How can we support students academically and behaviorally within incarcerated settings: what does the research say and what are the challenges?

Question: How can we support students academically and behaviorally within incarcerated settings: what does the research say and what are the challenges?

Answer: So we know that nearly a hundred thousand students across the United States under the age of 21 are placed in residential incarcerated settings and more than a third of these students are students with special education needs, so many of these students have intensive needs in the areas of academics and behavior. And so, they come into these settings really struggling and so the consequences of not implementing evidence-based interventions for these students can be really detrimental to future academic outcomes. And we also know that academic ability is really inextricably linked with recidivism. And so, there really are consequences not only for the individual but also for society. And so, although it is intuitive that the evidence base for effective interventions for students in the regular non-incarcerated setting would be applicable to the same students that are incarcerated, we actually have little evidence to support this, and we have little evidence to support what delivery of practices and implementation of these intervention practices are the most effective for these students. In fact there are a lot of barriers that exist in these residential and incarcerated settings that make it very difficult to not only give instruction to these students but also to conduct rigorous research to really confirm what practices are essential for these students. So we recently conducted a synthesis of academic interventions from 1970 on that have been implemented in the incarcerated setting, in residential settings. And unfortunately many of these studies in this corpus of studies were actually compared to quality indicators set forth by the Institute of Education Sciences’ What Works Clearinghouse and found to have a plethora of methodological shortcomings. So we really need to do a lot more work in this area to confirm what practices are effective, but we do have a couple initial themes that came out of this synthesis as well as some other intervention studies and descriptive studies that we have been doing namely with my collaborator Deborah Reed at Florida State University.  So the first thing that we really need to be cognizant of is that when students come into these settings, which there is a lot of mobility into and out of these settings, we need to have some sort of screening system in place so that we can screen for a variety of different needs that they have and then ultimately target their instructional and behavioral needs. And then have some kind of behavioral or progress monitoring system to monitor all of the instructional practices that we are implementing with these students. And so, it is very tricky when students come into these facilities. They are often grouped because of safety reasons for their living units and then they travel as in tack groups to these classrooms. And what this does is really create a heterogeneous classroom of learners for their teachers. And so, it is essential their teachers know how to target a variety of different needs and really capitalize on the heterogeneity of these students. So for example, thinking of other evidence-based practices that we are starting to confirm in the secondary non-incarcerated setting such as peer mediated instruction might be something that would be worthwhile to figure out how to implement in the incarcerated setting. And typically the instruction in these settings is very much one to one instruction where kids are getting little feedback, little opportunities to respond, and so really capitalizing on some of these practices that will improve their outcomes would be ideal. We also want to think about ways to merge academic and behavioral interventions for these students. And so, overall thinking about what is next for this line of work, I think we can draw on some of the practices that are coming out — that are  evidence based for a secondary student in the non-incarcerated setting, using some of the guides that have been set forth from the Intensive Intervention Center (, the Response to Intervention Center(, the What Works Clearinghouse ( and Institute of Education Sciences( but also keep in mind that it is very difficult to implement rigorous research in these settings and so it is really essential that researchers and key stakeholders with juvenile correctional settings really bond together and try to find some better solutions for practices to help students who are incarcerated in these settings 

Developed By: 
National Center on Intensive Intervention