Transitioning youth with disabilities from juvenile justice programs to communities

Project RISE: Re-Entry Intervention and Support for Engagement

Principal investigator:
Award amount:
$1,545,251
Originating sponsor:
U.S. Department of Education
Grant start date:
December 19, 2012
Grant end date:
December 31, 2016

The challenge:

How do we create a replicable model to successfully transition youth with disabilities from juvenile justice facilities to the community?

Youth with disabilities are over-represented in the juvenile justice system. Research shows that as many as 60 percent of incarcerated youth have disabilities and require special education services, compared to only 10 to 12 percent of youth in public schools.

When these young people are released, schools may be reluctant to enroll them due to problem behavior and academic deficiencies. Many transitioning youth are performing up to three grade levels behind their same-age peers. Similarly, employers may be unprepared to deal with these challenges. The youth may become disconnected from school, employment and their community. When youth are disconnected and not engaged, the opportunity to re-offend or become re-incarcerated increases substantially. The cycle creates an over-reliance on social services and diminishes opportunities for success in local communities.

The approach:

Project RISE is focusing on individual and systemic goals. Individual goals for youth include: providing intensive educational and vocational programming that follows the Individualized Education Plan and Individualized Transition Plan; developing a transition portfolio that includes strengths and personal attributes; customizing aftercare to include family involvement; and aligning community supports to meet specific needs. Youth needs are varied depending on IEP and ITP goals, personal skills and involvement with social service agencies. Many transition plans are very detailed, requiring more frequent interaction and time to complete. 

Systemic goals include: establishing collaborative transitions for youth returning to school; fostering seamless transfers of records and services; increasing inter-agency communication; providing employment-based opportunities; and creating a youth tracking system. The Project RISE research team provides youth-led transition planning as well as pre- and post-release services for youth with disabilities. 

Findings and impact:

The impact of Project RISE is ongoing at individual and systemic levels. Data on specific youth and program outcomes is being collected and will be available for dissemination upon project completion.