Juvenile Justice

Positive Behavior Support Youth At-Risk and Involved in Juvenile Corrections

Why “positive” support for “bad” kids?

Over 170,000 youth in the US are being held in short-term juvenile detention facilities or incarcerated in long-term juvenile correctional facilities. Many more are in community-based residential and day treatment or alternative education settings as an alternative to incarceration. Although most people assume that youth are placed in these programs because of their antisocial and delinquent behavior, many are placed because of “status offenses”—acts that wouldn’t be considered criminal if committed by adults. Furthermore, this large population of youth is characterized by numerous and complex needs. For example, 50 to 75% of approximately 170,000 incarcerated youth are estimated to have one or more mental health disorders and 30 to 50% are estimated to have educational disabilities. Many of these youth lack basic academic, social, and problem-solving skills, and have histories of physical, sexual, and substance abuse. Current zero tolerance and get-tough policies in schools focus on punishment to address problem behavior, which effectively start these youth along the school-to-prison pipeline. When they become incarcerated, they enter a world of even greater intolerance and a focus on security that overrides their need for treatment and positive growth experiences.

How is positive behavior support provided to these youth?

In schools and communities, initiatives are underway to alter the pathway that leads from school to prison. This pathway begins with the disproportionate exposure of at-risk students to exclusionary disciplinary practices that alienate them from school and contribute to their academic and social failure, which leads to their dropping out of school and established patterns of antisocial and delinquent behavior, negative peer associations, and criminal activity. The School-to-Prison Reform Project, sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is focused on building resilience to these negative outcomes through enhancing school protective factors, specifically, by promoting positive behavioral interventions and support in schools. Another initiative is Tools for Promoting Educational Success and Reducing Delinquency, a project sponsored by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education and the National Disability Rights Network. Sets of tools have been developed in 9 sets beginning with prevention and early identification of at-risk children and culminating in transition of youth back to community schools. The three-tiered positive behavior support model is an essential framework for these tools, which are based on effective practices in schools and communities.

Positive behavior support also has been successfully implemented in a variety of alternative education and day treatment programs. These are operated by educational, mental health, or juvenile justice agencies in a variety of settings, the chief characteristics of which is that they are not residential and they include treatment and other programs not found in most public schools. 

A range of secure care facilities is available for youth who have been arrested or adjudicated, and who are being diverted from juvenile correctional programs or placed in them. These include residential treatment, short-term detention, and incarceration in a juvenile correctional facility. In a growing number of these programs, positive behavior support is being tried as an alternative to traditional disciplinary practices in, with the same beneficial effects that have been observed in public schools. Teaching youth what behaviors are expected and acknowledging them for displaying these is proving to be an effective alternative to traditional approaches to discipline in these facilities. Still, secure care facilities aren’t public schools, and implementation efforts require adaptation to the features of detention and correctional settings. Chief among these are the 24-hour secure care milieu, and the presence of staff from a variety of disciplines and who have limited exposure to the notion of a positive approach to discipline.

Resources

PBIS for Youth Involved in Juvenile Corrections

EDJJ (Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice) professional development series. General overview of Schoolwide positive behavior support implementation. The video describes what PBIS is, how PBIS is working at the public schools, and why PBIS makes sense. It also shows school examples and interviews with school administrators and teachers.

Behavioral Strategies To Reduce School Violence

Public schools that use punitive approaches toward student discipline can unwittingly promote violence and other antisocial behavior. This article reviews constructive and preventive methods to reduce school violence and vandalism. Various strategies are presented and discussed. (Contains 62 references.)

Managing Adolescent Behavior: A Multiyear, Multischool Study

A 3-year study in 8 middle schools tested a program to improve adolescent conduct. The program attempted to improve clarity and enforcement of rules, classroom organization, school-home communication, and increase reinforcement of positive behavior. Where it was well-implemented, student conduct improved significantly.

A Preventive Approach to School Violence and Vandalism: An Experimental Study

The investigators attempted to employ strategies that would attack identified perpetrators of school violence and vandalism existing within schools. Results indicated that the dollar costs of vandalism and frequency of inappropriate student behavior decreased more in experimental than in control schools.

Antisocial behavior in school: Evidence-based practices (2nd Ed.)

This classic in the literature of child violence and antisocial behavior has been updated to include coverage of the most recent and important school safety, prevention, and universal intervention programs.

Antisocial behavior

A book chapter in the book "Encyclopedia of school psychology."

Taking Positive Behavior Support to Scale in Juvenile Justice Settings (Chicago Forum-07)

The presentation discusses what “going to scale” means in public schools and juvenile justice settings and provides exemplars (NC Department of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention).