Transition and Re-Entry Practices

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Research tells us that juveniles experience extremely high recidivism rates (up to 55%), and it is even worse for those with disabilities.1 Moreover, many youth do not reengage with educational systems after exiting from correctional systems.2 The reconnection to school is essential because education is an important protective factor in reentry success; poor academic performance is a risk factor linked to recidivism.3,4 Youth who do not attend school regularly have higher numbers of delinquency referrals than those who regularly attend.5 Partnerships between local educational systems and justice systems are an essential component of juvenile reentry because these partnerships help remedy two critical gaps in reentry: a shortage of appropriate schools for those leaving custody (especially for those with disabilities) and delayed access to local schools.6 This transition must not happen haphazardly but should be carefully coordinated to promote positive student outcomes.7,8 Below, we summarize the best practices for meeting the needs of youth exiting correctional facilities.

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Key Principles of Practice

The following principles were identified in a review of Transition Toolkit 2.0: Meeting the Educational Needs of Youth Exposed to the Juvenile Justice System.9

Transition Planning (Including Educational and Career Planning) Begins at Facility Intake

Reentry planning for youth with or without disabilities should begin as soon as a youth arrives at a correctional facility and should outline transition issues, plus academic, career, and educational goals, and provide students with educational and career programming that prepares them for the challenges they might encounter after their release from custody.10,11 The 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that students with disabilities who are older than 16 years must have specific documentation of age- and disability-appropriate transition services and plans in their individualized education program (IEP).12 Transitioning to community schools should be coordinated, be outcome oriented, and promote successful movement between the facility and the community, using established evidence- and research-based practices.13,14 This is a complex issue that needs to be organized by a transition team, including correctional staff, the youth themselves, their families, community partners, and local educational representatives.15 A consistent transition counseling and youth reassessment process while at the facility and a planned sequence of services after release are key ingredients for the plan’s success.16

Prioritizing Family Involvement

Involvement and buy-in from those who are most affected by the transition plan (i.e., youth and their families) is essential to give the plan the greatest chance of success. Family support is a powerful, preventive mechanism that also can support youth resiliency17 and has a significant impact on the successful reentry of youth from a correctional facility. Family involvement is essential, yet within the incarcerated youth population, parents often are not fully involved in their child’s education.18 Barriers to family involvement include a lack of information conveyed to parents in an understandable manner, a lack of resources, and the interest level of certain parents.19 Care must be taken to not only lessen these burdens but also actively address them in a culturally competent and respectful manner.20 An example of typical family involvement includes getting families to participate in activities at schools; however, because of the challenges of detention, facilities need to allow for and promote alternative means of involvement, including the possibility of surrogate caregivers if parental involvement is not possible.21,22 Engaging youth with disabilities and their families in transition planning should include the use of self-assessments along with need, preference, and interest assessment data, which can be factored into goal creation and planning for postsecondary outcomes within an IEP.23,24

Coordinated Aftercare Services

Students who receive appropriate aftercare services, including educational supports, immediately after release are three times more likely to remain lawfully in the community after 12 months.25 This includes educational record transfers that are accurate, timely, confidential, and complete.26This records transfer must be compliant with relevant State and Federal laws and must contain all IDEA-mandated documents in the IEP.27,28 Aftercare services should be evidence based and include wraparound services, such as school re-enrollment programs, mentoring, using transition coordinators, and parental skill development.29 The best aftercare services should be coordinated with strategic partners to ensure a seamless transition from facilities to home, communities, and school settings.30,31


1 Müller, E. (2011). Reentry programs for students with disabilities in the juvenile justice system: Four state approaches. InForum: An analysis of critical issues in special education. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Retrieved from

2 Brock, L., O’Cummings, M., & Milligan, D. (2008). Transition toolkit 2.0: Meeting the educational needs of youth exposed to the juvenile justice system. Washington, DC: National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Children and Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk. Retrieved from

3 Müller (2011).

4 Sanchez, A. (2012). The impact of trauma on juvenile drug court effectiveness (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Alliant International University, Alhambra, CA.

5 Rodriguez, N., & Webb, V. J. 2004. Multiple measures of juvenile drug court effectiveness: Results of a quasi-experimental design. Crime & Delinquency, 50(2), 292–314.

6 Roy-Stevens, C. (2004). OJJDP fact sheet: Overcoming barriers to school reentry. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Retrieved from

7 Osher, D., Banks-Amos, L., & Gonsoulin, S. (2012). Successfully transitioning youth who are delinquent between institutions and alternative and community schools. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from:

8 Griller-Clark, H. (2006). Educational needs of youth in the juvenile justice system (Title I Part D Training Session). Washington, DC.

9 Brock, O’Cummings, & Milligan (2008).

10 Ibid.

11 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

12 National Technical Assistance Center on Transition. (2016). Transition planning. Charlotte, NC: Author. Retrieved from

13 Osher, Banks-Amos, & Gonsoulin (2012).

14 National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (2016).

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

16 National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice. (2016a). Transition/aftercare. College Park, MD: Author. Retrieved from

17 Brock, L., Burrell, J., & Tulipano, T. (2006). NDTAC issue brief: Family involvement. Washington, DC: National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for the Education of Children and Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk. Retrieved from

18 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

19 Davies, H., & Davidson, H. (2001). Parental involvement practices of juvenile courts: Report to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Washington, DC: American Bar Association, Center on Children and the Law. Retrieved from

20 National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice. (2002). Reaching out to parents of youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system. College Park, MD: Author. Retrieved from

21 Brock et al. (2008).

22 National Alliance for Secondary Education and Transition. (2010). Family involvement. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota. Retrieved from

23 National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice. (2016b). Education, disability & juvenile justice internet bibliography. College Park, MD: Author. Retrieved from

24 Walker, A. R., Kortering, C. H., Fowler, D. R., & Bethune, L. (2013). Age appropriate transition assessment toolkit (3rd ed.). Charlotte: University of North Carolina at Charlotte, National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center, Retrieved from

25 Bullis, M., Yovanoff, P., Mueller, G., & Havel, E. (2002). Life on the “outs”—Examination of the facility-to-community transition of incarcerated adolescents. Exceptional Children, 69, 7–22.

26 Brock et al. (2008).

27 National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (2016).

28 Osher, D., Sidana, A., & Kelly, P. (2008). Improving conditions for learning for youth who are neglected or delinquent. Washington, DC: National Evaluation and Technical Assistance Center for Children and Youth Who Are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk. Retrieved from

29 Osher et al. (2012).

30 Brock et al. (2008).

31 Tolbert, M. (2012). A reentry education model: Supporting education and career advancement for low-skill individuals in corrections. Washington, DC: US Department of Education. Retrieved from