Integration of Culture in Reading Studies for Youth in Corrections: A Literature Review

Article excerpt


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). …