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Special Education within Correctional Facilities

Info: 2242 words (9 pages) Essay
Published: 19th Apr 2021 in Education

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Special education programs within correctional facilities do not meet all necessary and required services for individuals with . Federal laws state the obligations of public agencies in providing mandated services. Many challenges and difficulties are faced by correctional facilities in providing these programs, but this does not negate the allocated responsibilities of each system. Incarcerated juveniles with disabilities have been neglected of adequate teacher qualifications, accurately implemented IEP’s, and provision of related services. The inefficiency of services can be discovered through the lack of policy implementations.


Racial and socioeconomic factors play a role in many aspects of society. Education is no exception. The caliber of work a student produces is not always due to a lack of effort. Outside factors in the home environment, such as marital relationships or financial issues, can influence work productivity and attitude. Future academic and behavioral tendencies then become visible. Therefore, educators are tasked with the responsibility to design effective learning environments and create materials that fulfill educational and state standards. Sufficient services are required to be provided, including special education.

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Educational systems consist of intervention systems for students that need additional support in specific areas. A response to intervention often simulates a tiered system of levels I, II, and III. Tier I is whole group, which is where all students receive instruction. Tier II instruction is for students who have fallen below the expected benchmark level and is visible as small group assistance. Tier III instruction is for high-risk students who are considered as candidates for special education services. Through research, special education has been found to be inadequate within school systems. Records found that inadequacies correlated with incarceration rates (Ingalls, Hammond, & Trussell, 2012). Students who are identified as having learning disabilities or emotional disturbances and are involved in subpar education, or special education services, are sent to correctional facilities at higher rates than their peers. These justice systems, which supposedly strive to make productive members of society, are not meeting special education requirements.

According to Burrell and Warboys (2009), “seventy percent of incarcerated youth suffer from disabling conditions, both identified and undiscovered.” The Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is prominent in these correctional facilities because such a drastic portion of the population is affected by education-related disabilities and eligible for special education (Burrell & Warboys, 2009). Despite this, less than forty percent of state prisons provide special education services. Therefore, the population within the facilities are highly uneducated and not equipped with tools to set them apart from criminal activity (Cate, 2010). Developing a program for adequate and appropriate special education within correctional facilities will not only provide the required services, but increase public safety through crime prevention.

Synthesis of Research

The inadequacies of special education within correctional facilities can be explored through the issues seen within policy implementations. The Education of All Handicapped Children Act mandates that all students, regardless of incarceration status, are entitled to free and appropriate education, which includes special education. Education of All Handicapped Children Act then became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. Research shows educational disabilities and academic failures are among the most prevalent characteristics of juveniles who reside in short and long-term sentences (Morris & Thompson, 2010). Common disabilities include emotional disturbances, other health impairments, language disabilities, multiple disabilities, and specific language disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and American Disabilities Act state that no qualified individual, regardless of age or disability type, can be excluded from participation. Correctional facility individuals are eligible for accommodations, for one cannot be denied services from public agencies. Current educational situations for inmates with a language disability or intellectual disability show that these inmates may not have the same access or ability to succeed in educational programs as other inmates. Guidelines determine that incarcerated special education students should leave prison with a GED, IEP diploma, or high school diploma. Conversely, required educational time within correctional facilities has dwindled to half the amount that nonincarcerated students are entitled to receive. Some states, such as New York, do not have sufficient resources to adequately serve a large portion of incarcerated youth (Cate, 2010). Furthermore, studies have shown that special education programs within correctional facilities are few and far between. The state of New York has only a total of fifteen special education programs out of the 63 prisons in the state. In 2007, Florida employed only fifty special education teachers for over seventeen thousand inmates (Cate, 2010). If the true goal of prison systems is to “decrease recidivism, then these programs should be available and accessible to all inmates” (Barnard-Brak & Sulak, 2010). Juvenile facilities receive federal funding and should, therefore, abide by policy statements.

Identification, location, and evaluation are detailed requirements under IDEA. Any adolescent suspected of having a learning disability needs to be referred for an evaluation that will be completed within a reasonable amount of time in order to determine if they are eligible for special education services (Morris & Thompson, 2010). Correctional facilities, in comparison to general public education, face increased difficulties in determining the presence or absence of a disability. School districts have a tendency to be reluctant in releasing academic records for juvenile delinquent students. The leisurely rate of academic processing can be correlated to the quick progression of youth through the system (Morris & Thompson, 2010). Past academic records, therefore, are difficult to obtain in a timely manner and cause additional evaluations to fly under the radar. Inmates proceed to be unidentified in their disability. Despite this knowledge, it is the responsibility of each facility to provide adequate and timely evaluations for the individuals.

The stated difficulties are paired with administrators who lack requisite qualifications to conduct evaluations. Teacher qualifications are a major issue within correctional facilities, with either insufficient staffing or staff without the appropriate qualification to conduct evaluations or programs (Burrell & Warboys, 2009). A majority of the time, any position that is unrelated to security is not essential and will remain unfulfilled after the previous teacher retires or transfers (Cate, 2010). Consequentially, employees within the criminal justice field, such as police offers, are consumed by the remainder of activities. Proper training to recognize and accommodate learning and intellectual endeavors is at risk. The facilities whom do benefit from a special education service are more often than not designed and directed by administrators who lack educational training. (Barnard-Brak & Sulak, 2010). This is detrimental because administrators are willing to increase prison populations, but are reducing the number of education programs. As a result, higher rates of recidivism occur (Cate, 2010).

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A lack of necessary teacher qualifications has led to incorrectly implemented IEPs. Under IDEA, all students are entitled to an IEP, which describes related and specific services needed for the student to achieve educational goals and the manner in which they should be provided. Due to juvenile justice systems having short-term students and a shortage of certified special education teachers, the adequate implementation of IEPs have not taken place. Prominent issues are seen with a failure to complete IEP meetings upon transfer to the system and IEPs not being correctly implemented during the stay. For those who did not previously have IEPs, generic IEPs are given that lack specificity which tailor to the student’s individual needs (Morris & Thompson, 2010). Inconsistencies, such as practices and allotted meeting times, are seen within the reports provided by the facility and those that are outlined on the IEP (Cate, 2010). The generic goals correspond solely to the services that are available at the facility. In some cases, no IEP is developed or followed (Morris & Thompson, 2010). The failure to provide stated services on an IEP disregards federal policies that are to be abided by under IDEA.

Among the outlines of IEPs, individuals have the possibility to be provided related services. Related services are identified in an IEP to help the student achieve maximum benefit of special education services. In regards to inmates, they “may be deprived of freedom but they should not also be deprived of an education tailored to their educational disabilities” (Cate, 2010). Insufficient funding for educational services in correctional facilities causes policies to continue to be incorrectly implemented. Inmates with language disabilities do not have access to programs that would assist in addressing their behaviors and making a future transition into society any easier. A majority of intervention programs are verbal in nature, so they are not beneficial for those with communication difficulties (Barnard-Brak & Sulak, 2010). Facilities lack bilingual instructors that would be efficient in supporting English language learners within the system (Cate, 2010). Other related services, although not directly stated, are bound to be in shortage as well.


 Awareness of the inadequacies of special education within correctional facilities is visible. The guidelines in providing these services are clearly stated within federal laws. Despite federal legislature maintaining a call to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities, “ongoing failures to provide adequate special education services to those incarcerated persist in many states today” (Cate, 2010). According to the findings, acknowledgement of the deficits is being ignored. Therefore, the disabling conditions of the facilities are leaving inmates with disabilities at a highly uneducated status. Appropriate differential instruction is not being supplied to individuals with the correct documents. Instead, inmates are left with no access to supporting services and a reduction in possible improvement for society post incarceration (Ingalls, Hammond & Trussell, 2012). Entitlement to services should not be trumped by incarceration.


The research literature has shown that there is an abundant number of individuals with disabilities within short-term and long-term correctional facilities. The disabilities of the inmates can range from academic to behavioral and emotional to mobility capabilities. Although state and federal courts have declared that federal legislations apply to incarcerated individuals, various instances have shown that inmates with disabilities have not been receiving the proper special education services they are entitled. Therefore, the inadequacy of special education has become among one of the most pressing issues identified within the juvenile justice system. Future steps should focus on each facility recognizing and addressing the gaps seen within their educational system. Required training is necessary for employees to organize and deliver explicit curriculum which will focus on the individual needs of the inmate. Training should also provide instruction on noticing the gaps within the system and outlining how to proceed appropriately in each individual’s case. Special education not only increases academics but has the possibility to increase involvement in society, due to social interactions with one another.


  • Barnard-Brak, L., & Sulak, T. N. (2010). Literacy, learning disabilities and their association with imprisonment. Corrections Compendium.
  • Burrell, S., & Warboys, L. (2009). Special education and the juvenile justice system. PsycEXTRA Dataset.
  • Cate, E. (2010). Teach your children well: Proposed challenges to inadequacies of correctional special education for juvenile inmates. Social Change, New York University Review of Law, 34.
  • Ingalls, L., Hammond, H., & Trussell, R. (2012). An Evaluation of Past Special Education Programs and Services Provided to Incarcerated Young Offenders. At-Risk Issues, 16.
  • Morris, R. J., & Thompson, K. C. (2008). Juvenile Delinquency and Special Education Laws: Policy Implementation Issues and Directions for Future Research. Journal of Correctional Education, 59(2), 173-190.


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