What is transition planning and why is it important?

Page 2: Overview of Transition Planning


Transition: Each move during the youth’s contact with the juvenile justice system, including placement changes and exiting the system.

Reentry: Exiting the system and rejoining the community (e.g., returning to school, finding employment); becoming reintegrated as a productive citizen.

Recidivism: The tendency of an individual to be adjudicated and reincarcerated for new acts of delinquent or criminal behavior.

Aftercare: Community-based services that help incarcerated youth make the transition to the home environment.

When they become involved in the juvenile justice system, incarcerated youth go through a number of transitions. These include entering the facility, frequently moving within and between facilities, and finally returning to the community. The graphic below illustrates the various transitions made by incarcerated youth.

all transition steps

Like Carlos, the young man you met in the Challenge, almost all incarcerated youth will one day be released into the community. However, transition and reentry can be difficult for youth dealing with issues that include:

  • Negative peer influences
  • Unsafe or unsupervised home environments
  • Schools that are not welcoming
  • Lack of access to needed behavioral and mental health services
  • The presence of a disability

These issues might have contributed to their incarceration in the first place and, if not addressed, might lead to recidivism. It takes time and effort to address these challenges adequately and to help youth learn appropriate, adaptive behaviors (e.g., social skills). This can be done through effective transition planning, a process that guides all transition-related activities in the JC setting. A related term, secondary transition planning, refers to the process of helping a student with a disability make the transition from high school into the community or an adult education setting. Ideally, when teachers work with youth with disabilities, these two transition plans should inform each other and enhance the continuity of services and supports. Transition planning should begin as soon as a youth arrives at a juvenile corrections facility, a practice referred to as “exit at entry,” and be carried out by a multidisciplinary transition team consisting of professionals from within (e.g., parole officer) and without the juvenile justice system (e.g., foster care services) as well as other interested parties (e.g., parents or guardians). The transition team utilizes collaboration between agencies to create and implement the transition plan. Transition planning should address three areas:

Research Shows

  • An effective transition process combined with high-quality support services are crucial if a youth is to successfully reenter the community. It is also critical that the transition process begin as soon as a youth enters the juvenile justice system.
    (Griller Clark, Mathur, Brock, O’Cummings, & Milligan, 2016)
  • Youth with disabilities are more likely to be re-incarcerated than are their non-disabled peers. They also struggle more to be successful at school and in the workplace.
    (Griller-Clark & Unruh, 2010; Zhang, Barrett, Katsiyannis, & Yoon, 2011)
  • At a 12-month follow-up, youth with disabilities who received appropriate transition services, including educational supports, were three times more likely to have remained in the community without further involvement with the justice system.
    (Bullis, Yovanoff, Mueller, & Havel, 2002)

Listen as Sarup Mathur and Heather Griller Clark, both of Project RISE—a project focused on successful reentries for youth released from juvenile corrections facilities—discuss the importance of planning for youth to transition back into the community.

Sarup Mathur
Sarup Mathur, PhD
Co-Principal Investigator, Project RISE,
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Arizona State University

(time: 2:47)

View Transcript

Heather Griller-Clark
Heather Griller Clark, PhD
Co-Principal Investigator, Project RISE,
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Arizona State University

(time: 2:12)

View Transcript

Throughout this Module, you will learn more about the transition process for incarcerated youth. This will include the implementation of research-based practices, listed below, that can improve the outcomes for this population. For a quick overview, click on each of the purple tiles below. On subsequent pages, these practices will be discussed in more detail within the context of the transition process.

The most effective way to coordinate and plan youth transitions is by forming a transition team. This team should be led by a transition coordinator or specialist, hired by the JC facility, and should include the youth, his or her parents or guardians, educators, community service providers, juvenile justice officials, and other stakeholders.
Youth records (e.g., academic records) give JC personnel essential information to evaluate and accommodate the needs of youth as they transition into and out of the juvenile justice system. The quick and efficient transfer of youth records and related information allows continuity of learning, services, and supports.
A transition plan is a written document that guides all transition-related activities. The plan should actively involve the youth, not simply be created for him or her.
Youth need comprehensive, evidence-based supports and interventions to prepare them for success after they leave the JC setting. These interventions and supports can include general and special education practices, career and technical instruction, behavior management, mental health treatment, and a variety of specialized supports such as anger-management or drug-abuse counseling.
To ensure that the transition process is meeting the needs of students and families, the transition team should regularly monitor and track the transition process and student outcomes. Changes to the plan should be made as necessary and shared among the transition team to keep the youth on track to have a successful reentry to the community.
States, agencies, and facilities should estimate what resources, in terms of staff and materials, are needed and available to establish and sustain comprehensive transition planning, services, and supports. When doing this, it is imperative to not only consider the needs of staff who focus on transition (e.g., transition coordinators) but also the time commitments of other team members involved in the process (e.g., teachers, counselors).

Information adapted from NDTAC’s Transition Toolkit 3.0.

Note: In the United States, each state has its own juvenile justice (JJ) system. Although there are many similarities among these systems, there are also substantial differences in their policies and procedures. Viewers of this Module are encouraged to become familiar with the policies and procedures of their local JJ system in order to provide the most beneficial transition services.

For Your Information

In addition to receiving funds from state and local agencies to help support transition programs, juvenile corrections facilities may be eligible for federal funds. Juvenile corrections facilities must determine whether they meet the funding criteria for each source before applying. These federal funding sources include:

  • Office of Elementary and Secondary Education — Title 1, Part D (subparts 1 and 2)
  • Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention — Title II Formula Grants and Mentoring Opportunities for Youth
  • U.S. Department of Labor — Reentry Employment Opportunities Program


teacher toolbox

This toolbox lists and describes additional resources related to the information presented in this Module. These resources are provided for informational purposes only for those who wish to learn more about the topic(s). It is not necessary for those viewing this Module to read or refer to all of these additional resources to understand the content.

For more information about the instructional challenges frequently encountered by teachers in juvenile corrections settings and ways to address these challenges, including key instructional and behavioral foundations and recommendations for working with students with disabilities, please visit the IRIS Module:

To learn more about identifying and selecting an EBP, implementing it with fidelity, and evaluating its effectiveness for a given youth, visit the following IRIS Modules:

  • Another source of information about EBPs is the IRIS Center’s Evidence-Based Practice Summaries. These summaries of research about the effectiveness of instructional strategies and interventions contain links to research reports and include information about an intervention’s level of effectiveness and the age groups for which it is designed.

Additionally, the Neglected or Delinquent Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Children/Youth Who Are Neglected or At-Risk (NDTAC) offers resources about the transition process for youth in the juvenile justice system. In particular, the Transition Toolkit provides useful information that helps teachers and service providers provide transition services for incarcerated youth.

Transition Toolkit 3.0: Meeting the Educational Needs of Youth Exposed to the Juvenile Justice System

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