Juvenile Case Examples


PBIS at the Illinois Youth Center-Harrisburg

The video clips in this section were shot in 2006 in Harrisburg, IL, at the Illinois Youth Center, a medium/secure juvenile facility for boys, ages 13-18. Approximately 300 youth were housed there at the time these clips were filmed. At that time, positive behavior support had been implemented in the school program for over four years. Under the leadership of Melva Clarida, the Education Program Administrator, PBIS has been successful in addressing problem behavior that was occurring in school, and returning the education program at IYC to one that focuses on academic instruction and student success. Over two days, we worked with a video crew from the Corrections Learning Network to capture the features of PBIS at ITC-Harrisburg, including how it evolved, is implemented, and its impact from the perspectives of teachers, administrators, security staff, and the students themselves. Melva and her staff have been featured in articles, newsletters, and national presentations. IYC-Harrisburg continues to be a model implementation site for PBIS in juvenile justice facilities.

Advantage of PBIS

Impact of PBIS

Implementation of PBIS

Youths' Perspectives

Positive Behavior Support in Louisiana Adult Correctional Facilities

I began working as a school psychologist in adult corrections on 5/24/04. Although employed by the State Department of Education-Special School District. I was domiciled and assigned to work in adult correctional facilities. The program being implemented by the Special School District (SSD) was a new concept for Louisiana, special education programs for disabled offenders under the age of twenty-five. My job was to complete individual evaluations to determine eligibility for the SSD program. I came from a background of being a school psychologist for a local school system and owing a private mental health counseling practice. I also had been a state PBIS trainer and had implemented the first PBIS program in a Louisiana high school.  Although I have worked in every adult correctional facility in Louisiana, initially, most of my time was spent at two prisons, J.Levy Dabadie (Dabadie), a minimum security work release site and Forcht Wade, a medium/maximum intake site. I was struck by the negativity that reigns in prisons, I was quite naïve!     

SSD pupil appraisal staff collaborated to design a data collection packet as a way of obtaining information to be used for evaluations. The data collection packet was completed by offenders prior to being seen by pupil appraisal staff. One section of questions in the packet asked offenders: (1). if they could remember ever receiving positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior and/or good academic work while they were in the public school system, (2). what would be reinforcing for them in while attending school during incarceration,  and (3). to identify their personal strengths and weaknesses.

Quickly an answer pattern emerged. The vast majority could not remember ever receiving positive reinforcement and had difficulty identifying personal strengths. The saddest answer was to the question asking what would be reinforcing to them while incarcerated. Many offenders could not think of anything positive but of those who did the answers were so simple. For example, “I would find it reinforcing if somebody just told me good job.” This data was the impetus for my campaign to implement PBIS in prison.

It took about one year to establish credibility, learn how the prison systems worked, build rapport/relationships with the wardens, the Department of Corrections (DOC) educational director, and security staff. Security immediately associated me with a category of employees labeled as members of the “hug a thug” club meaning I was soft. “Hug a thuggers” are not respected in DOC so there were big obstacles to overcome. After receiving permission from DOC educational director, SSD director, and the wardens of Dabadie and Forcht Wade my colleagues and I put together a proposal for a program we called “PBIS Inside-Out.” With much skepticism from DOC we were given the okay to proceed.

PBIS Inside-Out was implemented in two very different settings. At Dabadie, the work release facility, the atmosphere is relaxed (as much as possible in a prison). At Forcht Wade PBIS was implemented in the IMPACT program. IMPACT is an intensive incarceration option for some offenders. Instead of serving their entire sentence they endure a six-month boot camp and are then released. I say endure because the program is physically, verbally, and emotionally very intense and punitive.

At Forcht Wade PBIS happened because the Lieutenant Colonel over the IMPACT program made it happen. He was a total believer in the program. I think his dedication evolved because we included him in planning the program and presenting the PBIS plan at a state-wide conference. The reinforcers we were allowed to use were: verbal praise, tangible rewards (candy/cookies/chips/colas), having work placed on the “Wall of Fame”, and certificates of achievement. Getting the tangible rewards approved was the most difficult because staff is normally forbidden to give anything to offenders. The facility rules were used as a basis for PBIS but other rules were added to address appropriate classroom behavior and social interactions. A rule was taught each week. Our PBIS goals were to decrease disciplinary referrals and increase academic growth rates. Our reinforcement schedule was intermittent (catch them being good and tell them about it) for verbal reinforcement and candy/cookies given in the classroom. The Student of the Month award was given at the end of every month and chips and colas were given, to exceptional students, by the Colonel on Fridays.

Colonel Walter Tolliver had to be hands-on with the security officers because the main obstacle we faced was their attitudes. Security officers did everything they could think of to turn our positives into negatives. The following example is one that I will never forget.  A student earned the Student of the Month Certificate. This certificate was signed by the Warden and was a “big deal.” Offenders collect certificates to be presented when they apply for parole, work-release, and special job assignments on the compound. They also love to send copies home to their families. The certificate was presented, on a Friday, with much praise and applause. The Colonel was in attendance and the student was delighted. Over the whole weekend, however, while the Colonel was off, the security officers used the certificate to ridicule our student. He was verbally abused in front of other offenders and eventually his certificate was taken, torn, and trampled in the dirt. We later learned that officers were confiscating and discarding or consuming the chips and colas given by Colonel Tolliver. The Colonel went so far as to have some offending officers reassigned in an attempt the keep PBIS alive. His support was invaluable!  PBIS took a hit when our SSD teacher left unexpectedly in the middle of the year and the position remained open for months. It was hard to revive the program after that.  I really cannot say that we met our PBIS goals in the IMPACT program. It seemed as if we just put out fires and tried to stay alive. The state budget crisis eventually caused the whole IMPACT program at Forcht Wade to be discontinued.  

I am happy to report a different result in the program at Dabadie (where I am domiciled) and for this success I credit the SSD teacher, Ms. Tywanna Conti. Ms. Conti is naturally a very positive teacher so PBIS fits her style. She has completely embraced the program. Our Wardens and educational director are also very supportive of our work which is a big plus. We use the same reinforcers as were used at Forcht Wade except we are allowed, occasionally, to show a movie when the whole class has done well. From the beginning of our PBIS program in 2004 until a few months ago I had a desk in the corner of the SSD classroom. I like to

think this contributed the success of our students because they had two adults giving verbal reinforcement throughout the day. You might think that verbal praise would be inconsequential to incarcerated adults but we have found it to be the most powerful tool we possess. For the first time in their school lives students are recognized for what they do well instead of what they do wrong. During an evaluation interview a few months ago a student said “I am going to try to get the Student of the Month Certificate to send home to my mother. She thinks I am all bad, the black sheep of the family. I want to prove myself to her. Do you know what it feels like to know that you mother thinks you are all bad?” He did eventually earn the certificate and was like a little boy in his excitement, practically jumping up and down.

I am happy to report, even though Dabadie is the smallest prison in Louisiana; we produce the most SSD GED graduates in the state. The following table depicts data tracked over a two year period. I am sorry I do not have statistical comparisons.

Regular Education/General Population 

Special School District/Special Education 



Students obtaining GED – 41%

Students obtaining GED – 25%

Offenders receiving at least 1disciplinary referral – 98%

Students in PBIS program receiving least 1 disciplinary referral – 50%



Students obtaining GED – 48%

Students obtaining GED – 19%

Offenders receiving at least 1disciplinary referral – 73%

Students in PBIS program receiving least 1 disciplinary referral – 52%

Our GED obtainment rates are well behind those of non-disabled students as would be expected. I am also attaching a summary of a recent study conducted by a social work intern which shows educational growth rates for SSD/PBIS students.

In conclusion, as I am sure you know, getting security on your side is foremost.  It has become obvious to me that a PBIS program is much easier to implement in lower levels of security. I would guess that our minimum security prison might be close to the security level found in juvenile facilities.

I hope this rambling flow of information will be helpful.  If you have other questions, please let me know.

Sherrye K. Smith, MS, LPC

Certified School Psychologist