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Transition services for juvenile detainees with disabilities: findings on recidivism.


This study explores the effect of basic versus enhanced transition services on the recidivism of youth with disabilities in juvenile detention. The article describes the transition services provided and shares the results of a year-long, randomized, single blind, quasi-experimental study of post-release recidivism. Results indicate that youth with disabilities who received enhanced services from a transition specialist were 64% less likely to recidivate. Implications are offered for future data analysis and research related to the transition of youth with disabilities from the juvenile justice system.

KEY WORDS: detention, transition, recidivism, juvenile justice, disabilities

According to the most recent data available, juvenile courts handle approximately 4,600 delinquency cases per day (Puzzanchera, Adams, & Sickmund, 2010). While this is a decline from a high of 5,100 in 1997, it represents an overall increase of 300% from 1960 to 2007 (Puzzanchera, et al., 2010). Even more startling is the fact that 31 million youth were under juvenile court jurisdiction during 2007 (Puzzanchera, et al., 2010). In 22% of these juvenile court delinquency cases the youth is detained in a juvenile detention center (Puzzanchera, etal.,2010).

Successful re-entry into the community after release from a juvenile detention center is also a challenge for many youth. A recent report highlighting findings from a national longitudinal study on recidivism of serious adolescent offenders found that approximately 40% of offenders were in jail or prison and 20% were in detention or contracted residential placement across the three-year follow-up period (Mulvey, 2011).

Another concern in detention and correctional facilities is the fact that the number of youth with disabilities is more than four times the rate of that in regular school populations (Quinn, Rutherford, Leone, Osher, & Poirier, 2005). Previous studies have estimated that the prevalence could be as high as 60% (Murphy, 1986). The most recent national survey found that more than a third, 33.4%, of youth in the juvenile justice system exhibit significant learning and/or behavioral problems that entitle them to special education and related services (Quinn, et al., 2005; Rutherford, Quinn, Poirer, & Garfinkel, 2002).

Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public and alternative schools, juvenile detention centers, and correctional agencies to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities who are eligible for special education and related services, comprehensive transition programming for youth leaving detention and correctional settings is often nonexistent (Griller Clark & Mathur, 2010; Griller Clark, Rutherford, & Quinn, 2004; Nelson, Jolivette, Leone, & Mathur, 2010). Transition for those in a correctional setting has been defined as, "a coordinated set of activities for a juvenile offender, designed within an outcome-oriented process, which promotes movement from the community to a correctional setting, from one correctional setting to another, or from a correctional setting to post-incarceration activities including public or alternative education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing education, adult services, independent living, or community participation" (Griller Clark, 2006).

Because of the punitive nature of the correctional system, the interplay between different agencies and the added requirements of the IDEA, the transition process for youth with disabilities in detention and correctional facilities can be extremely complex and difficult to navigate. These youth need additional support to help them successfully move from detention centers back to the community (Bullis, Yavanoff, & Havel, 2004; Bullis, Yovanoff, Mueller, & Havel, 2002; Coffey & Gemignani, 1994; Griller Clark & Mathur, 2010; Griller Clark & Uhruh, 2010). Transition specialists are frequently employed to assist with this process.

A transition specialist is an individual who assists and supports youth with disabilities in the transition planning process. In a correctional facility, the transition specialist works with the individual, the family, special education teachers, regular education teachers, unit/program staff, probation/parole officers, and other service providers to plan for release. He or she is frequently the principal party responsible for developing a transition/re-entry plan. The transition specialist may also follow the individual after release to ensure that the transition plan is implemented (Griller Clark & Unruh, 2010; Unruh, Gau, & Waintrup, 2009). In essence, the transition specialist is a resource broker who provides individualized transition planning for successful community reintegration by supporting youth as they navigate and gain access to education and other public services which are aligned with their transition needs (Griller Clark & Unruh, 2010).

In general, the transition specialists' responsibilities should be guided by a set of principles for effective reentry or transition, like those recently defined by the Reentry Taskforce (Nellis & Hooks Wayman, 2009) which include: (a) conducting pre-release planning in facilities, (b) having available community services that address special needs of children and youth, (c) targeting permanency and housing in the community, (d) locating services in the communities of the youth's release, (e) insuring access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, (f) recognition of the diverse needs of youth, (g) providing structured workforce preparation, employment, and school attendance, and (h) insuring better use of youth's leisure time. The National Center on Education, Disability, and Juvenile Justice also proposed a set of Promising Practices in Transition for Youth in Short-term Jails and Detention Centers (see Griller Clark & Mathur, 2010; Rutherford, Mathur, & Griller Clark 2001). Providing transition services that focus on these effective practices is the best chance practitioners and policy makers have for improving the reentry success of youth with disabilities released from detention centers.

The intent of this study was to explore the post-release success of detained youth with disabilities who received basic or enhanced transition services for one academic year. In this study, post-release success was defined by recidivism; specifically whether or not an individual returned to the detention center after being released during the same academic year.



This study was conducted at two county level juvenile detention centers in a Southwestern state. During fiscal year 2010, there were 4,809 youth age 8 to 17 detained at these two facilities (Arizona Supreme Court, 2010). At the time of the study the average daily population was 423, while the average length of stay was 18.2 days. Both of these facilities provide a system of clinical observation and assessment, employing a team of officers who screen every juvenile brought in to determine whether or not the juvenile should be detained (Superior Court, 2011). They also provide a range of services which support the juvenile's physical, emotional, educational and social development, including: education, special education, recreation, nutrition, medical and health services, visitation, communication and continuous supervision (Arizona Supreme Court, 2010). While detained all youth attend school. In this state, the county in which the detention center resides is responsible for providing instruction. The detention schools operate year-round. Youth receive 240 minutes of instruction per day for a minimum of 225 days per year (Arizona Supreme Court, 2011).

At the time of the study there was one special education teacher employed for each detention center. The special education teachers were responsible for identification of individuals with disabilities, development or revision of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP), development or revision of the Individualized Transition Plan (ITP) within the IEP, and provision of instruction and other related special education services.


Transition Specialists. Two transition specialists participated in the study. Their role was to assist and support youth with disabilities in the transition planning process. In an effort to decrease the recidivism rate for youth with disabilities, the transition specialists were asked to focus on effective practices of transition/reentry by accomplishing the following objectives: 1) develop and coordinate transition activities for youth with disabilities who are detained, 2) collaborate with probation officers, detention educators, and public and alternative school personnel, employers, and service providers, 3) assist the special education teacher with the development of Individualized Transition Plans (ITPs), 4) develop and implement a student Transition Portfolio, 5) assist in the establishment of a seamless transfer of records and services between detention and public, alternative, and secure care schools, 6) increase interagency communication and linkages, 7) establish a computerized educational tracking system, and 8) collect data on youth with disabilities while in detention and after release. The implementation of these objectives was, in part, measured by the development of thirteen permanent products. These permanent products (listed in Table 1) comprised the Transition Portfolio.
Table 1

Transition Portfolio Components

Components Components
Provided to Youth Provided to Youth
in Non-treatment in Treatment Group
Group (Basic (Enhanced
Transition) Transition)

Special Education Special Education
Rights Rights

Copy of IEP Copy of IEP

Copy of Copy of
Psychoeducational Psychoeducational
Evaluation Evaluation

Transition Plan Transition Plan

Transition Transition
Resource Packet Resource Packet




 Vital Records
 (including social
 security card,
 birth certificate,


 Credit Analysis

 diplomas, GED

 Work samples

Youth. At the beginning of the academic year of the study, all youth with disabilities who entered both detention centers were randomly assigned to either a treatment group (Enhanced Transition) or a non-treatment group (Basic Transition). A total of 144 youth participated in this randomized, single blind, quasi-experimental comparison group study. Since the IDEA mandates for transition apply to youth with disabilities age 14 and older, youth under the age of 14 were not included in the study. In addition, youth without diagnosed disabilities and those with incomplete data sets were removed. The treatment group consisted of 68 youth. Sixty-two were male, 6 were female. Thirty-seven were identified with LD and 31 were identified with EBD. The non-treatment group was made up of 76 youth. Seventy-one were male, 5 were female. Thirty-six were identified with LD and 38 were identified with EBD. Additional descriptive data, including length of stay and age, is available in Table 2. Although the average length of stay was slightly longer for the non-treatment group as compared to the treatment group, 43 days versus 37 days, the groups were on the average homogenous.
Table 2 Descriptive Statistics for Treatment and Comparison Group

group variable N range minimum maximum mean std. dev

treatment Group 68 0.00 1.00 1.00 1.00 0.00

 Sex 68 1.00 0.00 1.00 0.09 0.29

 Int Age 68 3.92 14.01 17.93 16.32 1.09

 Length Stay 68 102.00 1.00 103.00 37.04 24.83

 Ethnicity 68 4.00 0.00 4.00 1.07 1.11

 Need SLD 68 1.00 0.00 1.00 0.54 0.50

 Need ED 68 1.00 0.00 1.00 0.46 0.50

comparison Group 76 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00

 Sex 76 1.00 0.00 1.00 0.07 0.25

 Int Age 76 4.15 13.77 17.92 15.89 1.27

 Length Stay 75 157.00 3.00 160.00 43.49 30.57

 Ethnicity 76 4.00 0.00 4.00 1.05 1.06

 Need SLD 76 1.00 0.00 1.00 0.47 0.50

 Need ED 76 1.00 0.00 1.00 0.50 0.50

Definition of Recidivism

Although there are many definitions of recidivism, for the purpose of this study recidivism was operationally defined as returning to detention for not meeting the terms of probation and staying in detention for at least 24 hours after previously being released. This definition captured youth who were detained as a result of: 1) a referral to court, 2) a court hold, 3) a warrant, 4) a probation consequence, or 5) a hold for another jurisdiction (Arizona Supreme Court, 2010). Transition specialists were simply asked to indicate, at each time period after release, whether a youth had returned to detention or not and if so, the date the youth returned. This information was obtained from the county-wide database and validated by probation officers, detention staff, and youth. Information about initial or subsequent reasons for detainment was not collected and is not relevant to the current study.


Transition Portfolio. According to Rutherford et al. (2002), the most important function that a detention center performs is to facilitate a student's successful transition to the next program or placement by: 1) collecting prior education records, including the IEP and any previous assessment pieces, 2) conducting comprehensive assessments of the student's current educational, vocational, social/emotional, and behavioral needs and abilities, and 3) compiling a portfolio of these records, assessment data, and samples of student work. This portfolio becomes the vehicle for the transition process and should follow the youth as they move along the continuum of secure care or into the community (Griller Clark & Mathur, 2010). The thirteen items within the Transition Portfolio described in this article were selected, in collaboration with parents, probation officers, related service providers, employers, public schools, and others, as permanent products documenting the transition planning process. Each Transition Portfolio contained a cover sheet or checklist on which the transition specialists documented which items were received, completed, or in progress. To insure fidelity, this information was also documented in an electronic spreadsheet. In an effort to assure treatment fidelity the Project Director met with each Transition Specialist bi-monthly and conducted file reviews, comparing the information in the student file with the information in the electronic spreadsheet. Any irregularities or inconsistencies were investigated and corrected.

Basic Transition Services (Non-treatment Group). As previously mentioned, the transition specialists assisted with the provision of transition services to all youth with disabilities in the two juvenile detention centers. Therefore, it was neither realistic nor ethical in this study to deny services to youth simply for the purpose of obtaining a true control group. Instead, project staff elected to provide basic transition services to one group of students (non-treatment) and enhanced transition services to another group of students (treatment). Basic transition services consisted of five permanent products in the Transition Portfolio: 1) a PowerPoint handout that provided an overview of the special education process and the student's rights 2) a copy of the student's IEP, 3) a copy of the student's psychoeducational evaluation, 4) an individualized transition plan, and 5) an individualized transition resource packet. These were viewed as essential transition services as mandated by the IDEA.

The first product, the PowerPoint handout on the special education process and the student's rights, was provided to all youth with disabilities by the special education teacher on the first day that the youth entered the detention school. The second and third products, the student's IEP and psychoeducational evaluation, were also provided to the student by the special education teacher when the documents were received or when they were reviewed or updated. To complete the fourth product, an individualized transition plan, the transition specialist met with the student on two separate occasions. At these meetings the transition specialist used a transition interview to begin the planning process and facilitate the development of the transition plan. The results of this interview were recorded and placed in the Transition Portfolio. The results were then used by the special education teacher and transition specialist in the development or revision of the IEP transition plan. The final product given to youth in the non-treatment group was an individualized transition resource packet. This packet consisted of transition related resources specific to the geographic location in which the youth was being released. Examples include: crisis numbers; shelter hotlines and locations; food bank numbers and locations; employment agencies; workforce connection locations; numbers and locations of public, charter, and vocational schools; independent living agencies; and various health and prevention brochures. The 76 youth in the non-treatment group were only provided basic transition services as documented by these five products of the Transition Portfolio.

Enhanced Transition Services (Treatment Group). In contrast to the non-treatment group, the 68 youth who comprised the treatment group met regularly with the transition specialists and were provided with enhanced transition services. In addition to the five Transition Portfolio products describe above, youth in the treatment group received eight extra products, or a total of the thirteen Transition Portfolio components. The additional products consisted of: 1) academic assessments, 2) a vocational assessment, 3) a resume, 4) copies of vital records (social security card, birth certificate, immunization records), 5) previous and current transcripts, 6) a credit analysis, 7) copies of certificates, diplomas, or GEDs, and 8) work samples. These portfolio components were deemed appropriate and included based on research and input from teachers, detention staff, and service providers.

The first additional product collected for youth in the treatment group was an academic assessment. At the time of the study, the detention centers were supplementing instruction with New Century, a computerized software product; youth in the treatment group were given a diagnostic assessment for reading, writing, language arts, and math using this software. The results were included in the Transition Portfolio. Youth in the treatment group were also given a vocational assessment using the Arizona Career Information System (AZCIS). This assessment was completed on-line with the transition specialist. The results of the vocational interest inventory were used to identify possible career clusters, occupations, and programs of study. Local vocational, technical or trade schools were also identified through AZCIS (AZCIS, 2011). The transition specialist also used AZCIS to assist youth in the treatment group build a resume. Both of these products were then included in the Transition Portfolio. In addition to the time spent conducting the vocational assessment and generating the resume, the transition specialist also assisted youth in the treatment group find or obtain copies of vital records that would be necessary for future enrollment in school or employment like, copies of social security cards, birth certificates, and/or immunization records. These vital records were located, obtained, or paperwork was submitted to request new copies for all youth in the treatment group. The transition specialists also worked in collaboration with the detention school secretaries and special education teachers to request and obtain all previous transcripts for youth in the treatment group. This was an immensely time consuming task since many of these youth had been in numerous schools prior to being detained. However, it was necessary to obtain all transcripts so that the transition specialists could complete the next product in the Transition Portfolio, a credit analysis. Once completed, the credit analysis was used to council youth and plan for future school enrollments. For example, if a seventeen year old had only completed three high school credits the transition specialist could consult with the special education teacher and youth to explore the possibility of a GED instead of a high school diploma. The two final products included in the Transition Portfolio for youth in the treatment group were copies of any earned certificates or diplomas, and work samples. The certificates were obtained through records requests and the work products were determined by the transition specialist and the youth.

Treatment fidelity was monitored through the use of a data management system, or spreadsheet, in which the transition specialists documented when they met with each student and what Transition Portfolio product or activity was accomplished. Maintenance of this spreadsheet and the ability to review the hard copy of the Transition Portfolios ensured accuracy of documentation and events and enabled project staff to confirm that the intervention was implemented as planned and that each product was produced.

Research Design

A single blind, quasi-experimental design with random assignment was used to determine whether membership in the treatment group decreased the recidivism rate for youth post-release. This is an atypical combination of design elements, drawing on experimental randomization within a quasi-experimental setting. The participants were already organized into the two detention facilities where the treatment was implemented. Within detention facilities, however, participants were randomly assigned to the treatment or non-treatment group. Based on that assignment, participants received either enhanced or basic transition services. Participants were not informed of the experimental group to which they were assigned. For this reason, the quasi-experiment could be considered single-blinded.

A binary logistic regression was preformed because the variable of "service" was dichotomous (basic vs. enhanced services). The binary logistic regression model also assumed, relative to other general linear model techniques, very little about the data. Logistic regression, on the other hand, carries no assumptions about the distributional behavior of predictors and uses generalized linear models that are more flexible. Logistic regression, moreover, produces estimates of effect on the tendency to be in one categorical state or another. In this case, it produced estimates of effects on the tendency to recidivate or not.


Several potential predictors (membership in treatment or nontreatment group, sex, initial age, length of stay in detention) were included in the analyses. These predictors were chosen because previous research in the field has called for further examination of the demographics related to successful transition and an evaluation of various types of transition services (Bullis et al., 2002). Table 3 illustrates how these predictors were coded. Codes were only necessary to perform analyses and simply described participants' behaviors or states. In other words, analyses were not performed to obtain codes.
Table 3 Coding System for Selected Predictors

Description SPSS Name Code

Group Group Comparison =0
 Treatment = 1

Sex Sex Male = 0
 Female= 1

Initial Age Age Age at Detainment
 Minus Birthday

Length of StayinFac Date Release minus
 Date Retained

Recidivism RecedeAfterl5 Did Not Recede =0
 Recede = 1

 RecedeAfter30 Did Not Recede =0
 Recede = 1

 RecedeAfter45 Did Not Recede =0
 Recede = 1


The model-building process, in this case, was essentially the same process as used to choose which predictors were included in a final model by time point. First, separate models for each predictor were built, including only that predictor. Therefore, results do not reflect any control for other predictors. Full and restricted models were compared with reduction in deviance statistics, used to determine if the overall model that included any one predictor was statistically significantly better fitting than the model without that predictor. In other words, a -2LL difference statistic with associated [x.sup.2] significance test was used to decide whether or not to include a predictor in the final model. At the level of the specific predictor, a Wald statistic and associated significance test was used to evaluate each predictor within the full model if, and only if, the overall model was statistically significant. In this way, a final model that predicted tendency to recidivate drew on information at the overall model and specific predictor levels.

The list of possible predictors was reduced based on overall model fit indices and significance tests, then, combinations of statistically significant predictors were examined for interaction effects. None occurred, nor did any two predictors load together in any model. At each time point (after 15 days, after 30 days, after 45 days), when applicable, several possible models were posed, each of which only includes one predictor. The results of the aforementioned logistic regressions are described below.


This study sought to determine whether or not the provision of enhanced transition services would have a positive effect on the recidivism rate of youth in the treatment group. The models that were built to explore this question included the predictors described in Table 3. These were evaluated to determine whether or not any were possible predictors of recidivism. It is important to note that when youth recidivated, or returned to detention, they were only counted as recidivating once and were removed from the dataset for all subsequent time periods. Therefore, the post-release sample size decreased over time from the initial 144 youth to 132 at 15 days, 113 at 30 days, and 87 at 45 days, as presented in Table 7.

15 Days Post-release

At fifteen days after treatment, both initial age and group membership (whether the youth was in the treatment or non-treatment group) were significant predictors of the likelihood to recidivate at the 0.05 level. They both, also, had significant [x.sup.2] tests associated with them. They did not, however, load together in the same model. There was not a conclusive preponderance of evidence with which to choose a final model. Therefore, to choose between models, the results were compared with those of the 30 days post-release analyses. This was important because the results of the analysis at this time point alone did not provide sufficient evidence for a single, final model. Specifically, group membership or initial age could have been chosen as a predictor of the likelihood of the youth to recidivate. In the case of group membership, being in the treatment group lowered the likelihood of recidivism. Similarly, older students also had a lower likelihood of recidivating. While group membership was a priori more germane to the investigation, it could not, from these results, be determined which predictor was more appropriate. To investigate the situation further, the results at 30 days post-release were considered.

30 Days Post-release

The only predictor that persisted as significant at 30 days postrelease was treatment or non-treatment group membership. As a result, for this time point's final model, only that model with group membership as a predictor of recidivism was chosen. As indicated in the previous analyses for 15 days post release, the statistically significant effect of group membership at 30 days post release was used to conclude that group membership should be included in the final model of 15 days post release likelihood to recidivate.

At 30 days post-release, as previously stated, only group membership had a statistically significant effect on detainees' tendency to recidivate (see Table 5). Specifically, the chance a youth would recidivate in the treatment group was 36% of what it was for participants in the non-treatment group. Put differently, a youth in the treatment group had a 64% lower chance of recidivating than their comparison group counterpart. The effect of group membership on likelihood to recidivate was nearly identical in both the final models for 15 and 30 days.
Table 4 Results from analysis at 15 days

Predictor -2LL X2 Sig. B Exp Wald Sig.
 (B) Statistic

Sex 110.43 0.60 0.86 -0.26 0.77 0.57 0.81

Int Age 110.54 0.18 0.68 0.87 1.09 0.17 0.68

Length 108.60 1.70 0.20 -0.01 0.99 1.47 0.23

Total 110.19 0.41 0.52 -0.03 0.97 0.40 0.53

Group 106.62 3.98 0.04* -1.04 0.35 3.59 0.04 *

Table 5 Results from analysis at 30 days

Predictor -2LL X2 Sig. B Exp Wald Sig.
 (B) Statistic

Sex 110.43 0.60 0.86 -0.26 0.77 0.57 0.81

Int Age 110.54 0.18 0.68 0.87 1.09 0.17 0.68

Length 108.60 1.70 0.20 -0.01 0.99 1.47 0.23

Total 110.19 0.41 0.52 -0.03 0.97 0.40 0.53

Group 106.62 3.98 0.04* -1.04 0.35 3.59 0.04 *

45 Days Post-release

The results after 45 days were not as clear as they were at 15 and 30 days. For example, consider Table 6. No predictor significantly predicted the youth's tendency to recidivate. This section began by mandating a preponderance of evidence for any statistical conclusions, therefore no definite conclusions can be made about participants 45 days post release.
Table 6 Results from analysis at 45 days

Predictor -2LL X2 Sig. B Exp (B) Wald Statistic Sig.

Sex 130.41 0.14 0.71 0.32 1.37 0.14 0.71

Int Age 129.14 1.41 0.24 0.22 1.25 1.36 0.24

Length Stay 126.91 3.19 0.07 -0.17 0.98 2.70 0.10

Total Treat 129.58 0.97 0.33 -0.04 0.96 0.94 0.33

Group 130.11 0.44 0.51 -0.29 0.75 0.43 0.51

60, 90, and 120 Days Post-release

Data at these time points were collected, but not reported as they did not produce any statistically significant results. The total number of youth who recidivated/did not recidivate at each time point, from each group, are reported in Table 7. If youth recidivated at one time point they were not counted in the next time period. Stable parameter estimates were made difficult by the increasingly smaller sample size at each time point. Moreover, the diminishing sample size lowered the likelihood of finding a significant predictor of recidivism.
Table 7 Number of youth who recidivated/did not recidivate at
each time point

status groups 0 15 30 45 60 90
 days days days days days days

recidivated treatment 4 5 11 12 13

 non- 8 14 15 15 14

 total 12 19 26 27 27


 treatment 68 64 59 48 36 23

 non-treatment 76 68 54 39 24 10

 total 144 132 113 87 60 33


These data were analyzed using logistic regression to determine if membership in the treatment group would have a positive effect on the recidivism rate of youth with disabilities. Analyses indicate that at both 15 and 30 days after release, youth in the treatment group were less likely to recidivate. At 45 days and beyond, group membership, (ie., the provision of enhanced transition services), did not predict recidivism. Sex, ethnicity, type of disability, or type of offense, may have alternatively predicted, but detainees were nearly homogeneous with respect to these attributes so no inferences can be made. In conclusion, the models at 15 and 30 days both suggested a rather large effect of group membership. At both time points, the chance that a youth would recidivate decreased by approximately 64% if he/she was a member of the treatment group and received enhanced transition services.


As evidenced by the recent statistics on recidivism (Mulvey, 2011), successful re-entry into the community after release from a juvenile detention center is challenging for most youth. These challenges are even further exacerbated for youth with disabilities (Griller Clark & Mathur, 2010; Griller Clark & Uhruh, 2010). Therefore, it is exciting that the provision of enhanced transition services was a predictor for reducing recidivism for youth with disabilities in this study.

As previously stated, youth who were in the treatment group had a 64% lower chance of returning to detention than youth in the non-treatment group at 30 days post-release. This finding supports previous research in the field (Bullis & Yovanoff, 2002; Bullis et al., 2002) that has examined the post-release success of youth with disabilities and found that the time immediately after release is most critical to whether or not an individual will recidivate.

Although not statistically significant, it is clear that fewer youth in the treatment group than the non-treatment returned to detention (see Table 7). Also interesting is the fact that the significant predictors were combined and examined for interaction effects, but none occurred. In other words, while sex, initial age, and length of stay may have predicted participants' likelihood to recidivate, they did so uniquely; in combination they did not have a statistically significant effect on recidivism. These factors may have proven significant in a larger sample, which would encourage targeted support to specific subpopulations. Nevertheless, these findings clearly indicate that regardless of gender, age, or length of stay, detainees with special needs benefit from enhanced transition programming that is holistic and addresses academic, behavioral, and vocational goals.


This study has a number of limitations. One is the fact that the population could not be tracked after the age of eighteen which could explain why the likelihood to recidivate went down as age increased. However, this likelihood cannot be verified with data. It should be noted that in Arizona the age of majority or transfer to adult court is eighteen; therefore any previously detained youth who were arrested would be processed in adult court and be incarcerated in county jail or adult corrections. Follow-up of these individuals was beyond the scope of this project. Therefore, any conclusion on age as a predictor for recidivism cannot be made from this study. Also, data on the number of previous charges, arrests, and detentions for individual youth prior to the onset of the study was not obtained or included in the analysis. Collection of this data could have enhanced the findings.

Another limitation involves replication of the independent variable; the enhanced transition services as implemented might be difficult to replicate in another detention center. Each detention center is different in terms of population served, programming, geographic location, and available resources. In addition, it is unknown whether the youth in the treatment group may somehow have influenced youth in the non-treatment group, and if so what implications this may have had on their recidivism status. Finally, this was not a double-blind study, so there is the possibility of a Hawthorne Effect.

Several aspects of the model of analysis used might also limit the findings of this study. First, data were autocorrelated for everything except return to detention, meaning that participants were double counted if they did not recidivate. Therefore, the results at 15 days are related to the results at 30 days. Additionally, the analysis used a convenience sample that may not be representative of the whole population. All youth with disabilities were randomly assigned to either the treatment group or the non-treatment group. However, this was true only for those who were already identified as youth with disabilities. It is possible that there were youth with disabilities whose records were not received in a timely fashion or at all. Another limitation is the fact that the non-treatment group was treated as though they received no treatment at all when, in fact, they did receive basic transition services. Furthermore, although logistical regression can predict effectiveness of the program it is not an inferential statistical test and therefore cannot establish any causal relationships between predictors. Finally, Transition Specialists were not asked to log or document the number of hours spent with youth from each group. Therefore, the amount of time the Transition Specialists spent with youth in each group was not a variable that could be used to explore effective service models.


While the limitations are many, the implications of this study are important as well. It is conclusive that initial age and group membership predicted recidivism at 15 days post-release. Also notable at 15 days was the fact that the likelihood to recidivate decreased as age increased. As mentioned previously, this may be due to the fact that the population cannot be tracked after age eighteen. At 30 days post release, youth in the treatment group had a 64% lower chance of recidivating than their comparison group counterparts. This finding suggests that the transition services and the contact with the Transition Specialist that youth in the treatment group received had a carryover effect after release. The Transition Specialists were trained to provide comprehensive planning and individualized support for transition goals of each youth with disabilities in the detention center. It is evident that this one-on-one attention from the Transition Specialists was effective in providing a continuum of integrated services. Although the treatment was not significant at the.05 level after 30 days, perhaps the 12% chance of recidivating at 45 days post-release demonstrated by the youth in the treatment group is more effective than an alternative treatment, (or no treatment at all), would have been.

Also interesting is the fact that length of stay did not statistically matter. However, it cannot be stated that it had no effect at all. If it does matter, it is important to know by how much. If it does not matter, the benefits versus costs for detaining youth longer than 30 days may pose an interesting research question for future transition studies. Finally, further examination of what happens to the treatment effect after 45 days is warranted. Future researchers many choose to investigate what is significant about the 45-day marker. More specifically, what happens after that day that impacts the effectiveness of the treatment? Perhaps more youth are moving into adulthood or heading to other types of incarceration.


This article describes a quasi-experimental study exploring the difference between the provision of basic and enhanced transition services on the recidivism of youth with disabilities in juvenile detention. The findings suggest that students in the treatment group who received enhanced transition services showed a carryover effect after release. These enhanced services were successful at reducing the rate at which youth with disabilities returned to detention by 64%. This is a small investment to make in the lives of these youth, and a clear indication that correctional education providers need to go beyond the mandates of the IDEA in transition planning for this hard to serve population.


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Correspondence to Heather Griller Clark, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University, PO Box 8715411, Tempe, AZ 85287-5411; e-mail:

Heather Griller Clark Sarup R. Mathur Brandon Helding Arizona State University
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Author:Clark, Heather Griller; Mathur, Sarup R.; Helding, Brandon
Publication:Education & Treatment of Children
Date:Nov 1, 2011
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