The majority of youth in corrections have had negative school
experiences and below average academic achievement. Longitudinal
research indicates that both academic failure and a negative life-long
trajectory are a probability for many youth confined to correctional
facilities. Given the high number of youth from ethnic and cultural
minority backgrounds who are incarcerated in the United States and the
low rates of achievement, the purpose of the current review is to assess
the empirical literature on reading interventions for youth in
corrections. In particular, the literature was analyzed to determine the
extent that cultural factors were considered in the development and
implementation of reading interventions for youth in corrections. It is
disconcerting that in reviewing more than 170 articles only four were
empirical intervention studies with incarcerated youth. This finding
speaks clearly to the need for more research behind the fence. The small
body of literature dealing with incarcerated youth is primarily
comprised of studies that identify academic deficiencies rather than
programming that may strengthen reading skills in this population.
The literature is consistent that the majority of youth in
corrections have had negative school experiences, have below average
academic achievement, and longitudinal research projects that both
academic failure and a negative life-long trajectory are a statistical
probability for many youth confined to correctional facilities
(Archwamety & Katsiyannis, 2000; Foley, 2001; Kollhoff, 2002; Leone,
Meisel, & Drakeford, 2002). Reviewing the available data, juveniles
confined to long-term facilities also appear to have high rates of
illiteracy (Baltodano, Harris, & Rutherford, 2005; Coulter, 2004;
Drakeford, 2002; Malmgren & Leone, 2000).
There are also a disproportionate number of students with
disabilities in the juvenile justice system. Although the general school
population outside of secure care has a disability rate of approximately
12.7%, a national survey of juvenile correctional facilities indicates
that an average of 34% of youth in juvenile facilities have diagnosed
disabilities (Quinn, Rutherford, Leone, Osher, & Poirier, 2005). The
survey also reported great variability in prevalence data with some
states reporting disability rates approaching 70% and other states
reporting very low rates. This suggests that the overall disability rate
may be higher than 34% as child-find activities in some states are less
than desirable. Of those identified with disabilities, 47.7% were
learning disabled and 38.6% were emotionally disabled. Both of these
disability categories rely heavily on human judgment and tend to have
higher rates of minority students (Donovan & Cross, 2002).
Incarcerated youth are at-risk for poor academic outcomes for a
number of reasons. The school experiences of many of these youth prior
to incarceration place them at high-risk for academic delays.
Incarcerated youth have more truancies, grade retentions, and
suspensions than the general population (Quinn et al., 2005). Many were
expelled or dropped out of school. In addition, many youth were
essentially pushed out of school because their behaviors were
incompatible with school goals. Given these factors, it is not
surprising that most youth are significantly below grade level upon
entry to a secure care facility (Center on Crime, Communities, and
Culture, 1997; Foley, 2001).
Once incarcerated, a number of additional factors put these
students at risk for prolonged illiteracy. There are numerous challenges
to educating incarcerated youth. Varying periods of confinement and high
mobility rates make continuous education problematic. Differing views
among secure-care staff on the roles of punishment and control versus
rehabilitation and treatment inhibits the delivery of quality systematic
education (Leone, Meisel, & Drakeford, 2002; Nelson, Leone, &
Rutherford, 2004). Many facilities lack adequate classroom space for
educational purposes. Instruction can be interrupted by institutional
activities such as; transfers to other units for mental health,
discipline, and protective custody. Finally, in many states there is
inadequate funding to hire qualified teachers in secure-care settings
and salaries and working conditions are often not comparable with the
local education agencies. Mirroring a national shortage in public
schools, the lack of appropriately certified staff is particularly acute
in the area of special education.
Cultural Considerations in Developing Reading Interventions for
Youth in Corrections
In addition to poor educational outcomes, a disproportionate number
of youth in juvenile correctional facilities comes from ethnic minority
groups regardless of special education status. In 1997,
African-American's comprised 40% of youth aged 10 to 17 in
correctional facilities and Hispanic youth accounted for 18.5% of the
incarcerated youth in the same age range (Galigher, 1999). In addition,
African-Americans are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than
Caucasian youth, while Latinos and Native Americans are 2.5 times more
likely to be incarcerated (Poe-Yamagata & Jones, 2000; Sigmund,
2004). In other words, in the general population culturally and
linguistically diverse youth are minorities, but in the correctional
population they represent the majority.
Given the high number of youth from minority backgrounds that are
incarcerated in the United States and the low rates of achievement, the
purpose of the current review is to examine the empirical literature on
reading interventions for minority youth in corrections. These youth
come with their own set of experiences and cultures that influence their
understanding of reading, its importance, and its utility in their
everyday lives. These factors are essential when considering achievement
levels among incarcerated youth and when planning effective
interventions. Incarcerated youth also must learn within the unique
culture of a secure care facility where educational goals and security
needs do not always go hand in hand.
While culture is critical to consider in designing interventions
for at-risk youth regardless of whether or not they are incarcerated, it
is largely ignored. In fact, Artiles (2002) asserts that this oversight
is a reflection of a more problematic issue in special education which
is the "invisibility of ethnic minorities and culture in research
practices" (p.695). Given the overrepresentation of racial and
ethnic minority youth incarcerated in the United States, it is timely to
examine the literature regarding reading studies in corrections to
determine if cultural factors have been considered. In many educational
studies outside of corrections, cultural considerations are addressed
solely by the inclusion of an isolated categorical variable.
"Because participants' perspectives and their contexts are
important in the study of reading competencies and performance, it is
germane to ask who is included in reading research, what do we know
about these individuals' cultural histories, and what role does
culture play in their learning process?" (Artiles, 2002, p.695).
Unfortunately, this question has not been addressed for incarcerated
youth and Keith and McCray (2002) emphasize that not only is it critical
to address the disproportionate representation of culturally and
ethnically diverse males incarcerated in the U.S., but we must also
consider the disproportionality of those youth with special needs and
the impact that ineffective interventions will have on their continued
development. It is time to go beyond simply accounting for the CLD
students included in research studies and ensuring that the sample
included in the study is representative of the population. It is not
simply a variable to control for through statistical analysis. Often
culture is considered only in terms of one's belonging to a
particular racial or ethnic group. However, reducing the notion of
culture to a categorical variable implies that one's culture is
comprised of static membership to a variety of categories such as race,
religion, SES, and ethnicity (Rogoff & Angelillo, 2002).
When evaluating culture and its impact on academic interventions
such as reading a more complex view of culture is necessary. Rogoff and
Angelillo (2002) contend:
How then do we integrate culture into instruction for incarcerated
youth? Educators continue to ask how we account for and support the
differences that exist between and within individuals (Cole &
Engestrom, 2005). Kauffman's (1989) suggests that in our
multicultural society teachers must ensure that they have considered
cultural explanations to inappropriate student behavior. Beyond the
implications for addressing deviant behavior, the key is to connect to
their individual life story (Collier & Thomas, 2001).
It is the role of the correctional educator to provide at least the
basic skills that the student did not receive in public school and that
are essential for being a productive, law-abiding citizen.
"Students in prison are cognitively mature. Although they may not
have had the opportunities for continuous formal schooling, they have
grown and matured through their many--sometimes difficult--life
experiences" (Collier & Thomas, 2001, 68). Similarly, students
that do not possess those qualities and skills that are valued and
taught in an academic setting are not necessarily intellectually
deficient. It is likely that they have honed skills that are not
particularly valued in formal school contexts, but that are needed in
their community, culture, family, gang, set, or clique (Faltis, in
press). For example, detained and incarcerated youth might see
themselves as alienated from mainstream institutions as the result of
multiple factors (e.g., poverty, discrimination, structural racism,
community violence), and thus, they may not perceive school literacy to
be a valuable skill. Additionally, they are not eager to focus their
efforts on school literacy achievement while incarcerated or when
returning to their home school (Keith & McCray, 2002).
From a sociocultural perspective, human development is a cultural
process and people's participation in cultural communities mediate
developmental pathways. Rogoff (2003) explains that
From this perspective, communities have varying developmental goals
that are supported by particular strategies and rely on alternative
means to assess progress toward developmental endpoints. These aspects
vary substantially across cultural communities. In order to address the
needs of the marginally literate ethnically diverse incarcerated youth,
we must account for youth's sociocultural contexts of literacy,
understand the meaning and perceived benefits of reading, and
incorporate that knowledge in direct and explicit instruction (Keith
& McCray, 2002).
Our definition of culture includes three components: (1) the
cultural group practices of the group to which the student belongs
(i.e., Mexican-American, African-American, etc.) which we call the
culture of the student; (2) the culture of the institutional settings
which youth inhabit, which in this case is the correctional facility;
and (3) that the place where education for these youngsters takes place
is the space where these cultural components (student and institution)
meet. The purpose of this review was to assess the current literature on
reading for youth in corrections. We sought to answer the following
questions: (1) What are the topics covered in reading interventions with
incarcerated youth?; (2) Are issues of disproportionality addressed?;
and (3) Are cultural issues addressed including the culture the youth
bring with them, the culture of the institution, and the interaction of
We used a two-step approach to identify articles for this review.
First, we identified studies through computerized bibliographic searches
from abstract and citation archives published from 1975 to 2005. In
addition to the electronic search, we conducted a hand search of two
prominent journals in the field--one from special education and one from
correctional education--from 1995 to 2005. Behavioral Disorders is a
peer-reviewed journal that in the field of special education and the
Journal of Correctional Education is a peer-reviewed journal focusing on
educating incarcerated adult and juvenile populations.
We excluded non-data articles such as reviews and commentaries. We
included only those articles that reported results of reading
assessments or interventions. Furthermore, the participants had to be
court-involved youth under the age of 19. Articles were coded by topics
covered including: data on achievement levels and reading interventions.
Demographic data collected included: gender, age, ethnicity,
geographical location, and disability. The ways in which investigators
collected their data were coded as: observational, archival,
self-reported, and permanent products (i.e., checklists and tests
administered by the researchers) Finally, we coded each study based on
whether the issue of culture was addressed; and if so, how it was
The following index sources were searched so that articles could be
located in both educational literature and social science journals that
deal with criminology, psychology and at-risk populations. Social
Sciences full text, Sociological Abstracts, Academic Search Premier
(EBSCO Host), Education abstracts, ERIC, Criminal Justice Abstracts,
LexisNexis Academic, PsycINFO, Social Work Abstracts, Hein-OnLine: The
Modern Link to Legal History, JSTOR (Journal Storage Project), and
Kluwer Online. In order to ensure that we did not inadvertently exclude
pertinent studies for this review, we used a number of combinations of
keywords. The searches were based on the following keywords and various
combinations of these words: juvenile corrections, juvenile delinquents,
literacy, reading, EBD, emotional disturbance, behavior disturbance,
behavioral disorders, aggression, externalizing, internalizing, academic
failure, culture, crime, education, anthropology, African American
studies, Asian American studies, Chicano studies, criminal justice,
ethnic studies, and family studies. We used keyword combinations that
included juvenile corrections and literacy or reading, juvenile
delinquents and literacy or reading, juvenile corrections and EBD or
emotional disturbance or behavioral disturbance or behavioral disorders,
juvenile corrections and aggression, aggression and reading or literacy,
juvenile corrections and academic failure, juvenile corrections and
culture, juvenile crime and literacy or reading, academic achievement
and juvenile corrections. In our hand search, we examined articles in
two prominent journals. The first journal reviewed was Behavioral
Disorders, a special education journal that reports on youth at-risk or
identified with emotional and behavioral disorders. This journal was
deemed appropriate because it is assumed that incarcerated youth have
some degree of behavioral difficulty that led to their arrest and
incarceration. In this journal, we looked for articles that had
incarcerated youth as the target population. Once articles were
identified as dealing with the target population, each article was
reviewed for inclusion of reading data and only evidence-based studies
were included in our analysis. The second journal targeted for the hand
search was the Journal of Correctional Education. This journal serves
researchers and educators in the field of corrections, including youth
and adults. This journal was scanned for articles with youth aged 19 or
younger. After identifying the articles, each was reviewed for inclusion
of reading data.
The electronic search yielded 156 articles on incarcerated youth
with ages 19 and under. However, only 16 were data-based articles on
reading. Although the hand search produced 14 additional articles on
adjudicated youth, only two met the data-based reading selection
criteria. Consequently, of the 170 articles reviewed, 18 met the search
criteria. We found additional articles that addressed reading
achievement with incarcerated youth, but they did not employ an
empirical design and were consequently excluded from this study. A
majority of these articles were reviews of the literature, statements of
current practices or needs, or theoretical explorations of the link
between delinquency and academic achievement.
The findings of our review of reading research for youth in secure
care will be reported in terms of research questions. The first section
will address the topics covered in the literature, the next section will
cover the findings as they relate to disproportionate representation of
minority students in juvenile corrections, and the final section will
review how the studies addressed cultural issues.
Topics Covered in the Reading Literature on Incarcerated Youth
The 18 articles that met the search criteria fell into two broad
categorical topics: (a) academic achievement levels and (b) reading
Academic achievement. Eleven of the articles focused on academic
achievement and the link between reading achievement and a number of
other variables. A common theme in these articles was that incarcerated
youth had lower than average reading achievement. Reading achievement
was higher among non-offenders than among offenders, as was achievement
higher among non-recidivists versus recidivists. Achievement also tended
to be higher for Caucasians than for Hispanics or African-Americans.
There were no significant differences in achievement when youth
volunteered for literacy programs or when they were assigned to them.
Additionally, violent offenders tended to have lower achievement than
other offenders. Three of the articles included discussion on assessment
when dealing with the achievement levels of incarcerated youth. In one
study authors reported 50% of the sample had some indicators of
dyslexia, which was inconsistent with the finding of another author that
the rate of dyslexia for incarcerated youth was more parallel to
non-incarcerated youth if a more restrictive definition was used that
focused on phonological processing instead of overall reading
The studies we reviewed were conducted in a number of
industrialized countries including: the United States, Canada,
Australia, Sweden, United Kingdom, and Scotland. However, a majority of
the studies were conducted in the U.S. Again, a finding replicated
across the studies is that incarcerated youth tend to be sub-average in
academic achievement (Beebe & Mueller, 1993; Wilgosh & Paitich,
1982; Jerse & Fakouri, 1997) and that recidivists tend to have lower
achievement scores than non-recidivists (Archwamety & Katsiyannis,
1999; Katsiyannis & Archwamety, 1997). Wheldall and Watkins (2004)
argue that although reading scores are sub-average, 75% of the
incarcerated youth in their study in Australia had achieved at or above
functional literacy levels. They defined functional literacy as reading
at the 10-11 year old range on a standardized measure.
Another finding reported in the achievement studies was the
presence of reading disabilities. Half of the incarcerated youth in a
Scotland study self-reported indicators of dyslexia (Kirk & Reid,
2001). Similar findings were reported about prevalence and definitions
of dyslexia in two studies in Western Europe. Snowling, Adams,
Bowyer-Crane and Tobin (2000) found that the prevalence of dyslexia
among juvenile inmates varied greatly depending on the definition of
dyslexia. When dyslexia was defined as a discrepancy between reading
achievement and non-verbal reasoning, 56% of the inmates were considered
dyslexic, compared to only 5% of the non-incarcerated control group. If
dyslexia was defined as a discrepancy between verbal IQ and reading
achievement, 43% of the juvenile offenders were categorized as dyslexic
compared to only 8% of the non-incarcerated group. When a stricter
definition of dyslexia was established that included measures of
phonological processing rather than a discrepancy model, only 25% of the
offenders were dyslexic while 19% of the non-offenders were dyslexic.
The imposition of a definition of dyslexia that included difficulties
with phonological processing yielded similar prevalence figures.
Additionally, Svensson, Lundberg, and Jacobson (2003) examined 70
juvenile inmates and 61 controls from local schools in Sweden who were
tested for dyslexia. When phonological processing was used to determine
dyslexia, the inmate and general population were similar.
Seven of the reviewed achievement articles relied on archival data
found in student files. Five studies (5) used permanent product (PP)
data in which the researchers themselves collected data in the form of
interviews, tests, and inventories, and one study used a combination of
archival and PP data to report on academic achievement levels.
Between the years 1978 and 2005, the total number of incarcerated
youth across the 14 studies was 2,854. Of those, approximately 90% were
male and 10% were female (273 total females). One of the studies did not
separate the number of males and females (Herse & Fakouri, 1978),
but both were included in the study. The average sample size for the
achievement studies was 204 youth. The majority of the studies had youth
between the ages of 12 and 18. One study included 11 year olds and two
studies included youth beyond 18 year olds.
Of the studies that reported racial data, 573 of the participants
were Caucasian (48%), 369 were African-Americans (31%), 192 were
Hispanic (16%), 30 were Native Americans (3%) and 58 were classified as
"other" (5%). Racial data was reported for 1192 out of 2,854
youth studied. This is approximately 42% of the total sample.
Aspects of the students' educational background were reported
in some of the studies. Of those reporting special education status, 437
students were receiving or had a history of receiving special education
services (53%). This compares with 365 students who were not in special
education. Poor educational histories were reported in two studies
(Katsiyannis & Archwamety, 1999; Ryan & McCabe, 1993). The
percentage of students with GEDs in the Katsiyannis and Archwamety study
was 51%, while those with educational levels below the 8th grade
accounted for only 25% of the sample.
Nearly all of the achievement studies used standardized, norm
referenced testing to report on literacy levels among incarcerated
youth. The most common reading achievement score reported was word
identification, with some studies reporting word attack (phonics) and
comprehension measures as well. Only one study (Baltodano, Harris &
Rutherford, 2005) included a curriculum-based measure in the analysis of
achievement levels. This was also the only study that reported on
Reading interventions. While achievement studies spanned a 30-year
period, only three were prior to 1990. Interventions studies were found
between the years of 1994 and 2004 only. Three of the intervention
studies demonstrated reading gains for incarcerated youth, while the
other documented fewer recidivists among those participating in academic
interventions. The number of participants ranged between a low of 6 and
a high of 191, with three of the four containing fewer than 50 youth.
In one study the investigation included psychosocial and vocational
treatment in addition to educational treatment (Brier, 1994). The
investigation lasted 24 months and those who completed the program were
far less likely to recidivate than those who did not complete the
program. The remaining 3 studies focused exclusively on reading
outcomes. The students in the Coulter (2004) study made significant
gains in passage reading and comprehension. Average gains increased with
the number of sessions the students completed. The six youth in the
Drakeford study (2002) made gains in oral reading fluency and reading
attitudes. Finally, Malmgren and Leone (2000) reported significant gains
in decoding, but not comprehension, in a 6-week, intensive program.
In terms of racial make up, 11(4%) of the participants were
Caucasian, 147 (58%) were African American, 91 (36%) were Hispanic, and
4 (2%) were "other." One-hundred twenty-five (60%) students
were not in special education, while 85 were receiving special education
services at the time of the intervention. Brier (1994) reported that 111
(69%) out of 192 students in the study had dropped out of school.
Researchers in two of the four intervention studies relied on a
scripted Direct Instruction program called Corrective Reading (Englemann
et. al, 1999; Drakeford, 2002; Malmgren & Leone, 2000). One other
study used direct instruction methodology using novels that were
considered highly interesting to the youth. In the remaining
intervention study the reading methodology or materials were not
specified (Brier, 1994). This study included literacy as one portion of
a broader treatment package to reduce recidivism. The other treatment
elements included in this study were psychosocial and vocation
Disproportionality. Issues of disproportionate representation of
minority youth in the juvenile correctional population were only
addressed in 2 articles. Drakeford (2002) discussed disproportionality
among incarcerated youth in his intervention study of 6 African-American
youth in Maryland. Baltodano et al. (2005) also discussed issues of
disproportionality in their assessment article as they analyzed
achievement by age, race, and disability. In all other articles,
disproportionality was not mentioned or discussed even when racial data
An integrated view of culture: Cultures in the correctional
facilities and facilities' cultures. In the 14 achievement
articles, we found only one that addressed the culture of the youth in a
way that extended beyond race categories. Svensson et al. (2003)
employed a research design that was mindful of differing cultural
backgrounds of incarcerated youth. Their model included a network of
factors, such as: immigrant status, poverty, home languages, literary
models in the home, and so forth. The studies looking at achievement and
recidivism (Archwamety & Katsiyannis, 1999; Katsiyannis &
Archwamety, 1997)contained background data on variables such as race,
gang membership, location of residence (urban or rural), and history of
abuse; however, those factors did not provide the strongest predictor of
recidivism rates. Rather, verbal IQ was the single best predictor of
recidivism, with race being second in terms of predictability.
Researchers did not examine how race and culture impacted the results of
The remaining achievement articles did not address student culture
in the design or the analysis. These articles were either silent on the
issue of student culture or they used race as a single variable to
describe a group of students. Perhaps the sentiment was captured by
Beebe and Mueller (1993) when they stated in their discussion of
categorical offenses and achievement levels that "This study
acknowledges economic, cultural, sociological, environmental, personal,
and interactional factors as being associated with contributing to the
current status of the youthful offender, but these factors were not
evaluated for this study" (p. 196).
The culture of the institution was addressed twice in the
achievement articles. Katsiyannis and Archwamety (1997) cast the culture
of the institution in a positive light. They explained that the
especially low recidivism rate (10%) in their study was due to a
treatment program called "Positive Peer Culture". This program
helps delinquent youth "to identify problems, accept
responsibility, and utilize the positive power that peer influence can
have" (p. 52). The other reference to the culture of the
institution was in Kirk and Reid's (2001) study. The authors
reported that the study sample was not necessarily representative
because of prison management imposed restrictions on who they could
survey. These researchers did not address how the culture of the
institution impacted the learning or achievement of youth at the
The single article that specifically addressed culture was from
Sweden (Svensson et al., 2003). Though not an intervention study,
culture was used in the analysis of the data collected on achievement.
In their analysis, Svensson et al. took into account the fact that 22
out of 70 inmates in their sample were immigrants. These authors
promoted the idea that proximal and distal factors were essential to
successful reading acquisition. The proximal factors included
phonological processing, word recognition, and cognitive processes.
Whereas the distal factors in their model were more complex notions of
culture. The distal factors included linguistic background including
native language of the students and their immigrant status. Another
factor in the model was the impact of cultural background on literate
habits and the background knowledge the student brings to the learning
situation. The home environment serves as another distal factor and
included attachments and literate models. The final distal factor was
instruction. Instructional factors included the number of different
teachers and schools attended, the methods of instruction, and the
history of school attendance. In the model, these distal factors
impacted vocabulary, world knowledge, and motivational processes. Both
proximal and distal factors impacted the hallmark of reading
instruction, namely comprehension.
In addition to developing a model for reading outcomes that
included distal factors, Svensson et al. (2003) also analyzed their data
to include differences in achievement between native and immigrant
children. Here, a combination of research methodologies improved
understanding of how the distal factors impacted reading achievement.
The researchers looked at native/immigrant pairs on achievement
measures. They also conducted interviews and file reviews to extrapolate
data on cultural conditions, schooling, and home environments. They
found that Swedish delinquents outperformed immigrants on comprehending
connected texts even though their word recognition and spelling skills
were similar. The authors concluded that "obviously, some process
over and above technical reading skill is required for connected texts.
Prior knowledge and relevant interpretation schemas are probably good
candidates as explanations of the observed difference" (Svensson et
al., 2003, p.681).
Both native and immigrant students, regardless of phonology skills,
had experienced neglect and many separations during early childhood,
single-parent households, drug abuse in the home, limited access to
adult literacy models, irregular schooling, and high absenteeism. All of
these factors are outside of the child and must be considered cultural
Those in the study with lower phonological skills had subtle
differences from those with stronger phonological skills. These
differences included lower levels of parental education, immigrants who
had lived in Sweden for a shorter period of time, special education
because of poor achievement, poorer grades in school, and documented
histories of early reading and writing difficulties.
The use of a complex model of reading acquisition acknowledged that
reading difficulties may have numerous causes and involve a complex
interrelation of individual and contextual factors (Svensson et al.,
2003). Using this model, the authors demonstrated that by focusing on
decoding instead of comprehension, the prevalence of dyslexia is not
greater among inmates than the population in general. When comprehension
is used as the gauge for dyslexia or reading difficulties, the inmate
population is overrepresented because of a combination of proximal and
Of the four intervention studies, two of them had only
African-American participants, one did not report ethnicity, and one had
an equal number of African-American, Hispanic and Caucasian participants
with 4 of each. The Brier (1994) study had the most participants with
192, but issues of race and culture were not addressed. The other 3
intervention studies had smaller numbers of participants with 45, 12,
and 6. With small sample sizes, it is hard to generalize findings to
larger populations of incarcerated youth and especially difficult to
draw any conclusions about efficacy with minority populations.
The culture of the institution was cited by Drakeford (2002) as an
obstacle to providing reading instruction in a youth correctional
facility. The Youth Correctional Officers (YCOs) were generally not part
of the educational staff and functioned as security policing potential
rule violators. Because of their orientation towards punishment and
control, Drakeford (2002) contends that they did not place a high value
on the literacy needs of the youth. Lockdowns, meeting with lawyers, and
cell searches made instruction in the correctional facility challenging
and disjointed. In spite of these challenges, the youth in his study did
want to learn to read better. Some students were actually so eager to
participate in the reading program that they broke facility rules (out
after curfew) to try to join the reading groups.
First, it should be noted that given the 30-year time period from
which the articles were retrieved, there was a shallow pool of articles
addressing reading in juvenile corrections facilities. The most
significant findings of this literature review were: 1) the lack of
intervention studies with incarcerated youth, and 2) the absence of
cultural considerations when teaching and evaluating incarcerated youth.
We will discuss both of these findings and offer areas of consideration
when planning reading interventions for incarcerated youth. These
considerations will include the cultural background of the students, the
cultural aspects of the institutional setting, and the interfacing of
We anticipated that much of the literature would include
race/ethnicity as a categorical variable only, and we also expected to
find few articles on reading instruction with incarcerated youth (Leone,
Krezmien, Mason, & Meisel, 2005). The review of the literature in
fact confirmed that expectation. Additionally, we expected to find
articles that addressed the culture of the correctional institution in
the social sciences literature considering the pervasiveness of the
discussion within that literature. However, this did not turn out to be
the case. It is disconcerting that in reviewing more than 170 articles;
only four were empirical intervention studies with incarcerated youth.
This finding speaks clearly to the need for more research behind the
fence. The small body of literature dealing with incarcerated youth is
primarily comprised of studies that identify academic deficiencies
rather than analyzing programming that may strengthen skills in this
Equally troubling was the lack of discourse on cultural issues in
the published studies. Of the 18 studies included in this review, nine
were silent on both cultural and racial issues Of the nine remaining
articles, five used race as a variable of analysis rather than
considering a more complex notion of culture. Consequently, only four
articles addressed either the cultural background of the students
themselves or the culture of the correctional institution. However, none
of the articles specifically addressed how the culture of the student
and the culture of the institution interface.
The materials used in two of the four reading interventions did not
leave room for cultural considerations because they utilized Corrective
Reading, which is a scripted, direct instruction program. In this
mastery learning program, students progress through lessons in a uniform
way that does not take into account the unique cultural backgrounds of
the students. Furthermore, when teaching this program, the instructor
aims to elicit specific correct responses. These responses reflect the
cultural norms of the authors and do not promote linking text to
personal experiences. In our experience, the stories in these texts are
not particularly interesting to youth in secure-care settings. It is
questionable if the stories are an appropriate match for this
The materials used in the Coulter (2002) study were more promising
in being sensitive to cultural issues. In this study, direct instruction
methodology was employed using high-interest novels. Students were also
able to choose their materials within a certain range that was
appropriate to their reading levels. Unfortunately, the remaining
intervention study did not specify materials or methodology so no
inferences about the inclusion of culture could be made. In addition,
the literature review revealed a heavy reliance on archival data for
analysis. While archival data provides important information, this type
of analysis is devoid of cultural analysis because the researchers are
not dealing directly with the subjects of the analysis. A further
concern with using archival data is that the researchers cannot control
for accuracy of the numbers/categories they are analyzing. Since the
researchers did not collect the initial data themselves, they risk
errors in test administration, scoring, and coding of categorical
variables such as race. In terms of test scores, we do not know if the
examiners were qualified or if the tests were scored accurately.
Moreover, data and procedures across counties or districts are used
differently and diagnostic labels might be operationalized differently,
thus creating greater conceptual confusion. Unfortunately, reliance on
archival data reduces the ability to account for and ensure the validity
of the data and fidelity of procedures.
An interesting finding is that the educational attainment issues
with incarcerated youth are consistent across various Western countries.
In Scotland, Sweden and the UK, achievement scores were lower for
inmates than for the general population. The study from Australia stated
that most inmates had a functional reading level; however, the 5th-grade
reading level cited would not be considered adequate for employment in
the United States. Finally, in Canada only a few youth in their study
had achieved grade-level status on instruments that measured
intelligence and academic achievement. So, it is clear that in Western,
industrialized countries achievement for incarcerated youth is
The Svensson et al. (2003) study addressed both culture in terms of
proximal and distal factors. This study did not, however, address the
culture of the juvenile correctional institution; instead it provided an
explanation of how factors within the child and the environment may
contribute to risk for delinquency. The study did call into question the
notion that a majority of inmates are learning disabled. By using a
definition of dyslexia that narrowly defines reading problems in terms
of phonological processes, the disparity between incarcerated youth and
their non-delinquent peers disappears.
In order to promote future research it is essential to identify
some of the limitations of the current review. First and foremost, we
must acknowledge that we limited the review to research published in
peer-reviewed journals. As such, we excluded dissertation studies as
well as articles in journals that do not have a peer-review process.
Additionally, although we conducted a rigorous search for articles, we
would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the possibility that articles
eluded us in the process. Another weakness of the current review stemmed
from the difficulty we encountered in comparing studies that used very
different categories and potentially different definitions for the
terms. Considering that the review included articles published since
1970 the terminology regarding race and disability categories has
changed over the years.
Another problem in coding demographic data was the fact that some
authors did not distinguish between short-term and long-term juvenile
facilities. This is problematic in that the types of programming offered
at short-term detention centers often differs from that of longer-term
correctional facilities. Furthermore, it is assumed that youth sentenced
to long-term facilities have more serious issues and may have been
detrained in short-term facilities several times before being sentenced
to a long-term facility. Five of the studies were from countries other
than the United States so any application of the findings must be viewed
with caution as the criteria for incarceration and conditions of the
facilities may or may not reflect practices in the United States.
Directions for Future Research
In reviewing 18 articles dealing with adjudicated youth, only four
documented experimental reading studies. Unfortunately, none of them
considered the culture of the students in their analysis. The authors
advocate for more research in this area that is mindful of culture in
addressing the literacy needs of incarcerated youth. Little is
documented on how these youth's interests and experiences shape
their attitudes toward reading and how those attitudes might shape
academic discourse within a correctional facility.
Additionally, a number of the studies cited difficulties in
institutional communication as barriers to the effective implementation
of academic reading interventions. As such, we urge researchers to fully
explore the barriers between the educational and security components,
identify ways to overcome these institutional barriers, and more
importantly perhaps, find ways to incorporate the security personnel
into education. By doing so, it is likely to create a more cohesive and
consistent environment for the youth in corrections and to increase the
effectiveness of the interventions implemented for them.
Innovative research. First, researchers should acknowledge that
teaching and learning in a correctional facility is unique. It is not
parallel to a public school. The institutional characteristics of prison
life make it very different. "Explicit references to prison
teaching cultures in the literature are meager, so that in most cases,
readers must extrapolate the effects of prison culture on prison
teaching cultures" (Wright, 2005). Wright also points out that,
"Teachers bring to prison professional identities and practices
fashioned in a different cultural landscape." (p.20). He goes on to
describe a sort of acculturation that occurs when teachers begin working
in correctional facilities. "I argue that prison cultures infuse
teaching cultures in prisons, not totally absorbing them, but
transforming them sufficiently so as to create culture shock for the
novice teacher. In other words, prison teaching cultures should be
thought of as hybrid, syncretic cultures--a blend of home and host world
behaviors, experiences and identities." (p. 23).
Considering the dearth of studies on educational practices in
juvenile correctional facilities and the lack of cultural factors in the
literature on incarcerated youth, we would like to promote consideration
of cultural factors in future research, using the framework described by
Wright (2005) on reading interventions with inmates. Also lacking in the
literature reviewed was the inclusion of qualitative studies that
consider what the students themselves have to say about literacy. No
such studies were found in our search. Consequently, we would like to
present works by researchers who studied culture and literacy practices
outside of corrections as a possible place to start when considering
instruction for incarcerated youth. Their studies were conducted with
members from the two largest minority groups in juvenile correctional
facilities: African Americans and Hispanics.
Morrell (2002) drew upon pop culture to work with urban youth in
California to promote literacy practices. He used rap music, film and
television as vehicles to incorporate youth culture into the classroom.
Students read, analyzed and wrote their own rap musical lyrics. By doing
so, they were able to critically evaluate their own cultural practices
and those of the artists. In using film, Morrell brought in popular
films that mirrored classic texts. "This analysis focuses on two
classroom units that incorporated popular film with the traditional
curriculum to make meaningful connections with canonical texts and to
promote the development of academic and critical literacies. The first
unit began with The Godfather trilogy (Coppola, 1972, 1974, 1993) and
incorporated Homer's The Odyssey. Another unit joined Richard
Wright's (1989) Native Son with the film A Time to Kill (Schumaker,
1996)." (pg.76). Finally, Morrell described how he used television
as a medium to look critically at issues raised in popular culture.
Students researched topics and wrote critical essays on such topics.
Teachers in juvenile correctional facilities would have to make some
adaptations to Morrell's ideas to work within institutional
constraints as some media are not allowed in the facilities. For
instance, books and music associated with gangster activities are often
banned from juvenile correctional facilities. Consequently, teachers
would need to work within the regulations of their facility.
Meecham (2001) advocated translating the ideas of jazz
improvisation as a means to connect with students in culturally diverse
classrooms. "A basic cultural concept underlying all jazz
improvisation is that of the crossroads. Described as a definitive
moment of challenge or crisis, a crossroad is reached when one is forced
by circumstance to move beyond the familiar range of understanding and
integrate new domains of information." (pg.183). Using this
theoretical framework, the student's prior knowledge and
experiences are called upon to make sense of literacy texts. The teacher
"asks questions that provoke students to weave their own
connections between the themes discussed and their own prior cultural
knowledge." (pg. 184)
Lee (2000) explored the culture and its implications in her work
with African-American youth. She used the cultural-historical
perspective of slavery to assess how power is brought into language
practices of these youth. She asserted that cognitive abilities are
based on the rituals of problem-solving skills and that the historical
oral language practices could be used to enhance classroom instruction.
Researchers and educators in correctional facilities could use this
model to create literacy activities that are meaningful to the youth
While Lee's work dealt directly with student cultures,
Moll's work focused on teacher practices and culture. Moll (1997)
used study groups comprised of teachers who were trying to make sense of
their own practices. These teachers visited their students' homes
and discovered the social networks that existed among predominately
Hispanic families. This format built a community of teachers who became
informed about the lives of their students and how their classroom
practices could be mindful of culture. Teachers in correctional
facilities visiting the homes of their student is very impractical given
that incarcerated youth come from a variety of geographical locations.
However, this format could be used to permeate some of the institutional
barriers that inhibit literacy instruction in correctional facilities. A
greater understanding of priorities and perspectives between education
staff and security staff (rather than families as in Moll's work),
could transform current practices.
Finally, Hill (1998) used a qualitative method to report on a
literacy program designed specifically for incarcerated teen fathers.
Due to the fact that the study did not provide outcome data for the
program, it was not included in our literature review. However, the
structure of the program holds hope for incorporating culture into the
educational practices within juvenile correctional facilities. In a
class of 25 male students within a correctional facility, 50% were
fathers and 60% were bilingual students. The reading levels in the class
ranged from primer to high-school level. The goal of the program was to
both increase the literacy skills of the inmates and provide them with
tools for carrying their literacy skills home to their children upon
Literacy instruction was based on narrative stories around the
themes of bullying and embarrassing moments. The teacher read books to
the students that centered on these two themes. Both literature and
poetry were used. Students were expected to make links between the
characters and their own experiences as they wrote their own narratives
around one of the themes. From these narratives, the teacher started
working on expanded stories and improvisations. Peers were taught to ask
specific questions to each other to develop clarity in their writing. As
the teachers introduced new authors and characters the students could
identify with because of their own experiences, the youth began and
began asking for more books with similar themes and by the same authors.
The use of personal narratives as an instructional strategy holds
promise because it takes into account the cultural experiences and
artifacts of the participants.
We resonate with Collier and Thomas (2001) who advocate for
instructional practices in youth correctional facilities that help
culturally and linguistically diverse learners, for these practices
could be beneficial for all learners behind the fence. "For
correctional educators, the best strategy is to adapt the materials that
are available, do hands-on instruction when possible, making use of
vocational training materials, and use students' life experiences
to develop meaningful narratives for literacy acquisition." (p.
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Arizona State University
Correspondence to Pamela J. Harris, Arizona State University,
Curriculum & Instruction, P.O. Box 871011, Tempe, AZ 85287-1011;
If social science were to equate culture with a social category, or
the intersection of such categories, we would lose the opportunity to
understand cultural processes as the interrelated aspects of people's
overlapping and historical participation in changing and conflicting
cultural communities. Cultural processes do not function in isolation
or in mechanical interaction among independently definable entities.
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Appendix: Empirical Research on Reading for Youth in Corrections
# Article Type Author and Setting Purpose of Study
1. Achievement Archwamety & Age: 12-18 Investigate
Katsiyannis Sex: Males whether rates of
(1999) Long-Term recidivism or
Nebraska parole violation
N=161 reading differ as a
group function of
N=178 math group remedial group
N=166 control membership
2. Achievement Baltodano, Age: 14-18 Relationship
Harris, & Sex: males between
Rutherford Long-Term achievement
(2005) Arizona level and age,
N=187 race, and
3. Achievement Beebe & Mueller Age: Not reported Explore
(1993) (grades 6-12) relationship
Sex: Male & Female between
Detention Michigan achievement IQ,
N=486 male and category of
N=97 female offense
4. Achievement Jerse & Fakouri Age: <18 Predicted non-
(1978) Sex: Males and delinquents
Females would have
N=108 delinquents scores
Paired by sex,
5. Achievement Katsiyannis & Age: 12-18 Explore factors
Archwamety Sex: Males related to
(1997) Long-Term recidivism
6. Achievement Katsiyannis & Age: 12-18 Explore link
Archwamety Sex: Male between academic
(1999) Long-Term remediation and
N=284 with GEDs recidivis
N=273 w/o GED
7. Achievement Podboy & Age: 11-19 Determine
Mallory (1978) Sex: Males and profile of
Females offender with
8. Achievement Ryan & McCabe Age: 16-25 Test whether
(1993) Sex: Males and voluntary
Females participation or
Facility Type not mandatory
South Carolina impacts literacy
N=77 male non- achievement
N=21 female non-
N=18 female non-
growth in reading)
9. Achievement Snowling, Age: 15-17 Compare literacy
Adams, Bowyer- Sex: Males levels offenders
Crane & Tobin Facility Type not and non-
(2000) Specified offenders using
United Kingdom 3 definitions of
10. Achievement Wilgosh & Age: average age Prevalence of LD
Paitich (1982) of 14 in delinquent
Sex: Males and youth
11. Achievement Zabel & Nigro Age: 12-18 Achievement
(2001) Sex: Males and levels by grade
females and impact of
Detention special ed.
12. Achievement Kirk & Reid Age: n/a Prevalence of
(2001) Sex: Males dyslexia among
Facility Type Not incarcerated
13. Achievement Svenssion, Age: 15.9 "Obtain a firmer
Lundberg, & (average) basis for
Jacobson (2003) Sex: Males and characterizing
females the literacy
Facility Type Not situation among
Specified Sweden juvenile
N=49 males delinquents"
IQs below 80
14. Achievement Wheldall & Age: 14-19 Determine the
Watkins (2004 Sex: Males proportion of
DT Australia offenders who
N=68 had achieved
Detained but functional
not necessarily literacy skills
15. Intervention Brier (1994) Age: 16-21 Assess success
Sex: 93% Male, 7% of program on
Female recidivism rates
16. Intervention Coulter (2004) Age: average = Increase reading
15.5 ability through
Sex: Males and a tutoring
N=10 sped (5 ED, 4
LD, 1 MR)
17. Intervention Drakeford Age: 17 (average) Explore impact
(2002) Sex: Males Long- of supplemental
Term reading program
Maryland on reading
N=6 Sped, AA? achievement and
18. Intervention Malmgren & Age: 17 (average) Impact of 6-week
Leone (2000) Sex: Male reading program
Detention & Long- on reading
Maryland Students grouped
N=45 (44% sped) by performance
on CR placement
Research Design and Inclusion of Culture in
# Article Type Dependent Variables Study
1. Achievement Archival data Variables: Race data reported in
1. Remedial group status, four categories: W, AA,
2. Institutional variables H, O
like recidivism, parole Race used as a variable
violation, age at first in analysis
3. Background variables
like urban or rural
4. Achievement scores PIAT
reading and math,
5. Cognitive scores
verbal, performance and
2. Achievement Combination of archival Race used as a category
and PP data label for analysis
Variables: WJ-III Disproportionality
achievement scores in discussed
reading and math DIBELS
ORF grade 4, 5, 6 age,
race, disability status
3. Achievement Archival data Variables: Not Addressed
Category of offense,
reading achievement, math
achievement full-scale IQ
reported SS because kids
had different standardized
assessments in files
4. Achievement Archival data Not Addressed
5. Achievement Archival data Collected data on race,
17 variables in three gang membership, abuse
categories: and location of residence
1. Institutional like prior to incarceration,
length of stay, category but didn't report results
of offense, etc. from this analysis as
2. Cognitive ability significant to prediction
3. Achievement in reading, of recidivism.
writing, math The culture of the
institution was sited as
a positive force in
reducing recidivism to
6. Achievement Archival Not addressed
Achievement, GED exams,
IQ, reason for commitment
7. Achievement PP data Typical participant
Variables: interviews, described as "17-year
Bender Visual Motor test, old, white male."
Babcock Story Recall, WISC Culture not addressed
Block Design & Digit Span,
PPVT, WRAT, Gates-
MacGinitie Reading Test
8. Achievement Archival data Race = 70% black and 30%
Variables: reading white
achievement, gender, Race used as a variable
achiever status to control for in the
9. Achievement PP data Social class status of
Variables: WORD (Wechsler the non-incarcerated
Reading Dimensions), 2 students was reported,
phonological skills tests but class information on
(Graded Nonword Reading the incarcerated youth
Test & spoonerism task), not reported
Vocabulary Test, WISC-III
Vocabulary and Block
10. Achievement PP data Not Addressed
Progressive Matrices, WISC
11. Achievement Data collection method not Not addressed
Variables: TABE reading,
12. Achievement PP Survey data Study sample stipulated
Variables: Quick Scan, by prison management
computerized self- (culture of institution)
assessment for dyslexia
with yes/no answers in 8
areas assoc. w/dyslexia
13. Achievement PP data N=22 immigrants (both
Variables: Reading parents from another
Comprehension, Vocabulary, country, but child grew
decoding, word chains, up in Sweden)
oral word, sentence In discussion, authors
reading, spelling, state that reading
orthographic choice problems must take into
(frequent spelling account "a complex
patterns), pseudo-word network of interrelated
reading, text reading, proximal and distal
phonological choice, factors" (like
digit span, word opportunity to learn,
generation poverty, different
language in home
14. Achievement Archival data 13% Aboriginal
Variables: Burt Word 37% non-English speaking
Reading Test, self-rating background
of reading ability
15. Intervention PP data Race data in 4
Variables: WRAT-R reading, categories: AA, H, W, O
spelling, arithmetic 2.
16. Intervention PP data Race variables reported
GORT3 scores in passage 4 white
reading and reading 4 AA
comprehension pre/post 4 Latino
test scores Students did have input
on interests with their
17. Intervention PP data Challenges of
Single-subject multiple institutional culture
baseline design addressed in discussion
Variables: ORF measure including: YCO value of
using CR, Pre/post on RSRA reading, lock downs,
meetings with lawyers,
cell searches, fires
Youth violating rules to
participate in study
18. Intervention PP data All participants AA
# Article Type Outcomes
1. Achievement Remedial group membership best predicted by:
1. Cognitive ability (esp. verbal ability)
3. Institutional factors
Those in remedial groups 2 times more likely to
recidivate or violate parole Racial composition of
remedial reading and control groups similar.
Higher percentage of AA and H in remedial math group
2. Achievement Average reading level = 8th grade
Average math level = 8th grade
Lowest achievement = Native Americans
Highest achievement = Caucasian
Hispanics disproportionately represented (54% of
Special education students lower than non-special
3. Achievement Lowest achievement associated with category 1
offenses (aggressive felonies)
Low-average achievement for all students (Standard
Scores of 85-90)
Math lower than reading
4. Achievement Non-delinquents higher on all measures
5. Achievement Non-recidivists higher on all achievement measures,
but not on IQ
6. Achievement Need for academic remediation because academic
improvements associated with lower rates of
7. Achievement Non-LD performed better than LD who performed better
than DD (defined as IQ below 80, LD by discrepancy)
50% LD by their definition
8. Achievement No significant difference in achievement scores based
on voluntary vs. mandatory participation. Achievers
were from both groups.
9. Achievement SS for offenders in all areas lower
Block Design=89 (98)
Prevalence of dyslexia differs by definition used:
Dyslexia 1=reading vs. non-verbal IQ
56% offenders vs. 5% controls
Dyslexia 2=reading vs. verbal IQ
43% offenders vs. 8% controls
Dyslexia 3=phonological processing
25% offenders vs. 19% controls
(Argue that Dyslexia 3 controls for school history
Prevalence of dyslexia varies greatly depending on
10. Achievement Only 4 males and 2 females were average or above on
all three tests
60% behind one or more years
11. Achievement As a group, scored 2-3 years behind grade level.
Female closer to grade level.
Non-special ed. higher than special ed.
12. Achievement 50% of sample reported some indicators of dyslexia
13. Achievement When phonological processing used as dyslexia
definition, prevalence for incarcerated youth and
non-incarcerated youth similar.
Poor reading because of limited vocabulary
14. Achievement 75% sample had achieved at or above functional
literacy levels defined as reading at 10-11 year old
range (grade 5)
15. Intervention Those who participated in the program were less
likely to recidivate
16. Intervention GORT3 post-test
<10 sessions = minimal gain
10-20 sessions = 1 yr. average gain
21-31 sessions = 1.5 yr. average gain
Culture not explicitly addressed
17. Intervention Gains in ORF, reading grade placement and attitudes
18. Intervention Significant gains in 3 of 4 reading measures on GORT-
Gains on comprehension not significant
Pre/post scores still below the 1st percentile
LT = long term facility, DT = detention facility, PP = permanent
products, PIAT = Peabody Individual Achievement Test, WJIII = Woodcock-
Johnson Achievement Test, third edition, DIBELS ORF = Dynamic Indicators
of Basic Early Literacy Skills Oral Reading Fluency, WISC III = Wechsler
Intelligence Scales for Children, third edition, WRAT = Wide Range
Achievement Test, TABE = Test of Adult Basic Education, GORT-3 = Gray
Oral Reading Test, third edition, CR = Corrective Reading, DD =
developmental delay, LD = Learning Disability
SS = standard scores, AA = African Americans, H = Hispanic, W = White,
O = Other, YCO = Correctional Officer