Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.
The process of previously incarcerated youth transitioning from juvenile justice residential placement back into their communities is an exciting and significant step, yet it can also be a difficult one. Young people leaving residential placement face many concerns as they reenter the community, home, and school/work force. Reentry refers to those activities and tasks that prepare youth placed out-of-home for reentry into their families and communities.1
Unfortunately, many youth return to unstable home settings, struggle to remain in school, and lack the skills needed for employment upon leaving secure care placement. Further, the majority of youth involved in the juvenile justice system have a mental health disorder, and support services in their home communities are hard to arrange until they are formally released. This can cause a gap in services that negatively impacts the reentry process.2
To improve the odds of success for youth reentering the community, the justice system, related agencies, and communities must plan for what needs to occur for reentry when youth enter the juvenile justice system: “think exit at entry.” Therefore coordination and collaboration between agencies and across services and supports are necessary at multiple phases of reentry.3 The four main phases are the following:
- The entry phase: The moment the youth enters residential placement
- The placement phase: The time the youth is in the secure care facility
- The transitional phase: The actual act of leaving the facility and reentering the community, which is immediately before and immediately after the date of exit
- The community-based aftercare phase: Usually the 120-day (or longer) period after a youth returns to the community
Successful reentry programs and practices should ensure the delivery of prescribed services and supervision in the community. Specifically, “by fostering improved family relationships and functioning, reintegration into school, and mastery of independent life skills, youth build resiliency and positive development to divert them from delinquent and other problematic behaviors.4
There are many factors that should be considered when planning for reentry. The literature confirms that successful reentry plans, services, and supports should address at least these five issues:
- Family: What services and supports are needed to ensure family and home stability, skill development, and healing of damaged relationships?
- Substance abuse: What are the services and supports that promote a reduction or cessation of substance use and/or abuse?
- Peer association/friends: What services and supports need to be in place to promote positive use of leisure time, prevent gang involvement, and discourage association with peers engaged in delinquent activities? Learn more about positive youth development.
- School conflict and achievement: What services are in place to promote the transference of educational records and placement in the appropriate school settings that will support educational success and achievement?
- Mental, behavioral, and physical health: What services and supports are in place to address mental health, social/behavioral concerns, and/or chronic health problems?
Mentors, Education, and Employment Opportunities
Research has demonstrated that reentry services and aftercare programs which connect youth with professional case managers, mentors, and education and/or employment opportunities can reduce recidivism.5 Youth in residential settings should be provided with high quality, appropriate education programming that parallels that of mainstream public schools and holds youth to the same academic standards. In this way, youth eligible to return to school after release will be better prepared to persist and succeed in the community setting.6
Additionally, research consistently shows that individuals who have jobs are less likely to engage in crime; however, youth exiting secure care and seeking employment often encounter obstacles.7 To help youth develop the skills necessary for successful employment, juvenile justice facilities should offer high-quality vocational training and other employment supports including providing information about how to interview and behave appropriately in the workplace. Learn more about youth employment.
Mental and Behavioral Health Supports
Finally, regardless of where youth return upon exit from secure care, they will need the skills to properly control their emotions and behaviors in community settings. This requires that juvenile justice facilities address any mental/behavioral health needs youth may have and connect them with community-based treatment and support services upon exit. Research shows that exposure to childhood trauma, abuse, and/or neglect is correlated with high rates of recidivism, rearrest, and the execution of serious, violent, and repeated offenses in adolescence/early adulthood. 8 In light of these findings, it is crucial that juvenile reentry programs provide youth with relevant therapy and mental health supports both during placement and upon exit from secure care so that an individual’s underlying trauma and its effects on their life can be addressed and their chances of successful reentry into the community improved. 9
Another key consideration for reentry planning is the environment to which a youth will return. The extent to which a youth’s neighborhood generally accepts criminal behavior and drug use—or “special contagion” 10—must be reviewed. When necessary, alternative supports and activities must be put in place to lower the risk of the youth re-engaging in delinquent/criminal behavior. Because it is not possible to move all families from low-income communities where the presence of criminal activity may be higher due to a lack of resources, reentry activities should include building skills in both avoiding criminal involvement and engaging in positive community capacity building.11
Resources for Youth and Families
Improving Outcomes for Youth with Disabilities in Juvenile Corrections: Transition and Reentry(PDF, 7 pages)
This source summarizes best practices for helping youth with disabilities transition out of the juvenile justice system and reenter their communities. Included are countless resources and websites with information for previously incarcerated youth and youth with disabilities, parents and families of incarcerated youth, as well as educators and other after-care community partners.
In Focus: Juvenile Reentry Fact Sheet (PDF, 1 page)
This fact sheet presents a summary of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s (OJJDP) supports for youth and adolescents who are transitioning out of the juvenile justice system. The page highlights educational, vocational, and positive youth development programs sponsored by the OJJDP inside correctional facilities and after reentry into the community.
Reentry Starts Here: A Guide for Youth in Long-Term Juvenile Corrections and Treatment Programs (PDF, 36 pages)
This toolkit equips incarcerated minors with a guide on what to expect upon reentry and what footwork they should be doing both while they are still in a juvenile correctional facility and well after. The guide is organized into two sections: planning for reentry while in placement and successful reentry into your community. Included are descriptions regarding common barriers youth may encounter upon reentry as well as tools and action steps to help them overcome those barriers.
You Got This! Educational Pathways for Youth Transitioning from Juvenile Justice Facilities (PDF, 12 pages)
This guide offers youth who are transitioning from the juvenile justice system back into their communities and schools with a framework of tips and resources. It informs youth and professionals working closely with incarcerated youth of the rights juveniles are entitled to both within the system and at school. The guide includes a roadmap of juvenile detention to school re-enrollment, a re-enrollment checklist, community resources and organizations, a student bill of rights, and more.
Resources for Practitioners, Local Governments, and/or Non-profits
Improving Outcomes for Youth with Disabilities in Juvenile Corrections: Transition and Reentry (PDF, 7 pages)
This source summarizes best practices for helping youth with disabilities transition out of the juvenile justice system and reenter their communities. Included within the document are countless resources and websites with information for previously incarcerated youth and youth with disabilities, parents and families of incarcerated youth, as well as educators and other after-care community partners.
Making the Right Turn: A Research Update on Evidence-Based and Promising Post-Exit Supports for Formerly Incarcerated Youth (PDF, 28 pages)
This research brief describes evidence-based and promising post-exist supports for formerly incarcerated youth. The brief describes support approaches to be implemented by practitioners dealing with newly released youth and their families at the following levels: school-based preparatory experiences, career preparation and work-based learning experiences, youth development and leadership opportunities, connecting activities (supporting and community services), and family involvement and supports.
National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC)
This center provides education, training, and technical assistance to states, tribes, territories, local governments, service providers, non-profit organizations, and corrections institutions working on prisoner reentry. The website highlights announcements, current research, and policy changes related to incarcerated youth and adults.
Reentry Employment Opportunities (REO)
This program provides funding for justice-involved youth and young adults and adults who were formerly incarcerated. The mission is to inform the public workforce system on how best to serve this population. A main goal is to develop strategies and partnerships that will facilitate the implementation of successful programs at the state and local levels that will improve the workforce outcomes for this population.
Ten Core Competencies for Youth and Young Adult Centered Mental Health Systems (PDF, 25 pages)
This report addresses existing gaps in youth and young-adult mental health systems, and they reflect values that translate into skills, attitudes, knowledge, and abilities of system participants.
1 Bilchik & Altschuler, 2010
2 Schubert & Mulvey 2014; Schubert, Mulvey & Glasheen 2011; OJJDP, 2017
3 Brock, O’Cummings & Milligan, 2008
4 Nellis & Wayman, 2009, p. 5
5 Nellis & Wayman, 2009
6 Brock, O’Cummings & Milligan, 2008
7 The Sentencing Project, 2010
8 The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2017; Wolff et al., 2015; Fox et al., 2015
9 Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2017
10 Grunwald, et al., 2010
11 Grunwald, et al., 2010
Other Resources on this Topic
Tools & Guides
Videos & Podcasts
Webinars & Presentations
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