Juvenile Justice

Juvenile justice facilities successfully implement PBIS as a framework for managing behavior. This is a significant shift in philosophy and practice as facilities move away from more restrictive, reactive, and punitive programming toward an emphasis on preventing challenging behaviors, increasing positive behaviors, and providing more intensive supports for youth with the greatest behavioral, academic, social, and mental health needs.

What is PBIS in Juvenile Justice?

PBIS in juvenile justice looks much like PBIS in traditional settings: a set of integrated practices used consistently by all staff in all settings to promote positive behavior. Of course, juvenile justice has unique characteristics to be considered when designing PBIS systems. Within these environments, safety and security are paramount; all practices must align with priorities to keep youth and staff safe and maintain security of the environment. PBIS teams in juvenile justice facilities of all sizes and jurisdictions around the country are demonstrating that PBIS can be implemented successfully in juvenile justice settings, with slight adaptations for the demands of the setting.

A few of the unique characteristics found in juvenile justice settings are:

Negatively-Stated Rules

Most rules in juvenile justice settings focus on what not to do. PBIS revises these rules to focus on behaviors you want to see from youth.

Safety and Security

Policies around safety and security limit how facilities design acknowledgement systems. PBIS teams need to decide what type of acknowledgement system they’d like to use and work to make it fit within the facility’s structures.

Unknown Incentives

It is difficult to identify types of incentives to offer that work within juvenile justice facilities. As a result, PBIS teams brainstorm and ask for input from front-line staff who know what would work best and what is allowable.

Different Schedules for Different Staff

Finding time when all team members can attend PBIS meetings is a challenge. Staff outside the school program don’t have planning time or conference periods. Often they aren’t allowed overtime pay to come in early or stay late for meetings. It’s important to include representation from every setting, including corrections, education, and treatment. Teams have to either identify staff who are available for monthly meetings or offer coverage so direct care staff can attend.

Wide Range of Treatment Programs

Juvenile justice settings operate a wide range of programs to accommodate diverse treatment needs. This might include specialized programs for substance abuse or cognitive behavior treatment. PBIS teams can identify which of the existing programs would work for youth needing Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports and look for ways to include them in the framework.

Why Address PBIS in Juvenile Justice Settings?

More than 50,000 youth in the U.S. are placed in secure-care residential facilities due to involvement in the juvenile justice system. Through policy and best practices guidance, juvenile justice jurisdictions are encouraged to strengthen positive, instructional, and therapeutic programming to better meet the diverse academic, behavioral, social, and mental health needs of young people in their care.[1]PBIS provides a framework for designing systems to teach and support positive behavior among all youth during all activities and settings throughout the facility. Through a multi-tiered approach, PBIS practices increase positive behaviors in all youth and provide more intensive supports for youth with the greatest needs.

Foundational Elements of PBIS in Juvenile Justice Settings

PBIS requires leadership and systemic supports. The foundational elements of these supports in juvenile justice jurisdictions are:

Central Office PBIS Leadership Team

This team determines the scope of the PBIS initiative and identifies:

  • Implementation goals
  • Data to monitor implementation
  • People responsible for day-to-day PBIS leadership
  • Resources needed to support implementation
  • Facility-Level PBIS Team

This team is responsible for developing and guiding all aspects of PBIS within the facility

PBIS Coordinator

This team leader manages and guides implementation at each facility. They serve as a liaison between the facility-level PBIS team and the central office PBIS leadership team.

Data System

Facilities need efficient data systems so PBIS team members can access relevant data to make decisions. Preferably, facilities have access to data systems that provide graphed data that can be disaggregated across variables of interest, such as nature, location, and time of day of disciplinary infractions

Ongoing Training

All front-line, professional, and administrative staff need access to ongoing training and on-site coaching to support their implementation.

Tiers of PBIS in Juvenile Justice Settings

Like traditional settings, the goal of PBIS in juvenile justice settings is to establish a multi-tiered system of increasingly intensive supports to effectively meet the needs of all youth in a facility.

Tier 1

Tier 1 in juvenile justice settings facilitates a proactive, positive, and preventative approach to youth behavior. Tier 1 elements include:

  • Establishing behavioral expectations applicable throughout the facility
  • Defining each expectation as it applies to activities, treatment, and residential settings
  • Developing procedures to teach all youth about specific expected behaviors
  • Providing useful reminders for youth about expected behaviors
  • Acknowledging youth for correct, rule-following behaviors
  • Responding to minor misbehavior consistently across staff and programs.

Tier 2

Most facilities find implementing Tier 1 components correctly and consistently leads to fewer disciplinary incidents. However, some youth will continue to exhibit challenging behaviors. In these cases, Tier 2 practices provide more reminders, feedback, and specialized instruction for those youth. Programs like Check-In Check-Out, Aggression Replacement Training, or Merging Two Worlds are all examples of Tier 2 supports.

Tier 3

Tier 3 supports are student-focused and intensive enough to support severe challenging behaviors. Juvenile justice is, by nature, a multidisciplinary setting. School personnel, corrections officers, psychologists, nutritionists, social workers, and doctors can collaborate to plan for intensive Tier 3 supports.

How to Get Started with PBIS in Juvenile justice

If you are interested in learning more about PBIS in juvenile justice, or want to get started with PBIS in your own facility, we encourage you to contact one of the following individuals. Any of these PBIS leaders can help you, or can direct you to someone who can help you get started.

Brenda Scheuermann

Texas State University  
Department of Curriculum & Instruction
P: 512-245-2267

Jeffrey R. Sprague

University of Oregon
358 Clinical Services Building 1265
P: 541-346-3592

You can also contact your state PBIS network coordinator who can connect you with local resources.


There are several resources available related to PBIS in juvenile justice settings. One to get you started is:

Facility-wide PBIS Implementation: Possible Barriers and Potential Solutions for Six Salient Topics

This practice brief from the PBIS Forum details the perspectives of personnel working with youth in restrictive settings. Included are their concerns, barriers they’ve faced implementing PBIS in their facilities, and possible solutions.

[1]U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, Guiding Principles for Providing High-Quality Education in Juvenile Justice Juvenile justice Settings, Washington, D.C., 2014.
See More/Less


Resources in this section include assessments, blueprints, examples, and materials to aid in implementing PBIS.


Publications listed below include every eBook, monograph, brief, and guide written by the PBIS Technical Assistance Center.


Presentations about their experiences, published research, and best practices from recent sessions, webinars, and trainings


Recordings here include keynotes and presentations about PBIS concepts as well tips for implementation.