Stakeholders' view of implementing positive behavioral support in a juvenile justice setting.
Behavior therapy (Analysis)
Juvenile corrections (Methods)
Houchins, David E.
Jolivette, Kristine
Wessendorf, Suana
McGlynn, Megan
Nelson, C. Michael
Pub Date:
Name: Education & Treatment of Children Publisher: West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia Audience: Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Family and marriage; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2005 West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia ISSN: 0748-8491
Date: Nov, 2005 Source Volume: 28 Source Issue: 4
Canadian Subject Form: Behaviour therapy
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
Full Text:

School-wide positive behavioral support (PBS) emphasizes the importance of using proactive strategies for defining, teaching, and supporting appropriate student behaviors. Positive behavior support is increasingly being used to create positive school environments. While numerous public schools have successfully adopted a PBS model, minimal information is known about its implementation in Juvenile Justice settings. The purpose of this study was to provide data on the implementation of PBS in a juvenile justice setting. A focus group comprised of administrators, teachers, and clinical personnel in a juvenile justice facility in a Midwestern state were asked about the implementation of PBS within their setting. Data were analyzed using the Constant Comparative Method. Findings included eight interrelated themes: (a) ecological congruence, (b) role clarity, (c) philosophical shift and agreement, (d) cache of pro active / preventative strategies, (e) consistent practices, (f) logistics, (g) data-based decision making, and (h) achievement outcomes. Discussion is provided on how themes might be used to guide the implementation of PBS in otheriuvenile Justice settings.


Positive behavioral support (PBS) focuses on the prevention of academic and social failure through a three-tier system. The first tier, primary / universal interventions, focuses on enhancing protective factors within the environment to prevent youth from experiencing failure. The second tier, secondary / targeted interventions, focuses on providing support to youth, for whom the first tier was not effective, through more specific strategies. The third tier, tertiary / intensive interventions, is for youth whose behaviors were not positively affected by the first two tiers and focuses on comprehensive and individualized strategies with additional support from persons (e.g., behavioral consultants, mental health, social work) and environments (e.g., school, home, community).

The PBS literature is replete with examples of the effectiveness of PBS on student academic and social performance across the three tiers within public school settings. For example, at the universal tier an overall reduction of 46% in office discipline referrals, 46% reduction per student for disruption, and a 55% reduction per student for fighting occurred after 2 years of implementation for an urban elementary school (McCurdy, Mannella, & Eldridge, 2003). In another urban elementary school, school-wide PBS efforts resulted in a 61% reduction in SAFE (in-school suspension) and a 65% reduction in out-of-school suspensions (Scott, 2001). At the targeted tier, reductions in the number of talk-outs, incomplete assignments, and out-of-seat behaviors were observed across three classrooms (Lohrmann & Talerico, 2004). At the intensive tier, decreases in problem behavior and negative student-adult interactions and increases in engagement were observed across activities and transitions for a student in a middle school (Clarke, Worcester, Dunlap, Murray, & Bradley-Klug, 2002). In another intensive tier example, inappropriate behaviors decreased across several students when intensive interventions were matched to the function of their inappropriate behaviors (Newcomer & Lewis, 2004). In addition, the literature provides examples of effective PBS across elementary (e.g., Lane & Mezies, 2003; Netzel & Eber, 2003), middle (e.g., Luiselli, Putnam, & Sunderland, 2002; Warren et al., 2003), and high school (e.g., Bohanon-Edmonson, Flannery, Eber, & Sugai, 2004) applications as well as districtwide and state-wide (e.g., Hawaii: Nakasato, 2000; Illinois: EBD / PBIS Network-IL, 2004; New Hampshire: Muscott et al., 2004; Oregon: Nersesian, Todd, Lemann, & Watson, 2000; Virginia: Shannon, Daly, Malatchi, Kvarfordt, & Yoder, 2001 initiatives.

Those students with severe behavioral challenges within restrictive settings were the first to receive positive behavioral supports (PBS). Over the years, PBS applications have been extended to those with challenging behaviors in less restrictive settings and most currently to all students with and without disabilities within school systems, most notably in elementary and middle schools (Carr et al., 2002). In fact, Carr and colleagues state, "there is growing evidence that PBS is undergoing a rapid extension to other populations" (p. 14). The application and extension of PBS practices to juvenile correctional settings has yet to occur. In recent years, researchers have posited that such an extension is warranted as well as feasible (Scott, Nelson, Liaupsin, Jolivette, Christle, & Riney, 2002). Youth who are in juvenile correctional settings are likely to display academic and social deficits and be eligible for educational services through IDEA (Burrell & Warboys, 2000); thus, eligible for positive behavioral supports.

Positive behavioral supports across the three tiers may be exemplified in correctional settings through the following examples. Juveniles within correctional facilities may need a broader and more appropriate repertoire of academic and social skills so as to function within the facility as well as transition back into their neighborhood school and community. At the first tier, universal interventions may be put in place which focus on an agreed upon set of expected behaviors that are taught, modeled, and reinforced across and by all education staff as well as security, cottage, and treatment staff with the support of data-based changes to the facilities educational environment and routines. In addition, contingent reinforcement may be provided to youth by all facility staff for compliance with the expected behaviors as well as for displays of the appropriate, alternative replacement behaviors. For juveniles in which the universal interventions are not promoting the desired positive effects on their academic and social performance, the second tier would be put in place. At the targeted tier, educational staff within the facility may focus on the groupings of these juveniles to target more specific academic deficits through small group direct instruction reading classes or remedial instruction and on more specific social deficits through small group social skill classes or conflict resolution classes. Additionally at this tier, all facility staff may provide youth with pre-corrections, opportunities for the youth to self-assess their academic and / or social behavior, and levels systems based on appropriate, expected behaviors. For a small percentage of the juveniles at the facilities, neither the universal or targeted tiers will be effective in addressing all their academic and social problems. For these youth, it will be important for the third tier, intensive interventions, to be implemented. At this tier, the educational staff at the facility may focus on interagency collaboration between the juvenile court, public school, and mental health as well as with the family to provide highly individualized services such as person-centered planning and wraparound planning to support the youth within the facility and plan for the transition of the youth back into the community. Youth with needs at this tier also may require academic / social curricular accommodations identified through functional behavioral assessment and implemented through behavioral intervention plans.

The reasons for the extension of PBS into juvenile correctional settings are many. First, juveniles being provided with educational services within juvenile correctional settings need to be afforded systematic and effective instruction that teaches and reinforces appropriate academic and / or social replacement behaviors. Research suggests that those who engage in antisocial behavior as youth probably also experienced academic and / or social failures during earlier years (Kerr & Nelson, 2002; Walker & Sprague, 1999). In particular, these youth typically are functioning well below their same-age peers in the areas of overall intellectual ability and academic achievement while also displaying significant deficits in core areas (e.g., reading, writing) (Foley, 2001). Second, these juveniles need to be provided with preventative and proactive services that address their unique needs. For instance, if patterns of failure are evident, then such patterns can be reconstituted to result in success (Scott, Nelson, & Liaupsin, 2001). Thus, we can prevent predictable failures. Juveniles within correctional settings come with unique needs and educational histories and experiences. Third, these juveniles need to be provided with consistent levels of support during and prior to transitioning back into the community (Leone, Christle, Nelson, Skiba, Frey, & Jolivette, 2003). The juvenile correctional setting can be thought of as a "host environment" to improve and support effective practices (Sugal et al., 2000). In doing so, the juvenile correctional setting may serve as a venue for multiple levels of prevention across its population and the settings within (i.e., educational unit, housing unit, recreational unit). Although youth within juvenile correctional settings are not homogenous, they should be provided with a continuum of preventative levels of support that are (a) comprehensive across the setting, (b) durable in a variety of contexts, (c) relevant to the youth's short- and long-term needs, and (d) positive with a focus on teaching, modeling, and reinforcing appropriate behaviors and skills. Research suggests that the prevention and remediation of academic and social problems are not being implemented at various intensities across the levels of prevention (McEvoy & Welker, 2000; Sugai et al., 2000).

The four main PBS elements that intersect and influence all PBS activities include outcomes, practices, data, and systems. From a model shift viewpoint (traditional correctional model to a PBS model), these elements may need to be altered to fit within JJ settings. For example, outcomes are the short- and long-term academic and social goals youth are to achieve through PBS activities which are agreed upon and supported by stakeholders. Although the general academic and social youth outcomes in JJ settings will be similar to those in typical public school settings (e.g., students reading at or near grade level, one or fewer office discipline referrals), the invested stakeholders will be different. In JJ settings, stakeholders would include mental health caregivers, security personnel, educational staff, school administrators, and facility administrators to name a few. It will be important that all stakeholders agree on how to address the concerns of time, training, and belief systems as these stakeholders may wield power to make proactive changes (e.g., schedule changes to promote training across stakeholders). Practices are another PBS element that needs to be addressed. Practices include the evidence-based strategies and interventions (identified and agreed upon by the stakeholders) that emphasize youth growth and development. For those in JJ settings, it may take time, training, and a change in beliefs to be able to identify and agree on strategies and interventions that are appropriate within the confines of a JJ setting. This may mean that for some stakeholders, they need to try new strategies and interventions and for others this may mean ending the use of some currently used strategies and interventions. In addition, a focus on skill building and safety with consistency in implementation for whatever strategies and interventions are agreed upon will need to occur. The third PBS element, data, refers to using data to make programmatic and procedural decisions in relation to PBS practices. That is, using the data to determine what is effective or not effective in reaching the short- and long-term goals set for the youth. In JJ settings, it will be imperative that data be shared across stakeholders. This may mean that cottage staff, night staff, and security need to debrief with educational staff in the morning as to the effects of the strategies and interventions being implemented with suggested modifications and to also receive updates from educational staff as to youth behaviors. The last PBS element, systems, is directly linked to outcomes, practices, and data. Systems refer to all the environments in which the youth live and interact. Systems also are the primary difference in juvenile justice settings and school settings implementation of PBS. For JJ settings, this includes the school, cottages, and recreation / leisure (e.g., after school programs). As the PBS model is implemented within JJ settings, the stakeholders need to agree on how the existing systems will influence and support PBS efforts. For example, in a JJ setting should PBS be system-wide meaning that PBS is implemented simultaneously across school, cottage, and recreation / leisure environments? Or may PBS be started in the school environment and then generalized into the other two environments. Unlike typical school settings, JJ-PBS activities may need to step beyond the current 8:30-3:30 pm model and move to a comprehensive 24 hour model. Within JJ settings, the changes needed to systematically and comprehensively implement PBS activities are many and will begin with alterations to personnel time, training, and belief shifts.

The purpose of this study was to identify common issues and concerns associated with the implementation of PBS in a juvenile justice setting. To date, minimal data are available on how PBS is being implemented in juvenile justice settings. Using a focus group format, stakeholders from a juvenile justice facility were asked questions dealing with the implementation of PBS in their facility. The goal was to develop common themes that could provide information on the applicability of PBS within juvenile justice settings and what PBS may look like within juvenile justice settings.



During an all day site visit at the Iowa Juvenile Home / Girls State Training School, three focus groups (administrators, teachers, clinical staff) were formed. Administrators consisted of six individuals including the Iowa Juvenile Home Superintendent, the Educational Program Principal, an Educational Administrator, the Treatment Services Director, the Public Service Executive, and the State Director for the Iowa Department of Human Services. The nine teachers included one math teacher, one English teacher, a science teacher, one fine arts teacher, two Title One reading teachers, two vocational education teachers, and one school behavioral interventionist. Teachers were certified in their area and in special education. The seven members of the clinical treatment staff team consisted of one cottage director, three youth service workers, one treatment director, one youth counselor, and one youth service technician. All participants had been trained in PBS over the last 1 1/2 years through an agreement with the state of Iowa. PBS had been implemented in the facility since the training started. All participants worked at the Iowa Juvenile Home / Girls State Training School. See Table 1 for a description of participants.

Facility Description

The Iowa Juvenile Home / Girls State Training School is located in Toledo, Iowa on 37 acres and is Iowa's only primary female juvenile justice facility. The Iowa Juvenile Home (IJH) was first established in 1920 as a home for orphans on a former college campus. The IJH operates as a comprehensive non-secure residential treatment facility. This type of facility provides care and treatment for youth who are cannot live in a family situation due to social, emotional, or physical disabilities. The level of supervision is determined by the individual treatment plan developed by facility personnel. Services include individual, family, and group treatment. Control rooms, locked cottages, mechanical restraints, and chemical restraints may be used when appropriate.

All residents are placed only after adjudication by the Iowa court system. Youth are housed in 5 gender specific cottages, allowing for 20 beds for males and 64 for females. The Clinical Department coordinates treatment for all 5 cottages. Cottages are staffed at night through the Security Department. The Clinical Department is responsible for medical services, psychological services, counseling services, recreation, and security.

The Herbert Hoover Junior / Senior High School is located on the campus. The educational program at the IJH is year round (252 days). During 2004, the Iowa Juvenile Home / Girls State Training School served 229 youth. General information about the type of youth who attend the school include: (a) being in ten home placements prior to admission to Iowa Juvenile Home, (b) being at least 2.1 grade levels below in academics, (c) having their first sexual intercourse experience by age 12, and (d) starting illegal drug use at thirteen years of age. Demographics of the youth served in the Iowa Juvenile Home program during the 2003-2004 school year are provided in Table 2.


Questions were developed based on the positive behavioral support literature. The questions were as follows: (1) What elements of PBS do you see in your program now?, (2) What elements of PBS do you see missing from your program now?, (3) How would you assess the compatibility of the PBS model to your assessment / treatment approach?, (4) What are the barriers you face in the full implementing the PBS model?, (5) What training needs do you have in implementing the PBS model?, and (6) What are the potential / actual benefits of PBS implementation in your setting? These questions were asked by a facilitator familiar with the focus group method and the nuances of the facility. He encouraged participant discussion and maintained neutrality. Detailed notes were typed into a computer and projected on a screen for all participants to view for accuracy. All authors, except the second, observed as the focus groups were asked the questions. By not attending the focus group, the second author served as an external safeguard against bias during the analysis of the data by only having access to the typed participant comments.

Data Analysis Procedures

The Constant Comparative Method of analysis (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) was used. The Constant Comparative Method is a well established qualitative method where data are analyzed to generate grounded theory. This method was used since the focus of the research was on developing common themes or categories related to the implementation of PBS in juvenile justice. According to Hutchinson (1988, p. 135), "comparative analysis forces the researcher to 'tease out' the emerging category by searching for its structure, temporality, cause, context, dimensions, consequences and its relationship to other categories." This was accomplished by taking the following steps:

1. Two researchers carefully examined the transcripts of participant comments to agree upon the relevancy of the data. Irrelevant data were discarded and not used in the analysis. Data were determined to be irrelevant if both researchers agreed that it was off topic and did not address one of the six questions asked during the focus group.

2. Researchers organized the data according to cohesive units of information. Unit sizes varied in length based on how well each sentence expressed a consistent thought or idea.

3. Researchers independently examined the unitized data for themes. Themes were developed based on similar data patterns across participant comments.

4. Researchers collectively reviewed the themes developed independently. Consistent information units were agreed upon. Inconsistent information units were eliminated.

5. Agreed upon themes were examined for their completeness and reviewed for their interrelationships.

During this process, the reliability and validity of the data and findings were taken into consideration. Reliability of the data was increased by having the data inspected multiple times by five researchers. This was done both orally and in written form. Validity of the data was increased by conducting a members' check where the facilitator asked each staff member about their agreement with the typed notes. Notes were rewritten when necessary to reflect their comments. Extensive quotes also were used to increase validity. Quotes are provided in the results section of this manuscript. Finally, validity was increased through the triangulation of data. All but one of the authors observed the focus groups, took notes, and then compared their notes to the notes of the focus group facilitator.


The findings produced eight interconnected themes including: (a) ecological congruence, (b) role clarity, (c) philosophical shift and agreement, (d) cache of pro active / preventative strategies, (e) consistent practices, (f logistics, (g) data-based decision making, and (h) achievement outcomes. See Figure 1 for a graphic representation of the findings. Each is described below.


Ecological Congruence

Ecological congruence focuses on issues of how PBS is unique in a juvenile justice setting. Ecological congruence is at the core of what makes juvenile justice positive behavioral support (JJ-PBS) different than what occurs in general schools. It influences all other themes necessary to establish JJ-PBS. It was the common subject discussed by participants that influenced all other aspects of JJ-PBS. The ecological congruence of JJ-PBS is vital if it is to be integrated into facilities and valued byjuvenile justice personnel.

When considering the ecological congruence of JJ-PBS, participants indicated the difficulty of changing from a correctional model to a PBS model. A correctional model focuses on power, punishment, and expediency. Security is the primary concern of the correctional model. In contrast, a JJ-PBS model centers on giving students more control over their lives, positive reinforcement, and long-term change. While not unfamiliar to juvenile justice personnel, the concept of PBS is in contrast to the traditional punitive correctional model. One administrator indicated, "these concepts [PBS] don't seem to be alien concepts to what we have been doing. A major barrier is when the State imposes a rigid correctional model as the expectation."

Ecological congruence serves as an umbrella for all the other themes described below. The remaining themes are all influenced directly or indirectly by how well PBS is integrated or is perceived to integrate into juvenile justice settings. All themes should be viewed through the lens of ecological congruence.

Role Clarity

Role clarity addresses concerns of power, position, and policies. Participants expressed feelings of ambiguity in a JJ-PBS model where students are given more power. A teacher stated, "we are putting up with some things we didn't tolerate before." The inference is that they were giving up control. Clinical staff also specified concerns with control but appeared to turn the issue of control into something positive. A clinical staff member indicated, "[There are] issues of power. In the long-run kids are more involved. Your really aren't giving up power you are gaining.

Closely related to power is the idea of position. The school had hired an interventionist to better address student behavioral problems. Students were referred to the interventionist for behavioral problems that interfered with their education. The interventionist often provided the students with counseling. Previously, teachers had provided such services. Teachers expressed a loss in their therapeutic role and ability to work with students on an emotional level.

Finally, participants expressed ambiguity with conflicting policies. As one teacher indicated', "[There is] some ambiguity in how we are operating." The policies developed under the correctional model are in conflict with those under a JJ-PBS model. The participants expressed uncertainty with which policy model should be followed. For example, the correctional model policies concentrate on punishment and removal of students from the classroom. The PBS model suggests a different approach. The emphasis is more on addressing the specific behavioral needs of the youth and dealing with problems through teaching. Modeling, and reinforcing appropriate replacement behaviors.

Philosophical Shift and Agreement

Philosophical shift and agreement is a concern with changing staff s beliefs and thinking processes. More comments were made about this theme than any other one. Changing from a correctional model to a JJ-PBS model takes time, self-awareness, and reflection. It has to do with moving away from an 'I gotcha [being bad] model"' as one administrator said. Teachers acknowledged, *'it is hard for us to give up old ways." Clinical staff commented, "we used to be compliance oriented. Now we are looking at what is happening and using skills such as teaching and coaching. The whole milieu has changed to how can we help rather than how can we catch [students] at what [they] are doing wrong."

They recognized that they regress back to the correctional model while striving toward a JJ-PBS model. An administrator commented, "as you make the shift, you have people who want to work in a strength-based but in times of crisis revert to control." This regression has to do with the fear and uncertainty that the JJ-PBS philosophy may not be effective. As a clinical staff indicated, "in our unit we had to change our philosophy in how we approach the children. How do we change so we don't overly focus on the history of what has happened? How do we look at the positive qualities, not just the problems? One of the most difficult sells here is the perception of some that we are not holding students accountable for behavior."

Cache of Proactive/Preventative Strategies

A cache of proactive/preventive strategies focuses on having a sufficient quantity of evidence-based interventions and appropriate reinforcers available in the classroom. The emphasis is on environmentally suitable interventions and reinforcers. Participants indicated that accessing reinforcers that are not contraband is a central concern. Common reinforcers used in general school settings such as pencils might be dangerous. The nature of the juvenile justice setting requires those who work in those settings to creatively identify strategies and reinforcers that motivate but do not compromise security efforts.

In addition to the concern about security, selected strategies should serve as a deterrence of future behavior problems. Participants indicated it was difficult to come up with "good things" to say and do for students. Reinforcement of what is simply expected takes time and practice. Emphasizing the positive and downplaying the negative requires a conscience effort.

Participants suggested there also are differences in strategies based on gender. According to an administrator, "in an institution serving females, acknowledgement may be particularly important." Participants indicated the need to have a repertoire of reinforcers. In addition, as the strength of the interventions/reinforcer dimishes, there will be a need to provide and implement alternative interventions/reinforcers.

Consistent Practices

Consistent practices with JJ-PBS address issues of settings, personnel, and time. Being consistent across all three areas takes personal awareness and coordination. Setting is a concern for where the youth and staff are located. One clinical staff member stated, "one barrier is communicating and coordinating across staff in the cottage or between cottages and schools. Night staff may still operate under a control model. It would be good if night staff could participant with our group." Youth spend portions of each day with three sets of personnel, educational staff, cottage staff, and night staff, across settings so consistency in behavioral expectations, strategies, and reinforcers is important.

The topic of personnel is another area that impacts JJ-PBS consistent practices. Participants indicated that there are varying approaches to discipline in the facility due to their different educational backgrounds. Security personnel, mental health caregivers, school administrators, facility administrators, and teachers have all been trained to implement philosophically different practices. For example, one current method being used is the Circle of Courage. This method of addressing behavioral issues is a cognitive-based approach to dealing with behavior. Positive behavioral support is a behavioral-based approach. Developing consistent practices across these very two different theoretical points of view can be a challenge.

Finally, participants indicated that having time to implement consistent practices is an issue. Seemingly simple issues like developing a common JJ-PBS language across settings can be perplexing without having the time to establish it. As one clinical staff member expressed, "I would like to see the language consistent across the cottages." A teacher voiced that the greatest barrier to developing consistent JJ-PBS practices was "time."

Despite all the potential barriers to developing consistent practices, it appears that progress is being made. As one administrator indicated, "what I find attractive is the integrative aspects of [PBS]. It presents a coherent model that can spread across the campus and various roles of persons in the program." It appears that consistent practices have the potential to be implemented over time.


Logistics highlights the issue of time. Participants indicated having enough time for training, collaboration, communication, and coordination as being a problem. Unlike general public education, Juvenile justice personnel must be concerned with organizing staff working around the clock and year long. Finding the time for day and night personnel to get together is a challenge. Additionally, there are other types of staff who must collaborate when implementing JJ-PBS as compared to general public schools. Security personnel, mental health caregivers, school administrators, facility administrators, and teachers all need to find time across a 24-hour time period to work together.

Logistics also deal with the common issue of finding time to learn and use new methods for addressing behavioral problems. Recent staff reductions have complicated the process. For example, a teacher referring to youth needing the intensive JJ-PBS tier of intervention commented, "there may be a significant amount of time associated with completing an FBA. It is a time concern. This should be better as we get more staff in our school program."

Finally, logistics also are associated with the personal time it takes to change. Change takes time and reflection. Being aware of one's personal beliefs while changing from a correctional model to a JJ-PBS model can be difficult. There were distinct differences between the three groups of personnel regarding their level of change. Administrators and clinical personnel indicated more progress as compared to teachers. Teachers seemed less positive about JJ-PBS.

Data-based Decision Making

Data-based decision-making revolve around valuing data, using data to make decisions, and having all personnel on board with the use of data. Valuing data is the first step to using data. As one administrator stated, "there are naysayers but the data and SWIS system is important in showing how this program is working. An employee may be resistant but data shows improvement. There are implications for significant improvement." It also was stated that there might be a need for a separate SWIS system just forjuvenile justice facilities due to the different documentation requirements of a Juvenile justice setting as compared to the general public school.

Using data to make decisions about students has increased. As the clinical staff indicated, "we did our first FBA on a kid who was driving us up the wall. We had to change our attitude in how we looked at behavior. It took us a while to get there ... This kid was constantly being restrained. Before she left, restraints ceased. This case got us on track." Teachers also acknowledged the usefulness of data. One teacher stated, "we have a tool (FBA). This information is used by a committee to help generate solutions. This is another method to help analyze the behaviors of a child. It helps unite use. It helps us with long-term focus with this child."

Finally, while many personnel are making decisions based on data, many still have not bought in to the process. As one administrator indicated, "our challenge continues in how to more completely involve all staff." The administrator admitted that it takes time to convince others. As more personnel have additional positive experiences with using data, the greater the chance others will buv-In to the process; thus, achieving the minimum 80% staff buy-in necessary for effective PBS.

Achievement Outcomes

The final theme is achievement outcomes. This theme was given the least amount of attention as compared to the other identified themes. Participants, particularly administrators, stated that they were aware that examining the impact of PBS on achievement was needed. They stated that one of their next goals was to connect PBS with achievement using data. When an administrator was asked if he could show measurable differences in rate of progress in academics, he indicated, "right now we can't. Our achievement is struggling with short staff situation. In building back, we expect this."

Another reason achievement had not been directly addressed was because they were still working on the basics of implementing PBS. Additionally, teachers were still dealing with the idea that JJ-PBS could improve academics. As one teacher said, "it does take teachers somewhat away from traditional classroom activities. It focuses on relationship development but there is an academic tradeoff here." This teacher was still grappling with the idea that improving behavior through PBS also may improve academics.


Ecological Congruence

The theme of ecological congruence is a critical factor in the implementation of PBS in juvenile justice settings. Participants discussed barriers such as communication with night staff at a 24-hour facility, rigid correctional expectations, and using reinforcers that would not be considered contraband. These observations represent an important barrier with the implementation of JJ-PBS, that is, the belief that using PBS may be completely opposite to how current practices are being implemented in correctional settings. The belief that the two systems (juvenile justice and PBS) are exclusive models, set the stage for failure. The desired outcomes of having safe and successful youth are usually very similar, but the approach used is different. Issues with safety and security are paramount when trying to implement any program in a juvenile justice setting. Safety and security are serious issues in the juvenile justice setting and need to be a strong component of any program to be implemented within JJ settings. Although it would be nice to believe that a complete shift from a correctional model to a PBS model would happen, change will not come easily or quickly until juvenile justice personnel deeply ingrained in the "correctional model" become comfortable with the fact that safety and security can be strong components of PBS. The goal of the two systems successfully blending together will probably be more successful than the belief that PBS wipes out all things "correctional." The PBS model takes into account the importance of safety and security. The outcome of safe and successful youth is shared by both systems and building on that may be more productive than competing for control.

Absent from this focus group were night shift staff and security personnel which represents a common problem encountered while attempting to implement a new/different program in juvenile justice settings. The PBS model challenges a "rigid correctional model" to shift from reactive and punishing practices to incorporate more proactive and positive practices. PBS has been developed in school settings where staff (teachers and administrators) generally work the same hours and there is allocated time for staff to meet as a group. This does not hold true for staff within JJ settings and poses a serious barrier to the overall transition to a JJ-PBS.

Implementing PBS in JJ schools only covers about one-third of the day for youth. The school setting may be the appropriate place to start but a systematic plan that addresses the rest of the time needs to be a well-developed component of JJ-PBS. Education, treatment, and other types of programming may be viewed as being separate in the evening as compared to during the day. To implement the PBS model that has been successful in public schools, the time frames in which it is supported, taught, and expected may very well need to be expanded to meet the needs of the youth and staff in the JJ facility. Teachers, interventionists, and administrators may have to re-examine their expectations and work varying shifts to train and model PBS efforts if PBS is to be successful outside of the classroom setting and across all JJ settings. If PBS is to be implemented system-wide, all shifts and staff should be considered during the planning stages. Thus, for youth to achieve the maximum positive effects of PBS, seamless implementation is required.

Role Clarity

Change can be difficult and cause role ambiguity. This may be even more so in a correctional setting than a public school. Correctional settings have a history of having long established policies and procedures that are rigidly followed. The tendency is towards a military position rather than a consensus building one. Evolving from an inflexible setting where minimal decision-making is done beyond the administrative level, to a PBS model that necessitates that personnel be more involved in how behavioral issues are addressed, can be perplexing. It may take a great deal of personal reflection by staff to examine their own leadership and that of administration for PBS to be viable within JJ settings.

Role ambiguity also was caused by the addition of the interventionist. Teachers were still adjusting to having an interventionist whose specific role was to address student behavioral issues. Having the interventionist now attending to most student behavioral situations seemed to remove the teachers from a role that was reinforcing for them, counseling youth. Removing this reinforcer caused conflict and confusion. The administration may consider creating a situation where teachers are given an opportunity to interact with students under circumstances that are as rewarding as counseling. It is possible that juvenile justice teachers selected their teaching job for different reasons as compared to public school teachers.

Cache of Proactive/Preventative Strategies

The participants in this study voiced a concern about accessing reinforcers that would not be considered contraband as a serious problem when developing appropriate, alternative strategies to support positive behaviors in youth. This highlighted the distinction between education and other areas of the facility. The reinforcers for positive behavior do not need to come from the school setting only. Some correctional settings have used facility-wide reinforcers such as extra TV time, extra phone calls, and popcorn on movie nights to support positive behavior in the classroom. Again, the distinction between education and time outside of the school as completely unrelated systems hinders the ability to design interventions appropriate for the entire juvenile justice setting. Housing unit staff would probably be able to generate a long list of reinforcers that would have a positive impact on youth behavior in the classroom setting. As PBS is implemented system-wide, the input from all areas can be very valuable in the design of system-wide reinforcers along with a facility-wide plan for the delivery of these reinforcers.

Consistent Practices

As teachers, administrators, and clinical staff discuss the challenges of implementing PBS in JJ settings, there needs to be awareness that there will be many different beliefs about the pui-pose of corrections. In a public school setting, it is rare that you find a staff member who believes that the youth in school are there because they need to be punished. This may or may not be true in a JJ setting. The staff in a correctional setting will have much more variance in what they believe their role is than that of public school staff. To have a consistent set of practices that could be used by all staff will take coordination from the facility administration and finding of "common ground" could very well take more time in JJ settings. For example, the mission statement of the JJ facility could be re-visited and edited with staff input across specialties (e.g., education, security, day/night, treatment staff) to promote buy-in for the PBS model. This PBS component of "buy-in" will probably need to be considered more acutely in a JJ setting than a public school setting. As staff make changes in their behavioral expectations, they also will need to see the expectation modeled for them. A security staff may need to see the positive behavioral support practices modeled successfully before they can be expected to make a dramatic shift in their job expectations. As with any behavioral change, either staff or student, the new behavior needs to be taught, practiced, and reinforced before it can be successful. A possible way to deal with this is to develop what each "division" would consider success for a student and then develop a way to reach that goal using positive behavior supports. From this, a facility could develop a system-wide plan for the implementation of PBS.


The logistics of implementing PBS in JJ settings is one of the most sensitive themes to emerge from the focus groups with concern about the intersection of personnel time, training, and willingness to alter one's beliefs (e.g., correctional versus PBS model). As with the implementation of PBS in typical school settings, JJ settings share common logistical concerns which oftentimes appear to be an obstacle for PBS success. For example, both JJ and general school setting personnel voice a) the time needed to form PBS leadership teams and time to implement new PBS practices, policies, and procedures; b) the training in proactive and preventative instructional and behavioral strategies; c) the ongoing training needs to sustain PBS efforts; d) the difficulty in securing 80% "buy-in" from all staff to implement PBS practices; and e) the difficulty in changing how instructional and behavioral strategies are to be delivered under the new model. Within the JJ setting, logistical obstacles may be more prominent due to the configuration of personnel time, training of a variety of personnel, and work beliefs; however, using the elements of PBS to anchor JJ setting logistics may address some of the obstacles.

Data-based Decision Making

The correctional setting is often full of data that can be used to make decisions. Security usually keeps data on how often they are called to a classroom for assistance, teachers take attendance and academic achievement information, clinical personnel keep notes on counseling progress, and housing unit staff keep data on significant issues on the units. By developing a way to share existing data and collect data that would be valuable to all who work with the youth should be a component that is thought through before the implementation of PBS. If security staff can show the number of restraints has declined and teachers can show the increase in academic achievement due to more instructional time, data can be a powerful tool in making decisions to continue successful practices or modifying practices that are not producing the desired results. Having data can remove the opinions that often hinder positive behavior supports in more restrictive settings.

Achievement Outcomes

Overall emphasis on youth academic achievement was minimal with these particular focus group participants, although participants agreed that once youth social behaviors were addressed a shift toward academic short- and long-term outcomes would occur and be addressed. Such a view also has been mirrored by some typical public schools with PBS initiatives whereby academic short- and long-term outcomes were added in the second and third year of implementation. A primary focus of those in JJ settings may be to provide a positive and safe leaming environment for youth and to achieve such a focus, social behavioral concerns would take precedent. In JJ settings, it may be more important as PBS activities begin to occur to take a multi-faceted approach to achieving academic achievement outcomes. For example, JJ settings may first focus on implementing PBS in the school setting and then fade in the recreation/lei sure setting and then the cottage setting. Once PBS is being implemented across JJ setting environments then a second focus may be on specific social outcomes expected

Based on the data collected, stakeholders could decide whether or not the initial PBS implementation was having desired effects on youth social behavior. At this point, if PBS was producing the desired and expected social changes in the youth, then academic achievement outcomes may be set. However, academic achievement data should be collected as an ongoing process so that the first year of implementation can serve as an academic baseline.


Focus groups are useful in generating new hypotheses about a particular topic that have a limited empirical database (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2003; Marshall & Rossman, 1999). In this case, the focus group method was appropriate since no published studies on PBS being implemented in JJ facilities exist. Focus groups allow for the researcher to interact directly with the participants and collect rich data in the participants' own words. They provide participants with more stimulation and interaction with the potential for more responses as compared to one-onone interviews.

The focus group method also has limitations (Gall et al., 2003; Marshall & Rossman, 1999). The small number of respondents limits the ability to generalize findings. This study only studied one facility in a Midwestern state. Without replication with similar participants, the finding in this study should be viewed as preliminary and only applicable to the current study.

Focus group findings also may be biased. Particularly vocal participants may bias results. In this case, it does not appear that vocal participants dominated the conversation. This was not a concern raised by any of the participants or the researchers. Amother concern with focus groups is that the researchers conducting and analyzing the data also can bias results. It does not appear that bias was an issue. The scientific rigor of the study was increased by adhering to the principles and guidelines of the Constant Comparative Method and applying the practices that improved the reliability and validity of the study.


Positive behavior support is a three-tier proactive and preventative model that simultaneously addresses youth academic and social outcomes through systematic implementation of evidence-based strategies and interventions across environments. To date, PBS has been implemented in typical public school settings with students with and without disabilities across the elementary, middle, and high school levels. The extension of PBS into JJ settings, although not a new idea, has yet to be achieved. Through the use of focus groups from invested stakeholders, multiple themes centered on environmental congruence emerged that will need to be address as PBS is generalized from typical school settings to JJ settings. Future research of the applicability, feasibility, and practicality of PBS in JJ settings is warranted. As the PBS model is generalized and implemented into more JJ facilities, researchers will have a better understanding of its effects on youth academic and social outcomes.


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David E. Houchins

Kristine Jolivette

Georgia State University

Suana Wessendorf

Iowa Department of Education

Megan McGlynn

Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections

C. Michael Nelson

University of Kentucky

Acknowledgement: We would like to thank Dr. Carl Smith for his leadership and organization with the focus groups.
Table 1 Participant Demographics

                 Demographic Information of Participants
Administrators         Teachers             Clinical Staff

Gender:                Gender:              Gender:
  male           4       male         4       male             0
  female         2       female       5       female           7
Age:                   Age:                 Age:
  mean          47.67    mean        50.78    mean            39.29
  range         32-62    range       38-63    range           26-52
Education              Education            Education
Level:                 Level:               Level:
  AA             1       HS           1       AA               3
  BS             1       AA           1       BA               4
  MS             4       BS           6
                         MS           1
Years of               Years of             Years of
Experience:            Experience:          Experience:
  mean          20       mean        21.67    mean            13.43
  range          7-41    range        8-42    range            3-26

Table 2 Youth Demographics at Iowa Juvenile Home

Student Demographics                                             Percent

  Caucasian                                                         78
  Black                                                             19
  Hispanic                                                           2
  Native American                                                    1
  Not attended school                                               70
  Active IEP                                                        64
Sexual Behavior
  Sexual abuse or perpetrator issues                                44
  Have a child or are pregnant                                       8
Drug Usage
  Substance abuse diagnosis at age 15                               72
  Abuse drugs or alcohol weekly                                     66
  Parents were drugs/alcohol abusers                                80
Mental Health Issues
  Use psychotropic medication                                       70
  Admissions from PMIC's or MHI's (1)                               58
  Diagnosis of a serious mental health disorder                     62
  Attempted suicide                                                 34
Home Issues
  Missing or in detention, not home in 4 years                      75
  Unsuccessful in out of home placements                            99
  Unsuccessful in foster care                                       56

Note: (1) Psychiatric Medical Institutions for Children and Mental
Health Institute, respectively
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.