Federal Correctional Education Guidance:

What Juvenile Defenders Need to Know

In December 2014, the U.S. Department of Education and Department of Justice released a Correctional Education Guidance Package, aimed at helping state and local agencies improve the quality of education for youth in secure confinement. While the guidance package is specifically designed for juvenile justice agencies overseeing secure care facilities, it also provides useful information for juvenile defenders who are representing youth at risk of confinement and removal from community schools.

Guiding Principles for Providing High-Quality Education in Juvenile Justice Secure Care Settings

The Guiding Principles serve as a framework for improving education services forED-DOJ-Guiding-Principles-COVER youth in secure confinement. Viewing these principles as a set of federal standards for education programs in residential juvenile facilities, juvenile defenders can use the Guiding Principles at all stages of representation to advocate against confinement in facilities that fail to meet these standards. Example of uses include:

Judges take a juvenile’s education very seriously. The following points and excerpts from the Guiding Principles may be useful for juvenile defenders when advocating for their clients. Any time a youth’s current facility fails to meet these standards, it is grounds for advocating that the child be removed from that facility. If there is evidence that an intended facility is unwilling or unable live up to these principles, it should be used to argue against commitment to that facility.

Quality Education & Healthy Education Environments

Services for Students with Disabilities, English-Learner Students, & Youth in General

Rigorous Curricula & Current Materials

Discrimination & Harassment


Dear Colleague Letters

On the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for Students with Disabilities in Correctional Facilities

ED-DOJ-Dear-Colleague-IDEA-COVERThe Dear Colleague Letter on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) clarifies state and public agency obligations to ensure that eligible students with disabilities in correctional facilities receive a free appropriate public education. The letter explicitly points out that all IDEA protections apply to students with disabilities who are in correctional facilities. Moreover, a free appropriate public education is the shared responsibility of all agencies, at all levels of government, involved in providing special education and related services to students in correctional facilities.

The following excerpts from the letter reinforce the rights of students with disabilities in correctional facilities and stress the importance of high quality education. Juvenile defenders may find these statements helpful when advocating for clients with disabilities, both pre- and post-disposition.

On the Civil Rights of Students in Juvenile Justice Residential Facilities

ED-DOJ-Dear-Colleague-Civil-Rights-COVERThe Dear Colleague Letter on the civil rights of students in residential facilities clarifies that federal civil rights laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, and disability apply equally in residential treatment settings as they do in traditional public schools. Juvenile defenders can use the statements in this letter to challenge acts discrimination in residential facilities.

In one example, the letter requires facilities to afford students equal education opportunities without regard to sex. This means that facilities cannot rely on gender stereotypes when counseling students or determining academic, career, and technical opportunities available to students.

On Access to Federal Pell Grants for Students in Juvenile Justice Facilities

ED-DOJ-Dear-Colleague-Pell-Grants-COVERThe Dear Colleague Letter on Federal Pell Grants for students in confinement explains that students who are confined or incarcerated in juvenile justice facilities who otherwise meet applicable eligibility criteria are eligible for Federal Pell Grants because juvenile justice facilities are not “penal institutions” for purposes of the Federal Pell Grant Program. This is true regardless of the student’s age, type of sentence, length of sentence, and status as an adjudicated juvenile or convicted adult. Students who are adjudicated or convicted, however, are ineligible for Title IV student loans. Juvenile defenders can use this letter to inform clients of their Pell Grant eligibility.