Various agencies at several levels of government are involved with providing services to youth with disabilities in correctional facilities and planning for their reentry into the community. Collaboration among these agencies that serve youth with disabilities in and those transitioning to and from correctional facilities is key to ensuring that youth receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) as outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In particular, youth with emotional or behavioral disabilities and their families are likely to be served by a wide range of agencies and require comprehensive planning and collaboration to facilitate successful educational services within correctional facilities and plan for community reentry. Collaboration across agencies and the involvement of community organizations is necessary to meet the needs of this student population. This brief summarizes best practices for serving youth with disabilities in correctional facilities and focuses on promoting (1) collaboration across agencies and (2) collaboration with the community.
Key Principles of Practice
The following principles were identified in a review of Guiding Principles for Providing High-Quality Education in Juvenile Justice Secure Care Settings.1
To ensure a free appropriate public education for youth with disabilities in correctional facilities, interagency agreements should be used to establish the responsibilities of the various agencies involved in providing services.2 Interagency agreements promote greater coherence and collaboration among these agencies and facilitate the exchange of information between correctional facilities and education agencies.3 Under IDEA, interagency agreements must address the financial responsibility of each agency, the resolution of interagency disputes, and the coordination and delivery of special education services.4 In addition, interagency agreements can be used to outline the details and logistics related to such issues as access to correctional facilities and the location of individualized education program (IEP) meetings.5 To begin discussions related to interagency agreements, an interagency planning team can be developed to help identify common goals across agencies to best meet youths’ needs. Interagency planning teams can include facility administrators, teachers, probation officers, mental health providers, social workers, staff from rehabilitation services, and representatives from the home school. Interagency teams should ensure that they are developing a shared understanding of the best practices to support youth with disabilities in correctional facilities that extend beyond transition and reentry.6
Expeditious Records Transfer
For youth with disabilities in correctional facilities, records, including IEPs, often are not received by the facility when a youth enters a correctional facility. A delay in records receipt causes a ripple effect within the correctional facility. When records are not received for youth on entry, facilities must engage in academic, social-behavioral, and other screening assessments to determine the youth’s needs. The multiple agencies represented in a youth’s life (i.e., school, court, and therapeutic) should work together to develop a process that expedites records transfer. Further, specific requirements exist regarding confidentiality from various regulations—including IDEA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and sometimes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)—that should be considered. To promote interagency collaboration, agencies should be aware of the differences between FERPA and IDEA and how they provide privacy to students and their families. Clarifying the law’s practical requirements eliminates a significant obstacle often faced by agencies attempting to collaborate and share information. A National Forum on Education Statistics guide7 discusses how
Part B of the IDEA incorporates and cross-references FERPA. For example, under Part B, the term “education records” means the type of records covered by FERPA as implemented by its regulations in 34 CFR Part 99. . . . The IDEA regulations also include some additional protections tailored to special confidentiality concerns for children with disabilities and their families. (p. 17)
Engaging families at a youth’s entry into a correctional facility and supporting entry with records transfer may be an effective way to obtain the records necessary to make appropriate educational and placement decisions.
Interagency collaboration in the area of staffing also is an important factor in providing quality programs to youth with disabilities in correctional facilities. Staff members who provide services within correctional facilities must be appropriately trained and certified in accordance with both IDEA and State requirements.8 In addition, these staff must have the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience to meet the needs of students with disabilities in correctional facilities who frequently present academic and behavioral challenges. Agencies may develop hiring protocols that go beyond State and Federal requirements to ensure that their staff members have the particular skills needed to work successfully with youth with disabilities in correctional facilities.9 To support these staffing needs and requirements, juvenile justice and education agencies should work together to hire skilled facility personnel and offer ongoing professional development to these individuals. Through interagency collaboration, the teachers of students with disabilities in correctional facilities should be offered professional development opportunities specific to teaching students in correctional facilities; in addition, professional development should be provided to home schools to ensure continuity across settings.10 All correctional facility staff (e.g., related service and health providers, security staff, administrators, and corrections officers) should receive professional development in the evidence-based practices that address the needs of youth with disabilities in correctional facilities, as well as training and ongoing support related to IDEA compliance requirements.
1 U.S. Department of Education, & U.S. Department of Justice. (2014). Guiding principles for providing high-quality education in juvenile justice secure care settings. Washington, DC: Authors. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/correctional-education/guiding-principles.pdf
3 Müller, E. (2006). Juvenile justice and students with disabilities: State infrastructure and initiatives. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Retrieved from http://www.nasdse.org/DesktopModules/DNNspot-Store/ProductFiles/156_1ad47aab-9ee2-4174-bc0d-ba64f1ba132c.pdf
4 U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Dear colleague letter on students with disabilities who are in correctional facilities. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/correctional-education/idea-letter.pdf
6 Fields, J., & Moody, D. (2007). Reintegration framework strategic planning toolkit: Improving interagency coordination to support the successful reintegration of youth. Presented at the Special Education in Nontraditional Education Programs Conference, Brainerd, MN.
7 National Forum on Education Statistics. (2004). Forum guide to protecting the privacy of student information: State and local education agencies (NCES 2004–330). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2004/2004330.pdf
8 U.S. Department of Education (2014).
9 U.S. Department of Justice & U.S. Department of Education (2014).
10 U.S. Department of Justice, & U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Dear colleague letter on the civil rights of students in juvenile justice residential facilities. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/correctional-education/cr-letter.pdf