How might transition planning evolve during incarceration?

Page 3: Transition Planning at System Entry

transition step 1The first transition youth make occurs when they enter the JC facility itself. Typically, on the youth’s first day of incarceration, a facility staff member conducts a lengthy interview to learn more about his or her personal history, including information about his or her educational, employment, and independent living skills, strengths, needs, and goals.

Effective Transition Practices

On this page, we will discuss five of the six effective transition practices that are implemented at system entry.

etp step 1 Create a Transition Team etp step 3 Create a Transition Plan
etp step 2 Establish Quick Records Transfer etp step 4 Utilize Evidence-Based Practices
etp step 5 Monitor the Transition Process

The information gathered at this point will help to determine who should be part of the youth’s transition team, the purpose of which is to determine and oversee the services and supports the youth will receive from the time of system entry through aftercare. Ideally, this team should be led by a transition coordinator or specialist, who typically will be employed by the JC facility. Because the needs of incarcerated youth with disabilities are many and varied, transition teams should include educators, community service providers, juvenile justice officials, the youth him or herself, parents or guardians, and other stakeholders who must communicate and collaborate to help ensure a successful transition. Interagency collaboration—a process in which juvenile justice professionals establish partnerships with personnel from multiple agencies to improve outcomes for students with disabilities—is critical to successful transition planning.

Multidisciplinary Transition Team Members

The members of a given transition team should be selected with the incarcerated youth’s unique needs and goals in mind. Ideally, this team should include the student, a family member or guardian, and relevant juvenile justice personnel (e.g., teachers, probation or parole officer, transition coordinator). In addition to the required team members, other personnel are often needed to address the individual needs of the youth.

Team member Role
  • Help the rest of the transition team understand their strengths, needs, and desires
  • Advocate for themselves to the best or their ability
Family member, guardian, or surrogate parent*
  • Provides information about the youth (e.g., educational needs, strengths, interests, supports)
  • Provides information about the family structure and potential family mentors
Education representative (e.g., one or more teachers from the facility)*
  • Determines educational needs and strategies to implement
  • Implements strategies and monitor educational performance
Special education teacher or representative*
  • Helps develop appropriate goals
  • Determines special education needs, including appropriate strategies and accommodations
A representative of the local school district
  • Ensures district policies are followed in credits/course accrual
  • Understands and supports the educational needs of the youth and communicates the school’s expectations
  • Ensures student’s records follow the student to the institution and then back to the school in a timely fashion
  • Helps determine reentry site/school
Related service providers (e.g., speech- language therapist)
  • Helps identify the amount and level of service needed
  • Implements or supervises the provision of the related service
Assessment specialist (e.g., school psychologist, reading specialist)*
  • Conducts and interprets assessment results
  • Makes recommendations based on assessment results
Transition coordinator or specialist
  • Oversees the transition planning process and the contributions of all members
  • Writes and revises the transition plan
  • Tracks the progress of the youth
Probation officer
  • Provides input on the youth’s behaviors
  • Understand goals for aftercare
  • Monitors and supervises the youth after release
  • Provides guidance and support (which can include tutoring) after release, and, in some cases, prior to release
Workforce development representative or employment service provider
  • Can assist with vocational skills training and instruction in soft skills
  • Helps students identify potential career interests and job placements
  • Assists the youth with completing job applications
School counselor
  • Assists with gathering school records and determine the number of credits earned
  • Informs team of local or state requirements for graduation
Social services, foster care representative
  • Understands and supports the social emotional needs of the youth and provides information on familial and community supports
  • Helps coordinate services, records, and supports
  • May provide transportation for the foster care family to visit the youth while incarcerated
  • Informs the foster families of the supports the youth will need and makes connections to those resources
Health and mental health services provider
  • Helps identify the type of services needed
  • Implements the services or refer for appropriate services
Representatives from other community-based organizations (e.g., vocational rehabilitation, social security administration, recreational services)
  • Provide supports that can help the student be successful upon reentry

* Individuals required by IDEA to be in attendance for students with disabilities.

Deanne Unruh
Deanne Unruh, PhD
Principal Investigator, STAY OUT
Co-Director, National Technical Assistance Center on Transition
Associate Research Professor
University of Oregon

Deanne Unruh discusses the importance of interagency collaboration and provides some strategies that can support youth reentering the community (time: 2:27).

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For Your Information

A transition plan should not be a static document. Student progress toward transition-related goals should be monitored regularly, and changes to the plan should be made as necessary.

The transition team uses the information gathered at system entry to inform the youth’s transition plan (TP), a written document that will be used to guide all transition-related activities. The TP for each youth should be unique, because every youth has specific strengths, interests, and needs. The plan should actively involve the youth, and his or her family when possible, instead of simply being created for the youth.

Leslie Lecroux
Leslie LaCroix, MAT
Transition Specialist, Project RISE
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
Arizona State University

Leslie LaCroix, a transition specialist, discusses how information is gathered upon entry and used to guide the development of the translation plan (time: 1:43).

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Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), youth with disabilities should have a transition plan in place by the time they turn 16 (or as early as 14 in some states or if the IEP team deems it necessary). This plan is called an individualized transition plan (ITP) and is a part of their individualized education program (IEP). The youth’s transition goals related to release to the community from the JC setting should be incorporated into the existing ITP.

To the greatest extent possible, the transition team should be familiar with and use evidence-based practices (EBPs). 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. Each area has different criteria or requirements for what constitutes an evidence-based practice, something that can make transition planning challenging. The following are examples of reliable, searchable indexes of evidence-based practices that might be applicable for those working with youth in JC settings.

Area Examples of Websites for EBPs
Education what works clearinghouse logo What Works Clearinghouse
Substance abuse and mental health samhsa logo Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Juvenile Justice juvenile justice exchange logo The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange *

*Logo courtesy Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Center for Sustainable Journalism, Kennesaw State University

Addressing Key Areas of Transition at System Entry

Recall that transition planning should address the areas of education, employment, and independent living. The ways in which each of these areas are addressed at system entry will be discussed briefly below.


The transition plan needs to include information about the youth’s current level of educational functioning and his or her educational goals. Youth records (e.g., academic records, IEP) give JC personnel the information they need to evaluate and accommodate the needs of youth as they transition into and out of the juvenile justice system. The educational services the youth receives while incarcerated should support his or her long-term educational goals. For instance, does the youth want to receive a high school diploma or a GED? Does the youth want to pursue post-secondary education or training? Does the youth have a disability?

Key Activities at System Entry

  • All education records—including IEPs—are requested from their previous school. The quick and efficient transfer of youth records and related information allows continuity of learning, services, and supports.
  • The youth is screened for academic difficulties, including disabilities. The law requires that students with disabilities receive adequate educational supports and accommodations while incarcerated.
  • The transition team begins meeting regularly.
  • The team outlines in the transition plan the specific evidence-based practices that the youth will receive during incarceration to address his or her educational and behavioral issues. This should include general and special education programming, as well as career and technical instruction or training.

For Your Information

  • Educational services might be provided by one of several entities, such as the juvenile corrections facility, the local public school system, private contractors, or a charter school. When both education and security are managed by the juvenile corrections facility, there is generally more communication between the education and security staff, something that can help to streamline the transition planning process.
  • The team should consider and respect the student’s cultural beliefs and values. Implementing practices that align with the student’s cultural background and differentiating instruction accordingly can help increase student engagement.


All youth residing in a JC facility could benefit from some kind of employment training, particularly those over the age of 16. Even those returning to school after release might want to obtain a part-time job. Those who are younger might benefit from learning employment-related skills such as being on time and being reliable.

Key Activities at System Entry

  • Staff interview the youth about his or her work experiences and future employment goals.
  • Using this information, the transition team develops employment goals for the transition plan.
  • The transition team outlines in the transition plan the specific evidence-based practices that the youth will receive during incarceration.

Independent Living

Independent-living skills address a broad range of functional living skills, from basic social skills to finding a place to live and managing a budget. They also include anger-management skills and physical and emotional wellness.

Key Activities at System Entry

  • Staff administer screenings for mental health, emotional, and behavioral difficulties.
  • Staff interview the youth about any previous mental health or counseling services he or she has received.
  • Using this information, the team identifies the youth’s strengths, needs, and goals and develops independent-living goals for the youth.
  • The team outlines in the transition plan the specific evidence-based practices that the youth will receive during incarceration to address his or her mental health, emotional, and behavioral issues.


During Carlos’ intake interview, he discusses having a learning disability and receiving special education services. He indicates that he struggles with reading and has difficulty in a number of subject areas. Because Carlos’ educational records have yet to arrive, the interviewer was unaware of Carlos’ learning difficulties. The intake coordinator also asks Carlos about his goals once he is released. Carlos responds that he does not want to return to his home or to his neighborhood.

Later, as the transition team meets and engages in the transition planning process, Carlos’ strengths and interests are considered in regard to education, employment, and independent-living goals. For example, he expresses an interest in working with his hands and in working with computers. Consequently, the team develops a transition plan that includes goals for earning academic credits and at the same time receiving training on computer diagnosis and repair. Because his reading skills are so low, Carlos will require accommodations in most of his classes, as well as intensive reading instruction. The team also determines that Carlos needs a host of independent-living skills (e.g., budgeting, transportation).

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