficult as a youth may be adjudicated at the county level or at the state by the Oregon Youth Authority, and if the youth turns 18 and then is convicted of a crime the county and state adult corrections systems are involved. Project STAY OUT recidivism rates were defined through survey methodology from multiple respondents. Recidivism for this project was defined as a youth or young adult participant who was either adjudicated, if under 18, for a new crime, or convicted of a new crime after turning 18 at any point post-release. Recidivism rates do not include parole violations that may result in the youth returning to secure care or detention. The project first administered a post-exit survey with the actual student respondents; if they could not be contacted the project attempted to connect with a parent or other caregiver. If no contact could be made at that point, the project connected with the Transition Specialists who had previously served the youth or the parole/probation officer. The Project STAY OUT recidivism rate was 22%.
The following summarizes the interviews with parents/caregivers to gain insights into their positive, as well as challenging, experiences while their children were incarcerated and following reentry:
Positive Experiences While Incarcerated and Following Reentry. Most parents interviewed in this study found the educational and support services provided at the facility to be helpful. These services were provided by school personnel, such as special education teachers, social workers, and school counselors. Additionally, caregivers in this study expressed gratitude toward help Mentors or Transition Specialists provided to their children. Many of them mentioned that the Mentor or Transition Specialist was the only adult male figure their child had. One parent said,“[His father] was not involved in my son’s life, so my son doesn’t really have a role model.” Helping youth with employment was another common point brought up during the interviews. Caregivers talked about employment-related services provided by project staff both when their youth was incarcerated and was released, including connecting youth to employment opportunities, assisting with résumés, and getting interview clothes.
Challenging Experiences Following Reentry. Many caregivers mentioned they struggled the most when their child was released from the residential facility to school and to the community. Caregivers talked about their children making progress. Parents described their child’s experiences in the facility as “he was on track” or “things were looking good.” The lack of supports occurred following reentry, a period during which caregivers described feeling helpless and unable to dissuade their child from re-uniting with negative peers, such as gang members in the community, many of whom were their youth’s friend when they got in trouble in the first place. As one parent put it, “Once they get out of there [facility], they realize ‘I’m not there no more’, and you know, he kind of slowly, slowly started straying away from school, from home, the rules.” Many youth were involved with drugs because of these negative peer influences. In one case, the youth was doing well for a period in school following reentry, but was suspended and ultimately arrested and placed back in a facility for use and possession of marijuana.
When describing the challenges pertaining to schools, recurring themes across the three projects included youth not feeling safe at school, and lacking an alternative plan other than suspension. When asked about their child’s school experiences, many parents mentioned that school was a positive experience, in fact, their child liked going to school. However, because of negative peer influences and returning to gang involvement, their child skipped school and some dropped out. Attendance problems and suspensions were defined by the parents as the primary communication they received from the school. One parent described her child’s school experiences in the following words: “The first thing they want to do is kick them out. Suspension, suspension, suspension…They [students] are getting farther and farther behind. That's all suspension is doing. He was being suspended at least maybe three times out of the week.” A theme that emerged in parent interviews was the need for an alternative plan to suspension. The consequences of suspension are clear – missing school, more opportunities to be exposed to negative peer influence, and eventually, dropping out or recidivism. Parents talked about the importance of understanding a young person’s behaviors before adopting any punitive approaches. A parent shared, “Talk. Communicate with these students. Find out what’s going on with them. Don’t be aggressive. Don’t come in their faces. A lot of it to me [the parent] is coming from when they were this young, starting from kindergarten to high school. There needs to be an alternative to some of these suspensions or we will lose too many of these young people to failure, not only in school, but for the rest of their lives.”
Getting a paid job was another challenge described by parents. The majority of the parents viewed employment to be an essential goal for their children and many caregivers encouraged their children to get an entry-level job while in high school. While going to college was an expectation for some youth, for others getting a job was the next step after graduating from high school. Two barriers were described for getting a job: lack of work experiences and unrealistic expectations. Many did not have any previous work experiences. One parent described the challenge as “You can’t just have a million dollar dream with no work skills and only a minimum wage job within your reach.”Parents overall felt that setting postschool goals should be a major focus during high school.They shared an urgency that their child needed to have set clear goals focused on employment and some form of postsecondary education before they graduated from high school. Recommendations from parents included: (1) providing their child with some type of part-time work experience during high school, (2) teaching their child about postsecondary education options and encouraging them to see college or technical skill training beyond high school as important for their future, (3) having a Mentor or a Transition Specialist who regularly checks with the youth about job interviews or college applications, and (4) connecting their child with community service agencies that can help them in planning for postsecondary education and employment. One parent commented, “The Transition Specialist brings him to job fairs, takes him on college tours, visits different employment sites all intended to help him see what’s out there and possible for him to achieve some day.”
Off in the distance are beautiful mountains, but up close is a tall fence with barbed wire around the top. It’s hard to see the mountains unless you look really hard, and it’s even easier to forget that they are there when you are “behind the fence.” That’s what DJ* said after arriving at the facility in the desert southwest a week before his 16th birthday.
DJ recalls his early days in this facility as just learning the routine, learning who is a friend or a foe, and learning how to occupy his time. For some youth, the structure and routine provided by juvenile corrections is comforting – the expectations are clear and the routine is predictable. Prior to being committed many are largely unregulated and unsupervised, as was the case with DJ. He recalled weeks on end just running the streets, crashing wherever he could find a spot, and having no accountability for anything or to anyone. It took a month or so for DJ to settle in and appreciate the structure and safety the facility afforded him.
DJ was selected as a candidate for Project RISE due to his active Individualized Education Program (IEP) and his plan to return to the local community. He was interviewed by a Project RISE Transition Specialist to determine whether or not he was willing to participate; he agreed that this additional support would be beneficial. His mother, Barbara*, also agreed to allow DJ to participate in this transition program. During the course of his stay at the facility he met regularly with the Transition Specialist and they worked on educational, employment, and social-emotional goals. He participated in daily education and treatment services provided by the department.
Due to his emotional disability, he was frequently frustrated with people, school, his situation, and himself. During this phase of his participation in Project RISE he was impulsive, distractible, and often uncooperative. When asked what his goals were, his response was usually, “I’m just doing me.” Over time, DJ began to see a community that encompassed opportunities and enriching activities. Most importantly, he began to process the importance of working toward goals like completing his education, gaining trade skills, repairing relationships with his family, and remaining substance free.
Project RISE was able to assist him with re-enrollment in school within days of his release. The Transition Specialist provided records and a transcript to the community-based school so that he could have a seamless entry into appropriate classes. DJ returned home and for the first time was able to display leadership and confidence because he had a plan for how to move forward into adulthood. DJ reported that he felt more prepared to make good choices and to avoid negative peers than ever before. He added that for the first time, he was thinking past his 18th birthday and picturing himself as a young adult.
His transition was fraught with temptations and setbacks, but DJ had new resources to help him through the difficult times. He reached out to the Transition Specialist to brainstorm new approaches to old problems. Sometimes he just needed to vent. He took an active role in seeking out his school counselor to help him when he “needed some space” during the school day. His ability to self-advocate became noticeably stronger during his time in the community. Upon discharge from Project RISE, DJ had completed his diploma and enrolled in a trade program to pursue his dream of being an auto mechanic.
“When I think of DJ as a child, I see a happy boy who always wanted to help me in the kitchen. I don’t know where I went wrong,” recounted Barbara*, DJ’s mother. Barbara’s small two-bedroom apartment in a middle class neighborhood was neatly decorated with wall hangings, paintings, and sculptures representing her strong Native American heritage. DJ’s bedroom remained largely untouched from the day he left. It had posters of his favorite basketball players pinned on the walls and several handmade quilts folded neatly at the foot of the bed.
In the two years preceding DJ’s commitment to juvenile corrections, Barbara collaborated with the local school and attended multiple IEP meetings to discuss new accommodations for DJ. Nothing seemed to motivate him and his grades slipped drastically. By age 14, DJ was gang involved, would routinely ditch school and often stayed out all night. Barbara enlisted the help of her community elders to mentor and coach DJ, but this did not work. With sadness, she recalled, “I felt helpless.”
His last offense, an assault on another youth, resulted in his eventual commitment to a juvenile facility. That came as a relief to Barbara. He had been in and out of county detention facilities “too many times to count.” She advocated for his commitment so that he could catch up on lost education and finally get some treatment services for his anger issues. Barbara stated that she had tried for years to get DJ to attend counseling for what she referred to as “black rage,” but DJ refused.
The juvenile facility was located over 20 miles from her residence, making visitation virtually impossible due to transportation constraints. While the physical separation created a type of loss in the home, Barbara said she found comfort knowing that he was safe, in school, and receiving much-needed treatment. She routinely wrote letters to DJ telling him how proud she was of his hard work.
When approached with the possibility of participating in Project RISE, Barbara agreed, stating that she was willing to accept all services that would help her child return to the community safely. Barbara was instrumental in helping the Transition Specialist develop realistic goals that she could help support upon his release. Barbara told the Transition Specialist that DJ always had a love of working with all types of engines, in particular auto engines. This became one of DJ’s core transition areas to allow him to pursue his dream post high school.
Barbara was able to participate in monthly updates by tele-conferencing in his Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) meetings. With each MDT, her hope was slowly renewed as she learned that her son was accruing credits toward his high school diploma, taking automotive classes, participating in treatment, and had completed a cognitive-based transition curriculum named Merging Two Worlds.
Upon DJ’s release, Barbara was shocked at how much he had matured in his 13 months at the facility. He was taller, had gained some weight, and his voice had deepened. Mostly, she stated, she was amazed at his attitude, drive, and newfound confidence for his future. She credited her faith, the department, and the entire team for giving her child back to her.
Anthony* is an African American young man with an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) disability classification. He enjoys playing basketball, football, and listening to music. Anthony was 13 years old when he was first incarcerated at Boys Totem Town (BTT), a residential treatment program in Ramsey County, Minnesota, for adolescent males who have been committed by the court. Anthony struggled at BTT because he missed his mom, but did meet with her regularly during visiting hours and through family therapy sessions while he was incarcerated.
Anthony recalled that he had trouble following the rules of the facility when he first arrived at BTT, and he spent some time in seclusion as a result. He began participating in the MAP Project when he was 13 years old, and worked with his Mentor for the next 11 months. At the time of enrollment in MAP, Anthony’s Mentor met with him regularly and checked in with him about his family, behavior, and relationships with peers at BTT. During his time working with Anthony, his Mentor noted that he made steady improvements in his interactions with staff and peers, with his behaviors, and academically.
Before his release from BTT, Anthony was required to complete treatment. After reentry to the community from BTT, Anthony continued to check in with his Mentor for support, and his Mentor helped him identify strategies to stay out of trouble. Anthony and his Mentor also engaged in pro-social activities together, and had their mentoring check-ins at the gym and once at a sports game. Shortly after release from BTT, Anthony was suspended at school for “assaulting a staff member” because they confiscated his cell phone. Over the next few months he was dismissed from school for “throwing gang signs” and “causing disruptions in class”, and was suspended. Despite the ongoing behavior issues, Anthony continued to stay engaged in school, and received an A+ in one of his classes. Approximately 6 months after another suspension, Anthony was sent to a remote residential treatment center located several hours north of his home.
Anthony said that he has not had positive relationships with his peers in the community or the facilities where he has been incarcerated, and mentioned that he didn’t have any friends or close acquaintances at the time of the follow-up interview. He also said that he struggled to build trust with his probation officer, who Anthony believed was committed to sending him back to jail. Anthony also tried several part-time jobs in the fast food industry, but quit because he didn’t believe his supervisor respected him.
Anthony is now back in school and living at home with his mother. When reflecting on his time in the community since his last incarceration he shared that today he is doing well in school and is a sophomore. When asked what motivates him to stay in school, he said that he wants to go to college and get a good paying job so he can buy a house, a car, afford to travel, and provide for his future family. His dream is to become a lawyer so he can help people who are going through the sentencing process. He commented that having people in his life like his mother and the MAP Project Mentor to look out for him, helped him stay connected with school and positive community involvements to stay out of trouble.
Deena*, Anthony’s mother, shared her journey in supporting Anthony as he struggled with behavioral issues growing up, which she believed affected his academic performance and relationship with his peers. Deena explained that professionals had diagnosed Anthony with ADHD, and had said he was “very unbalanced.” Unsure how to best support him, Deena encouraged Anthony to go on medication. His medications made it difficult for him to sleep, so he was prescribed sleeping medication. Because of his difficulties in developing relationships, he was bullied by his peers. He blamed the medications for his problems and refused to keep taking them. Since he stopped taking his medication, his mother shared that he has struggled to stay focused in school, has had an increase in behavior issues, and has had insomnia, which has led him to sleep in class.
When Anthony was incarcerated, Deena visited Anthony every week without fail and said that one of the most valuable supports offered to her was family counseling, which gave her and Anthony the opportunity to build trust and connect on a deeper level. Deena also asked a team of counselors and transition staff to check in with her and her son regularly at the facility to help coach Anthony through issues as they arose in the facility, and to check in about his behavior to ensure that he was getting enough support.
Although Anthony was beginning to get on the “right track” when he was in BTT, Deena said that she had a difficult time getting him to follow her rules after he returned home and said that Anthony started breaking curfew and hanging out with the “wrong crowd.” After returning to his school in the community, Deena reported that her son felt unsafe because he felt threatened by a local gang. He experienced several probation violations and suspensions due to disruptive behavior at school and was sent to a facility several hours from his home.
Upon return to his home he started school again. He struggled to get to school and his attendance began to slip, so he transferred to a different school after a month. Anthony ended up transferring to four schools during one school year. The final school he transferred to made a difference and he started doing well. She explained that Anthony needs to make up most of his credits because he has fallen behind in school. She said that some of the schools that Anthony attended were not welcoming or responsive to his educational and behavioral challenges.
Reflecting on this challenging time, Deena said it was helpful to have a positive adult other than herself, like the MAP Mentor, support her with Anthony. She said that Anthony’s MAP Mentor was one of the only persons that Anthony was willing to open up to. Overall, she is hopeful that Anthony will complete high school and keep out of trouble.
Gabe* is an 18-year-old Latino male with an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis. He was released from Oregon Youth Authority (OYA), a youth corrections facility, in the spring of 2016. He reentered his home community, where he moved in with his mother and enrolled in the local school district with the intent of completing the requirements for a modified diploma.
After enrolling in school, Gabe was notified that he qualified for Project STAY OUT, and he enrolled in it. The STAY OUT Transition Specialist met with him to talk about his academic history, social/emotional needs, and goals for the year. Initially, the Transition Specialist noted that Gabe was withdrawn and had difficulty maintaining eye contact and discussing interests and future goals. His Probation Office (PO), who has a positive relationship with him, noted that Gabe was wary of meeting new people (particularly people in positions of authority), and struggled to form positive peer relationships during his time at OYA.
School was often a difficult place for Gabe due to chronic absenteeism and behavioral challenges related to addiction, trauma, family instability, and his disability. Although a bright student, he found the school environment constricting and felt agitated and frustrated. He also had a difficult time controlling his emotions around peers and authority figures. Due to an unstable and traumatic home situation, he transferred to many different schools over the years and struggled to adapt to a constantly changing environment. His father (with whom he feels very close) was in and out of his life, and his mother (who he didn’t live with) went for long periods of time without checking in with him or visiting. Many family members have a criminal background and struggle with addiction and gang affiliation, making it difficult for him to avoid criminal activity and stay out of trouble.
After Gabe enrolled in school, his STAY OUT Transition Specialist scheduled a meeting with stakeholders to review Gabe’s transcript and develop a plan for him to complete his graduation requirements for his modified diploma. Despite having only 12 credits as a senior, Gabe was determined to graduate from high school rather than enroll in a GED program. The school staff and Transition Specialist worked with Gabe and his PO to develop a plan that allowed flexibility with his school schedule so he could also work full-time. They helped him enroll in online classes and agreed on a weekly meeting time when he would check-in with his Special Education Learning Specialist and Transition Specialist. The Transition Specialist also referred Gabe to a school social worker for additional social and emotional support, and to mental health services if needed.
Initially, Gabe had a difficult time adapting to the online classes. However, just as he was starting to feel overwhelmed and frustrated, he scored several academic victories in a row by passing state tests and meeting proficiency standards in reading, writing, and math. This seemed to strengthen his resolve to stay focused and complete his graduation requirements.
In the fall of 2017, Gabe was able to reach his goal and officially graduate from high school. When asked to reflect on what helped him reach his goal, he credited his own emotional growth – feeling more calm and having more control of his emotions – as well as the academic and emotional support he received from his PO, the school staff, and his STAY OUT Transition Specialist.
In terms of long-term goals, Gabe would like to run his own auto body shop or enlist in the Air Force. At the moment, he plans to save money for an apartment and continue working full-time at his current job, where he buffs hardwood floors in school gyms. He looks forward to walking in his high school graduation ceremony next spring.
According to Ruth*, her son Barry* had always struggled with making and keeping friends. Middle school was tough – he didn’t fit in. The hardest thing was Barry’s meltdowns when his frustrations mounted, and during high school they were happening more and more. He was prescribed medication, which seemed to help a bit.
Barry was spending more and more time on his computer playing games and on social network sites. After one of his meltdowns he posted a threat to the school district on Facebook and then Ruth got a call that the police were on their way to her house to take Barry to the county detention center. It was at this point that Barry’s life changed.
While he was at the county detention facility, he saw a psychiatrist who asked Ruth if she knew what Asperger’s Syndrome was. She had heard about it, and friends had even mentioned it to her in relation to Barry, but he had never been diagnosed. The diagnoses and education about Asperger’s opened the whole family’s eyes and helped to explain his difficult experiences.
While Barry was still at detention center, the Transition Specialist for the school district met with Ruth, Barry, and other team stakeholders about school placement. The family knew that going back to his neighborhood school was not a good idea. The Transition Specialist connected with Barry and Barry saw him as a resource. They talked, and that helped in the beginning, but more than anything it was the opening of doors to resources available to them so that they had more than one place to go to get supports that they needed. Because the Transition Specialist knew the district school options, he made a case for Barry to attend a local alternative school with only 60 students.
This small, alternative setting was a perfect fit for Barry. He thrived there, made friends, bonded with his teachers, and with the help of his Transition Specialist toured the local community college campus and wants to attend computer classes. The Transition Specialist and Barry continue to meet weekly as a support and also because they just like hanging out and talking. Barry is learning so much about himself both from his diagnosis of autism and through his time with the Transition Specialist. He has learned that it would be better to have a job where he works with a small team for now, such as in a warehouse at a store. Ruth shared that she has noticed that Barry is now more comfortable talking about his disability and is beginning to understand what type of work, school, and friend situations work best for him.
In the end, Ruth says that a horrible mistake that Barry made turned out to be a life saver. He now has a better understanding as to why he responds to some things the way that he does and how to de-escalate himself. He is very open in talking about being on the Autism Spectrum and continues to see a counselor on a regular basis. He graduated in June 2017.
As documented in juvenile justice and special education literature, and exemplified in these three model demonstration projects, the complex needs of youth within the justice system are magnified when these youth have disabilities. Youth with disabilities typically enter the juvenile justice system with long histories of academic failure, poor school attendance, and inadequate social, emotional, and life skills. As a result, they require more intensive and individualized services and supports while incarcerated and when released. Working with these youth is challenging, and knowing what services and supports to provide, as well as how and when to provide them, is key. Youth with disabilities need to be introduced to transition immediately after entry into the facility. Youth with disabilities must have a written transition plan that is aligned with their IEPs. However, it is equally important that they understand what their transition goals are and how to attain them.
Youth with disabilities also need instruction and assistance in problem-solving barriers in relation to achieving their transition goals. Typically, there are a more service providers involved when youth have disabilities, so it is essential that these youth have an advocate, liaison or transition specialist help them coordinate services and navigate the transition process. When this liaison or specialist has the ability to assist the youth both behind the fence and in the community, the chance that the youth will reengage successfully in the community increases, while their chance of recidivism decreases.
The following identifies 10 lessons learned through the experiences of Project RISE, MAP Project, and Project STAY OUT. The issues noted here are not dissimilar to the ongoing and pervasive challenges that youth with disabilities face while incarcerated and during their reentry back to school, community, and family.
Creating a coordinated interagency approach in addressing the needs of youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system is highly complex. Essential levels of interagency collaboration are needed to: (a) ensure the timely and efficient transfer of records at the point of entry into and exit from the juvenile justice facility, (b) delineate and clarify roles and responsibilities of key staff to be involved in supporting students in planning for and making the transition back to school and community, and (c) overcome structural barriers of separate funding streams and independent management and decision-making structures at the agency level that can continue to impede collaboration. Incarcerated youth often display an array of dynamic risk factors and responsivity barriers that are significant obstacles to their transition from the juvenile justice system to school and community. Traditionally, however, juvenile justice, education, and other community service agencies have operated in silos rather than collaborating to deliver an integrated set of supports and services that simultaneously address the primary causes of youth delinquent behaviors and help them successfully transition back into the community. Yet the reality is that neither the juvenile justice nor the educational system has the resources or expertise, on its own, to successfully address the multi-faceted needs of youth.
Achieving effective levels of interagency collaboration has historically been challenging. Too frequently, the positive intentions and initial collaborative planning efforts are diminished or aborted because the agency personnel (a) lack needed skills to effectively manage the interagency process, (b) subvert strategies toward coordination of services to protect existing administrative prerogatives, and/or (c) fail to adhere to proven planning methods. Each of the demonstration projects established and continuously worked with an interagency stakeholder group. While agency membership varied somewhat across the three projects, a common goal was to engage stakeholders in developing a shared commitment to, and responsibility for, youth reentry and aftercare following release. The Reintegration Framework Toolkit was adopted and used by each of the projects to facilitate interagency discussion and planning. The toolkit provided a structured self-assessment process to promote communication among interagency stakeholders that established a common understanding and agreed upon priorities as to what constitutes best practices in transition and reentry for youth released from correctional facilities. The use of such tools offers an efficient structure that can support interagency stakeholders in identifying priorities and developing action plans to improve the reentry process.
To provide effective transition services and foster reentry success for youth with disabilities transition planning must begin early. Policies, procedures, and relationships between courts, juvenile justice facilities, schools, employers, and community-based providers that support reentry planning for youth must be in place. This includes establishing a transition team while the youth is incarcerated and continuing to stay involved during reentry. The transition team should focus on regular and effective communication that facilitates the transition process for the youth. Transition planning also includes a timely and efficient process for transferring records both into and out of the juvenile justice facility. Transition planning should be documented in a written plan that is aligned with the IEP and written with the youth and his/her caregiver. The plan should contain realistic goals and objectives that guide educational, vocational, and treatment programming and placement. It should also outline other areas of need such as living arrangements, therapy or counseling, and probation or parole requirements. Frequently, youth with disabilities have more than one transition or reentry plan. Efforts should be made to create one all-encompassing, written, transition plan. Transition planning also includes instruction in evidence-based practices like cognitive-based therapy and self-determination. These evidence-based practices can be infused into a transition curriculum to assist youth to prepare for reentry by providing instruction in self-awareness, self-confidence, decision making, goal setting, healthy relationships, money management, transportation, and communication. Transition planning also includes policies and procedures for monitoring and tracking progress and outcomes. It is essential to determine who will collect this information, when it will be collected, and how, as these data can be used to measure reentry success.
Involving families in the reintegration process was identified by all three projects as critical for successful reentry into the community. Yet, it’s a challenging endeavor. Family engagement in the transition process has been identified as a predictor for post-school success for youth with disabilities (Test, et al., 2009). The three projects defined “family” very broadly as often youth may not return to their biological parents to live, but live with other family members (e.g., aunt/uncle, grandparents), foster parents or other caregivers. It is important to identify who the appropriate caregiver is and identify additional positive adults in a youth’s life. From beginning to end, it is critical to have clear communication between the family, juvenile services, and education transition teams. The communication along with the services, resources, and referrals need to be both culturally and linguistically appropriate for the family.
Parental involvement is often difficult to accomplish while the youth is incarcerated, specifically if the correctional education setting is not located close to the family’s residence (e.g., across the state). Virtual communication mechanisms have increased access to the reentry planning process while the youth is incarcerated. One strategy to increase family involvement is to include the family in the transition assessment process to help identify transition and reentry goals relevant for the youth related to education, employment opportunities, and independent living skills in the context of the community to which the youth will be returning. When a youth is released from custody, familial support may include such things as referrals to mental health/drug addiction treatment, housing, and transportation support to ensure the home environment is stable for the youth. Caregivers may also benefit from parenting training in how to set rules at home and define new boundaries for the youth upon their return home.
Transitioning from a secure correctional environment, where few decisions are made by the youth, to school and community settings, where many decisions need to be made by a young person daily, is highly challenging. Successful reentry to community requires that youth have the social and self-determination skills that help them to engage in positive decisions regarding their actions. Self-determined behavior is identified by several essential characteristics, including personal autonomy in one’s actions, behaviors that are self-regulated, responding to events in an empowered manner, and acting in a self-realizing manner (Wehmeyer, Abery, Mithaug, & Stancliffe, 2003). These behaviors enable one to act as the primary causal agent in one’s life and to maintain or improve one’s quality of life (Wehmeyer, 2005). It is assumed that, over time, children and adolescents learn and develop attitudes that enable them to be self-directed in their responses to life situations. Not all youth, however, naturally acquire the behaviors and skills to make good decisions and choices over their lives. These behaviors and skills include one’s ability to problem-solve situations effectively, set goals and develop a clear path toward accomplishing the goals, and cope with complex and challenging situations.
Self-determination has been widely researched and broadly adopted as a key component in the transition-planning process in supporting students in achieving positive school and post-school outcomes (Shogren, et al., 2007). Providing incarcerated youth with the opportunity to learn positive social and self-determination skills is critically important to their successful reentry and community adjustment. However, the extent to which the juvenile correctional facilities involved in the projects formally instructed youth on self-determination skills was limited. As young people with disabilities make the transition from correctional facility to school and community, they are confronted with a myriad of situations and challenges that require them to independently make good judgements and decisions regarding interactions with peers, persevering at school, reengaging with family/caregivers, maintaining a job, and just staying out of trouble. Within juvenile correctional settings, self-determination can be presented as a cognitive-behavioral teaching strategy for youth. There are several published curricula for teaching students with disabilities self-determination skills, which can readily be incorporated within educational programs in correctional facilities. These include: Whose Future Is It? (Wehmeyer & Lawrence, 1995), Self-Determination Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) (Shogren, Wehmeyer, Burke & Palmer, 2017), and the ME! Lessons for Teaching Self-Awareness and Self-Advocacy (Cantley, Little, & Martin, 2010).
During the implementation of the three projects it became apparent that many youth with disabilities who are involved with juvenile justice have had exposure to trauma. Many of them have experienced multiple traumatic stressors and victimization. Examples of these stressors include physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and community violence. These stressors have impacted youth prior to their contact with law enforcement. Due to their prolonged or multiple exposures to traumatic events, such youth need long-term supports that continue throughout pre- and post-release. It is imperative that reentry programming for this population includes evidence-based interventions that address co-occurring trauma, mental illness, substance abuse, and behavioral problems. Trauma-informed screening, assessment, and care should become a standard practice in juvenile justice services. Behavior screeners can help identify trauma exposure and the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in youth with disabilities, and can assist in providing evidence-based, trauma-specific treatment for them and their families. The use of cognitive-behavioral therapy, social skills training, motivational interviewing, individualized counseling, and family-based approaches has been found beneficial for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. These interventions need to be tailored to best meet each youth’s unique needs. The framework of positive behavioral supports can promote all youths’ experiences of safety and provide tiered supports to prevent further traumatization. Professional development in trauma-informed care and reentry would increase the awareness of educators and staff to help them understand the behaviors of youth who have been impacted by trauma. It is important to build collaborative partnerships across the youth-serving agencies associated with juvenile justice settings to increase trauma awareness and responsiveness.
As noted earlier, interagency collaboration is critical for a successful reentry process for youth with disabilities involved in the juvenile justice system. The projects learned that effective interagency collaboration was made easier if agency partners were educated about the other supporting agencies. For example, it was important for juvenile services personnel to understand local school referral and enrollment procedures along with required service provision for youth with disabilities in schools (i.e., IDEA). On the other hand, school personnel needed to be educated about local juvenile services. This education of school personnel sometimes reduced the stigma of a youth’s involvement in juvenile services and opened up larger opportunities for appropriate educational placement. The projects found it useful to educate all community partners on key items for each agency, such as eligibility criteria, referral process, and services rendered by each entity. Defining the roles and responsibilities of each respective agency and service provider is important. Transition teams that know this information can facilitate quicker and appropriate access to needed services for the youth in a timely manner before they have the chance to slide into negative social behavior upon exiting the correctional setting.
The importance of relationships in promoting youth’s engagement with school and learning has been the focus of professional discussion over the past three decades (Anderson, Christenson, Sinclair, & Lehr, 2004). One of the most consistent findings in this literature has been that positive, supportive relationships with adults are associated with good outcomes for children and youth. According to Masten and Reed (2002), “The best documented asset of resilient children and youth is a strong bond to a competent and caring adult, which need not be a parent” (p. 83). It is thought that these relationships provide children and youth with resources to foster positive development of life skills needed to overcome obstacles, regardless of the risk status of the individual. These adult relationships can be established with school staff, juvenile justice facility personnel, other community service agency professionals, or, in a less formal way, with family members or adult friends who assume that critical role in the young person’s life.
In each of the projects, a key individual – Transition Specialist or Mentor – played a key role, serving in varying capacities as case manager, monitor, and/or advocate on behalf of the youth during incarceration and upon release and reentry to school and community. A substantial gap continued to exist, however, to adequately support the reentry back to community. This gap is best represented as the challenge incurred by agencies in determining where the sending agency’s responsibility ends and the receiving agency’s responsibility begins. Although many juvenile justice facilities have staff dedicated to reentry, they often work in isolation, without necessary internal and external support for resources (U. S. Departments of Education & U.S. Department of Justice, 2014). Schools, in turn, also lack staff support and resources, in many cases, to designate a specific staff member as an individual who can case-manage and advocate for the youth returning from the correctional facility. Lacking a relationship-based support system, far too many youth fail to adjust successfully to the new school situation. In these projects, the roles of the Transition Specialist and Mentor were established to bridge the gap and provide continuity as youth transitioned from correctional facility to school and community. This also included establishing connections with other youth-serving agencies and community-based supports. Some of the most successful reentry models are based on the identification of a caring adult who can be called on by both the youth and the family regarding minor or major concerns, and who acts as an advocate for the youth and family (Just Children, Legal Aid Justice Center, 2004, 2006).
As stated earlier, transition and reentry planning needs to be initiated when a youth with disabilities enters a youth correctional facility. This planning sets the stage for effective post-release support services that need to be immediately implemented upon exiting a correctional setting. A Transition Specialist, Mentor or similar position can be a positive influence to support the implementation of the transition plan with the youth immediately upon exit.
There are multiple school, employment, family, and community services that need to be taken into consideration based on the needs, strengths, and interests of the youth. School engagement strategies hinge on a speedy records transfer to identify the most appropriate school setting based on academic skills of the youth, number of credits needed to graduate, and behavioral needs. Family considerations, as described earlier, are focused on increasing the stability of the home environment for the youth. Employment-related strategies assist the youth in finding appropriate employment. Often these may be small, individually-owned businesses in which the employer can empathize with a youth’s past juvenile service involvement. The Transition Specialist may need to coach the youth in how to appropriately disclose prior involvement in the justice system if they are inadvertently “outed” on a job or choose to disclose past involvement during the interview process.
One potential stumbling block experienced by youth in the projects was the influence of negative peers, often friends they used to spend time with prior to incarceration. Spending time with these friends often led to re-initiation of drug use and/or criminal behavior. Reentry services need to focus on the youth getting involved in pro-social activities in the community. Pro-social friendships can be fostered both in the school and employment settings along with engagement in healthy activities based on the youth’s interests and the availability in the community. Other community agencies often need to be engaged to support a youth’s successful reentry. Such agencies can include services relative to mental health, alcohol and other drug addiction counseling, parenting classes, and housing support, among others.
One theme that resonated across the three demonstration projects is that the voice of the youth is important and should be heard during reentry programming. During the intake interviews, the Transition Specialist or Mentor must listen to youth and gather information about the various types of barriers they have encountered. By listening to them, the Transition Specialist or Mentor can also learn how they have tried to overcome barriers, and what some of their coping skills and strengths are. For example, Project RISE learned that when youth have a positive attitude toward challenges in life, nurturing staff around them, and positive peer and family influences, they are more likely to be productively engaged after release. A history of poor academic performance, negative family influences, drugs, and gangs are barriers to their successful reentry.
By listening to youth and understanding challenges that are specific to their lives, supportive staff can help them in establishing goals that are more likely to lead them toward reentry success. The Transition Specialist or Mentor and the youth can jointly develop and review transition goals and objectives to meet their unique needs. Interventions that focus on self-determination and positive choice-making are helpful. Youth with disabilities in the projects viewed these interventions as beneficial in making them “productively engaged.” In addition, they saw benefits in transition courses that focused on problem solving, cognitive restructuring, and self-determination. The individual’s transition plan can include goals, objectives, curricula, and implementation activities that are not only meaningful and beneficial in the eyes of adults, but also are viewed positively by youth. When the Transition Specialist and Mentors continue to listen to youth concerns after release and provide continuous support, youth with disabilities show persistence, engagement, and successful social integration.
According to the Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2014 National Report, (Sickmund & Puzzanchera, 2014), a report funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), there is no national recidivism rate for juveniles. Each state’s juvenile justice system differs in organization, administration, and data capacity. These differences influence how states, as well as jurisdictions within states (state vs. county), define, measure, and report recidivism rates. This makes it challenging to compare recidivism rates across states, and, in our case, therefore, across projects. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts (2014), the Council of Juvenile Correction Administrators, and the Council of Governments found that one in four states did not regularly collect and report juvenile recidivism data, and fewer than half used measures that provided a comprehensive picture of youth re-offending. An often-cited source, Snyder and Sickmund (2006), reported that state studies have shown that re-arrest rates for youth within one year of release from an institution average 55%, while re-incarceration and re-confinement rates during the same time-frame averaged 24%. Reporting on recidivism rates across the three projects was challenging due to differences in how recidivism is defined and how this information is collected and reported by local law enforcement agencies, the courts, and state and county correctional agencies. Many project youth were involved with multiple agencies – law enforcement, courts, detention, probation, and residential facilities – across multiple geographic jurisdictions – municipal, county, and state – following release. Because of this, each project experienced challenges in maintaining complete and accurate documentation of the post-release recidivism status of the youth. We draw attention to this issue to alert future endeavors concerning the challenges involved in tracking and reporting information on youth recidivism.
The lessons learned that are presented in this summary report identify a number of strategies that need to be fully considered to improve services to youth with disabilities while in custody, upon release, and during the transition back to school, community, and family/caregiver. The current “system” is, at best, fragmented and inconsistent in its delivery, with significant gaps in services. This is not a new discovery and there are many reasons for these current circumstances. However, given the understanding that the juvenile justice and educational systems share in the responsibility for responding to the multiple needs of youth with disabilities while in custody and upon release and reentry, there are reasons for increasing the alignment and coordination of services through collaborative interagency efforts. Further attention must be given to the adoption of valid and tested planning models that clearly delineate the critical process steps needed by key administrative personnel to carry out interagency planning and service coordination effectively. Deficiencies in interagency coordination result not only from inadequate understanding about the functioning of other agencies (e.g., goals, policies, eligibility criteria, funding limitations), but also from limited understanding of the process skills, systems models, and planning methodologies necessary to manage interagency processes.
The work of Project RISE, MAP Project, and Project STAY OUT also provides a better understanding of several service approaches and strategies that must continue to be emphasized as essential to a successful reentry to school and community. Again, these are not new discoveries, but they include strategies that need to be given a higher priority. This starts with an immediate focus on transition planning as the young person enters the correctional facility, supported by a team including juvenile justice, educational, treatment, family/caregiver, and youth participants. In addition to establishing within the transition plan well-articulated goals and service strategies, it it is critically important to identify who will ultimately be responsible for carrying out the plans to reach the goals. A significant “gap” exists between the role of the sending agency (juvenile justice facility) and receiving agency (schools). Far too often, records fail to follow; school reentry plans are not fully adhered to; service needs for health, mental health, and other community services go unmet; relationship conflicts and challenges between youth and family/caregivers are not addressed; and the young person’s engagement in positive after-school activities such as part-time employment do not occur. Important in this, and based on the experience of these projects, is the fundamental need to establish a positive and trusting relationship between the youth and at least one caring adult. All three projects stressed the importance of this through the role of the Transition Specialists, Mentors, and similar positions.
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