Facility-Wide Practices

Teachers sitting in a circle


Historically, juvenile correctional facilities have operated under a deficit- or punitive-driven model when addressing the behavioral and academic needs of youth with disabilities. However, we have learned across time that rooting intervention in youth’s strengths1 and building systemic approaches for proactive discipline models (e.g., positive behavioral interventions and supports [PBIS]) yields positive results. In fact, the first principle in guidance from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice on providing high-quality education in correctional facilities focuses on building a facility-wide climate that ensures that youth are safe and have access to individualized supports.2 Facility-wide practices also can ensure the continuity of services and ultimately create an environment for youth that promotes their well-being and their social-behavioral and educational success. Facility-wide practices are strategies implemented across facility settings (e.g., educational and residential) by all personnel (e.g., administrators, corrections officers and security staff, educators, and related service and other health providers). Professional development, training, and ongoing coaching support should be integrated for the successful implementation of facility-wide practices.3

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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.4

Implementation of a Continuum of Academic and Behavioral Supports and Services

Individually tailored academic and behavioral supports should be provided to all eligible youth in correctional facilities.5 The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA’s) Child Find requirement specifies that all students with disabilities in need of special education services must be identified, located, and evaluated.6 Therefore, juvenile correctional facilities must have (1) policies to promptly identify youth previously classified as having a disability7,8 and (2) a universal screening system in place to screen youth for academic and social-behavioral needs.9 A screening tool is part of a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS); after students are screened, those found to be at risk are placed in evidence-based interventions based on their needs, and their progress in such interventions is monitored.10 Depending on the student’s responsiveness, the intensity and nature of the interventions are adjusted.11 Similarly, a tiered behavioral intervention approach such as PBIS12 should be implemented to address the behavioral needs of the majority of youth, with increasingly intensive intervention being provided for youth with higher needs.13 Providing a continuum of services that addresses the integration of academic and behavioral supports is warranted because many youth with disabilities in correctional facilities will have skill deficits in academic content and prosocial skills. MTSS and PBIS frameworks follow a tiered model that begins with universal supports for all youth in a correctional facility; additional supports and interventions are “layered on” as individual youth demonstrate additional need.

  • Universal (Tier 1)
  • Train all facility personnel in PBIS and identify facility guiding principles.
  • Implement a data collection system that allows for youths’ behavioral occurrences to be documented and monitored. The system should allow for the disaggregation of data by facility setting; referring personnel; and demographic information on youth, including race/ethnicity, gender, and disability.
  • Obtain records from home schools to determine present levels of academic and functional performance. However, if such records are not readily available, brief screening tools can be used to determine estimates of performance and minimize time out of instruction.
  • Initiate interactions with parents and families and ask for support with records transfer from schools, the justice system, and any other service providers (e.g., health, mental health, and substance abuse).
  • Involve youth and their families in goal-setting and decision-making efforts.
  • Identify other agencies and services that are currently in place (e.g., substance abuse treatment, health or mental health supports, transition coordinators, and rehabilitation services) or those that may be needed and establish an interagency planning team.
  • Use screening tools to assess academic, social-behavioral, or mental health needs.
  • Set clear expectations and establish routines for youth.
  • Build meaningful relationships.
  • Establish advisories that focus on college- and career-readiness, study skills, time management, and other problem-solving and life skills.14
  • Personalize the learning environment for youth.
  • Secondary (Tier 2)
  • Conduct diagnostic assessments or functional behavioral assessments (FBAs) to identify and hypothesize academic or social-behavioral skill deficits and consider how academic deficits may be contributing factors to a youth’s behavior.
  • Align therapeutic treatment goals with educational and transition goals, including individualized education program (IEP) goals for youth with disabilities.
  • Develop small intervention groups to deliver evidence-based interventions that address skill deficits.
  • Collect weekly progress monitoring data using a valid and reliable tool.15
  • Identify (or have the student identify) a mentor or an adult advocate.16
  • Provide prompts and precorrection to youth with disabilities prior to transitions or unstructured time.  
  • Intensive (Tier 3)
  • Collect frequent (i.e., daily) progress monitoring data using a valid and reliable tool.
  • Schedule for additional intervention time for individual students.
  • Intensify interventions by adapting how content is presented within an evidence-based intervention. Some methods of intensification are as follows:
  • Make the content more explicit.
  • Include cognitive processing strategies, such as positive self-talk, mnemonics, and goal setting.
  • Embed behavioral supports into academic intervention time.
  • Integrate academic supports into behavioral intervention time.
  • Begin wraparound planning for individual youth.

Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma exposure among youth encompasses many different experiences (e.g., abuse or neglect, community or school violence, domestic violence, natural disasters, the loss of a loved one, physical assault, threats, major accidents, and life-threatening illnesses) and can occur as a single incident or chronically across a long period of time.17 Children and adolescents with psychiatric illness, including trauma-related issues, are at a greater risk of experiencing academic failure, substance abuse, and involvement with the juvenile justice system.18 Youth with disabilities and, in particular, youth with emotional and/or behavioral disorders report experiencing abuse and neglect at a higher rate than peers.19 The comorbidity of trauma-related exposure and disability provides the foundation for facility-wide efforts that are grounded in trauma-informed care. Trauma-related symptoms often can be overlooked or misdiagnosed, and, in some instances, the underlying trauma is left untreated. Correctional facility personnel who are knowledgeable about trauma-related symptoms, as well as intervention approaches, can help support youth who have been exposed to trauma. Specific trauma-related interventions that can be embedded into MTSS or PBIS frameworks may include cognitive behavioral training or other therapeutic approaches that build youths’ skills in problem solving and adaptive reasoning.20

Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is an alternative approach to punishment models that focuses on addressing the needs of both the victim and the offender to restore the relationship between the two individuals and the larger community.21 Practices that fall in the domain of restorative justice include family group conferences, victim-impact panels, victim-offender mediation, peace circles for sentencing, and community reparative boards. These practices are described in depth in an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) report.22 Restorative justice also has the potential to support schools and correctional facilities when responding to offenders who have a disability. Facilities can develop procedures and policies that ensure personnel are engaging in a restorative practice prior to restricting or further detaining youth and communicating how a youth’s disability may have impacted his or her actions.23 Restorative justice approaches also can be built into MTSS or PBIS frameworks following the tiered model:

  • Tier 1 restorative justice approaches to help youth make and develop relationships:
  • Relationship building circles
  • Peace circles to help all youth in a facility identify expectations and agreements
  • Tier 2 restorative justice approaches to help youth maintain relationships:
  • Peer court
  • Peer mediation
  • Smaller, intervention group-level peace circles for conflict resolution
  • Tier 3 restorative justice approaches to repair harm and relationships:
  • Community teaming structures for reentry and reintegration
  • Family group conferencing
  • Restitution planning


1 Barton, W. H., & Butts, J. A. (2008). Building on strength: Positive youth development in juvenile justice programs. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, Chapin Hall Center for Children. Retrieved from http://www.yapinc.org/Portals/0/Documents/Resources/Chapin%20Hall%20Report-YAP%20Mention.pdf

2 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 Mathur, S., Griller-Clark, H., & Schoenfeld, N. (2009). Professional development: A capacity-building model for juvenile correctional education. The Journal of Correctional Education, 60(2), 164–185.

4 U.S. Department of Education & U.S. Department of Justice (2014).

5 Gonsoulin, S., Darwin, M. J., & Read, N. W. (2012). Providing individually tailored academic and behavioral support services for youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Washington, DC: National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for Children and Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk. Retrieved from http://www.neglected-delinquent.org/sites/default/files/docs/NDTAC_PracticeGuide_IndividualSrvcs.pdf

6 Gagnon, J. C., Read, N. W., & Gonsoulin, S. (2015). Key considerations in providing a free appropriate public education for youth with disabilities in juvenile justice secure care facilities. Washington, DC: The National Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Neglected or Delinquent Children and Youth. Retrieved from http://www.neglected-delinquent.org/sites/default/files/NDTAC_Issue_Brief_FAPE_12_15.pdf

7 Ibid.

8 Tulman, J. B. (2003). Disability and delinquency: How failures to identify, accommodate, and serve youth with education-related disabilities leads to their disproportionate representation in the delinquency system. Whittier Journal of Child and Family Advocacy, 3(3), 3–76. Retrieved from http://www.edjj.org/Publications/RXessay1-00.pdf

9 Wexler, J. (2014, August). Ask the expert. Washington, DC: National Center on Intensive Intervention. Retrieved from http://www.intensiveintervention.org/video-resource/how-can-we-support-students-academically-and-behaviorally-within-incarcerated

10 Gagnon, Read, & Gonsoulin (2015).

11 Ibid.

12 Kimball, K. (2015). What is facility-wide PBIS (FW-PBIS)? (PBIS Forum 15 Practice Brief). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, PBIS Leadership Forum.
Retrieved from https://www.pbis.org/Common/Cms/files/Forum15_Presentations/RDQ 14 Brief - Juvenile Justice.pdf

13 Gonsoulin, Darwin, & Read (2012).

14 Conley, D. T. (2010). College and career ready: Helping all students succeed beyond high school. San Francisco, CA: Jossey‐Bass.

15 National Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Neglected or Delinquent Children and Youth. (2006). Mentoring toolkit: Resources for developing programs for incarcerated youth. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.neglected-delinquent.org/resource/mentoring-toolkit-resources-developing-programs-incarcerated-youth

16 Ibid.

17 National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative. (2015). Understanding child trauma. Washington, DC: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/programs_campaigns/nctsi/nctsi-infographic-full.pdf

18 Child Mind Institute. (2015). Children’s mental health report. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.speakupforkids.org/ChildrensMentalHealthReport_052015.pdf

19 Gagnon, J. C., & Barber, B.R. (2014). Instructional Practice Guide for teaching Reading and Mathematics in Juvenile Correctional schools. Journal of Correctional Education, 65(3), 5–23.

20 Ibid.

21 Stenhjem, P. (2005). Youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system: Prevention and intervention strategies. Examining Current Challenges in Secondary Education and Transition, 4(1). Retrieved from http://www.ncset.org/publications/viewdesc.asp?id=1929

22 Development Services Group Inc. (2010). Restorative justice: Literature review. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.ojjdp.gov/mpg/litreviews/Restorative_Justice.pdf

23 Stenhjem (2005).