School Supports for Students Impacted by Incarceration

School Supports for Students Impacted by Incarceration

Erin M. Sappio, Jessica Howland
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9209-0.ch009
(Individual Chapters)
No Current Special Offers


This chapter describes the academic, behavioral, and mental health impact incarceration has on youth. It describes ways school counselors, school psychologists, and teachers can offer support for students during and post incarceration, as well as ways school personnel can support students with incarcerated parents. Implications for schools to intervene on behalf of the student impacted by incarceration and areas for future research are offered. Understanding educationally based supports available to children who are incarcerated or who have incarcerated parents can enhance outcomes for those youth. Counselors working with these youth in mental health settings can share knowledge of school-based supports with the families of affected youth. Counselors can also consult with school personnel to ensure affected youth are receiving appropriate services.
Chapter Preview


The global well-being of youth is impacted when a student or their parent is incarcerated. Since students spend a significant amount of their young lives in school, school personnel are in a unique position to observe, monitor, and intervene on behalf of the impacted student. The objectives of this chapter are as follows:

  • 1.

    Understand the impact that incarceration has on a student’s academic performance, physical health, and mental health.

  • 2.

    Understand the impact that parental incarceration can have on a student’s health and academic performance.

  • 3.

    Identify the roles school counselors, school psychologists, and teachers play when a student is incarcerated.

  • 4.

    Identify the roles school counselors, school psychologists, and teachers play when a student’s parent is incarcerated.

  • 5.

    Offer implications for schools to intervene on behalf of a student impacted by incarceration.

  • 6.

    Identify areas for future research to help support students in school who are impacted by incarceration.



In 2017, approximately 43,580 children were held overnight in a juvenile justice system residential placement (Children’s Defense Fund, 2021). In 2019, 653 children were incarcerated in adult prisons (Children’s Defense Fund, 2021). Ninety-three thousand school-age youth are arrested and incarcerated on any given day (National Juvenile Justice Network, 2009). Regardless of whether in juvenile or adult detention centers, the number of incarcerated children of color is significantly disproportionate to the number of White children. An estimated 2.7 million children had a parent who was incarcerated in 2020 (National Institute of Corrections, 2021). In total, almost three million American children are impacted by incarceration yearly. Children and adolescents who are incarcerated experience challenges to their physical, cognitive, and mental health development, as well as decreased future economic and social opportunities (Sawyer, 2019). Children with incarcerated parents (IP) are more likely to have school problems and less school engagement than their unaffected peers (Murphey & Cooper, 2015). Children with IP also have less parental monitoring of relationships and risky behaviors and greater levels of emotional difficulties (Murphey & Cooper, 2015). These hardships reveal the need for intense support services.

Educational systems can provide much needed assistance to both children who are in the juvenile justice system and youth with IP. The Committee on the Rights of the Child (2019) asserts that the child justice system should provide adequate education for the release and reintegration of the child into society; furthermore, children in juvenile justice systems have a right to an education that is appropriate for their needs and abilities; however, students in juvenile justice facilities receive fewer educational hours per week than students in public schools (Office for Civil Rights, 2016). Furthermore, two thirds of incarcerated youth do not return to school to obtain a high school diploma or GED (Roy-Stevens, 2004).

In contrast to the educational outcomes for incarcerated students, typically developing children in the United States spend approximately 1,000 hours per year in school (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2021.) Given this significant amount of concentrated time with responsible adults who can monitor progress and intervene when necessary, the local school system can be a tremendous asset for students with IP.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Individualized Education Program (IEP): The IEP is a legal document under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act which specifies the special education services that a student will receive through the public school district. The IEP is written by the child study team, consisting of a representative from the school district, the case manager, a parent, a regular education teacher, and a special education teacher. Goals and objectives are based upon identified needs through evaluations conducted by the child study team.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL): SEL refers to a process through which students learn skills to manage their emotions and enhance their self-confidence. SEL programming refers to school-based activities and classroom management styles which deliver SEL goals to students.

American School Counselor Association (ASCA): ASCA is an organization, with over 40,000 members, which advocates for the best practices of school counselors. This organization advocates for research-based practices which support school counselors in their work with children.

Multitiered Systems of Support (MTSS): An MTSS framework is an approach used by schools to give students supports at different levels. Student data is collected at each stage of intervention to monitor progress. Stages range from preventative practices such as social emotional learning programming which are given to all students in the school, to individualized practices which are given to targeted students.

National Association of School Psychologists (NASP): NASP is an organization with over 25,000 members which advocates for best practices for school psychologists. This organization advocates for practices to advance student learning, behavior, and mental health. Roughly 30 pages of sample writing from the book.

Intervention and Referral Services Team: An intervention and referral services team is a general education, student progress monitoring team. Typically, the team consists of a school counselor, a school nurse, and at least one teacher. The team can create short-term interventions for students to assist them when they are having a hard time. When those services are not enough, students can be referred for a higher level of services, such as a 504 plan or child study team evaluation.

Pupil Assistance Team: A pupil assistance team is another name for an intervention and referral services team.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires public schools to offer students a free appropriate public education, also known as FAPE. Student programming for special education students is measured against the standard of FAPE, particularly when ensuring that students have appropriate special education services offered to them through their Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): ADA is a civil rights law, enacted in 1990, to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities within agencies receiving federal financial assistance.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): IDEA is a federal law which ensures the rights of children with disabilities to receive a free, appropriate public education between the ages of 3 and 21. IDEA specifies the regulations regarding evaluations, parental involvement, and services to be given.

Related Services: Related services are services given to a student through an IEP to help them make developmentally appropriate progress in school. Some examples include school-based counseling, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, nursing services, and positive behavioral supports.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: