How is teaching in a juvenile correction setting different from teaching in a public school setting?

Page 1: Education in Juvenile Justice Settings

Glossary of Key Terms

Adjudicated: A formal decision issued by a judge.

Delinquent: A minor who commits a status offense or criminal act (e.g., truancy, theft).

Status offense: Conduct that would not be a crime were it committed by an adult (e.g., truancy, the consumption of alcohol).

Incarcerate: To subject to confinement; to put in prison (e.g., incarcerated in a juvenile justice facility).

Recidivism: The tendency of an individual to relapse into delinquent or criminal behavior.

In the United States, more than 170,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 17 are currently held in juvenile justice facilities.

  • The majority of these—approximately 116,000—are held in juvenile detention (JD) settings, secure facilities where they are detained short-term, usually up to two weeks, while they await a legal outcome (e.g., a judge’s decision).
  • A substantial number of them—some 54,000—are held in juvenile corrections (JC) settings, secure facilities where they remain anywhere from a few months to several years following a judge’s determination that they broke the law and are therefore delinquent.

Many of these youth have been the victims of abuse or neglect, they often come from unsafe neighborhoods, have experienced homelessness, and have been involved in the child welfare system. Adding to these challenges, research has shown that incarceration itself has a further detrimental effect on the overall development of these youth. Experiencing incarceration as a youth, for example, greatly increases the likelihood of reoffending. Further, putting together youth found to be delinquent can negatively affect the behavior of the group and of the individuals in it, encouraging or reinforcing antisocial behavior, promoting affiliation with antisocial peers, and fostering identification with deviancy.


Source: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

The first pie chart illustrates some statistical information about youth in juvenile justice facilities. The chart is labeled “Age” and is divided into three wedges. The smallest segment is labeled “12 and under 1.3%,” the second segment is labeled “13-15 29.8%,” and the largest segment “16+ 68.9%.”

The second pie chart illustrates some statistical information about youth in juvenile justice facilities. The chart is labeled “Gender” and is divided into two wedges. The smaller of the two segments is labeled “Females 14%” and the larger “Males 86%.”

The bar graph illustrates some statistical information about youth in juvenile justice facilities. The graph is labeled “Incarceration Rate by Race,” and the numbers presented represent incidence per 100,000 individuals. The graph contains the following bars: “African American 464,” “Hispanic 173,” “American Indian 334,” “Asian 28,” and “White 100.”

For Your Information

As the graphic above shows, minority youth are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. Additionally, a high percentage of incarcerated youth have mental health issues. Although these issues are extremely important to consider when discussing this population, this Module will focus on issues related to youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system. For more information on these other topics, visit the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Website and the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice.

Importance of Education

Students* receive educational services in both JD and JC settings. Because students remain in JD for only a short time, educational programming focuses on screening for disabilities, gathering data to inform further instruction, and re-engaging the youth in the education process. For its part, this Module will focus on the education of youth placed in JC settings where the primary goals are to help them:

  • Improve literacy and earn credits toward high school completion
  • Obtain the skills necessary to prevent their continuing participation in the juvenile justice system
  • Transition successfully back into the community

*Note: In this Module, the term students refers to youth receiving educational services.

Research Shows

Research has shown that one of the best ways to help youth in JC settings achieve successful outcomes is to provide them with education and a path to successful employment.

  • Youth who participated in educational interventions during their JC placement demonstrated significantly improved outcomes (e.g., a return to school, graduating) when compared to those who did not receive educational interventions.
    (Steele, Bozick, & Davis, 2016)
  • Students in JC settings who had high academic achievement were significantly more likely to return to school and avoid re-arrest than were those who did not.
    (Blomberg, Bales, & Piquero, 2012)
  • Youth released from JC facilities who obtained immediate work or returned to school experienced a smoother transition and decreased recidivism.
    (VanderPyl, 2015)

Factors Affecting Instruction

Students in JC settings typically rotate between several teachers and subjects during the day. They are in a relatively small class of 7–15 students and attend school for five to six hours per day. Unfortunately, in many JC settings the instruction provided is not as effective as it might be, for a number of reasons. Among these:

  • Because of safety issues, the facility’s primary focus is on security rather than on instruction.
  • There is a high turnover rate among both students and teachers.
  • This population of students has diverse educational abilities, and many have disabilities.
  • Many students have had particularly negative school experiences.
  • Teachers in JC settings often do not have sufficient knowledge or training about the use of evidence-based practices among students with disabilities.
  • These students often display a high incidence of undesirable behaviors. Not surprisingly, this occurs more often when the services provided do not meet their needs, thus perpetuating a negative cycle.
  • Changes to the daily schedule (e.g., implementation of a new treatment program) or other required institutional activities (e.g., therapy) are common and create frequent interruptions.
  • Teachers tend to rely heavily on computer programs that not all students are able to use effectively.
  • Teachers often base instruction on worksheets and packets rather than on evidence-based instructional strategies to remediate instructional deficits.
  • The institutional support for education is often inadequate.

Peter Leone

Peter Leone provides more detail about some of the challenges that teachers face when they provide instruction in juvenile correction settings (time: 2:23).

View Transcript

Peter Leone, PhD
Professor, Department of Counseling, Higher Education & Special Education
University of Maryland

Recently, efforts have been made to improve the quality of education provided in JC settings. The subsequent sections of this Module will discuss some of the ways that teachers can accomplish this goal. Each section highlights effective practices followed by a Teacher Toolbox with recommended IRIS resources that teachers can use to gain deeper knowledge about those practices.

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