Student Support Services

Educational Programming for Students Who Are Incarcerated and/or Institutionalized Through the Judicial System

ALBANY, NY 12234

TO: The Honorable the Members of the Board of Regents

FROM: James A. Kadamus, Rebecca Cort


TITLE OF ITEM: Educational Programming for Students Who Are Incarcerated and/or Institutionalized Through the Judicial System

DATE OF SUBMISSION: January 14, 2005


RATIONALE FOR ITEM: Review Regents Policy

STRATEGIC GOAL: Goals 1 and 2


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The attached report provides information regarding the educational programs and services available to individuals under the age of 21 who commit offenses determined by the judicial system to warrant removal from the community, and are remanded to the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), formerly the Division for Youth, or to county jails or Rikers Island in New York City.

The report includes the following:

  • Information regarding the agencies that have responsibility for providing educational services and the legislative authority with which they operate;
  • Types of educational services and programming offered by each provider;
  • Numbers of students incarcerated in State correctional facilities, county jails and institutions operated by the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS);
  • Positive program developments; and
  • Next steps.

The report indicates that a range of educational services are generally available to incarcerated youth. However, providing educational services to individuals who pose a threat to themselves or to others and are isolated from the general population places very serious demands on the educational system. Another factor that impacts the educational process is the relatively brief length of stay that is often less than two months in county jail programs and at Rikers Island.

Although the educational service providers have realized significant accomplishments, many challenges require additional attention. Specifically, the Department will focus its efforts on the establishment of a revised funding mechanism for the county jails program, the adoption of the unique student identifier data collection system within these facilities, and additional efforts to identify and address the needs of students requiring special education supports.


Educational Programming for Students Who Are Incarcerated and/or

Institutionalized Through the Judicial System


Individuals under the age of 21, who commit offenses determined by the judicial system to warrant removal from the community, are often remanded to the custody of the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), formerly the Division for Youth, or to county jails or Rikers Island in New York City.

Educational programs operated by the OCFS and DOCS are provided pursuant to Part 116 of the Commissioner’s Regulations. OCFS and DOCS have direct responsibility for providing educational services to the students in their custody who are remanded to State-operated facilities and who cannot attend the public schools. Individuals remanded to the custody of OCFS are required to attend educational programming if they lack a high school credential; individuals remanded to DOCS are required by the Commissioner of DOCS to attend educational programming if they are functioning below the ninth grade reading and/or math levels. Part 116 requires OCFS and DOCS to appoint a Committee on Special Education (CSE) to evaluate the needs of each student suspected of having a disability and recommend an appropriate educational program consistent with Part 200 of the Regulations of the Commissioner.

Part 118 of the Commissioner's Regulations addresses "Instructional Programs for Students Incarcerated in Correctional Facilities Maintained by Counties or The City of New York," including educational services to youth in county jails and at Rikers Island. The school district where a county or municipal jail is located is responsible for the education of the inmates in such facilities. The public school district either provides the services directly at the facility or contracts for services through a Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). Some county jails mandate participation in educational programming, while others leave it to the discretion of the individual. At Rikers Island, all individuals 16 or 17 years of age are required to attend school and are provided 5 1/2 hours of instruction. Individuals 18-20 years of age can choose to participate in educational programming and are provided at least 3 hours of instruction.

In all these programs the safety and security needs of individuals are of paramount importance.  Often these requirements impact the provision of educational services. For example, individuals who pose a threat to themselves or to others are often isolated from the general population. The provision of educational services to this population often places very serious demands on the educational system. Another factor that impacts how much an individual benefits from the educational program is the length of stay in the facility.  Individuals in county jails and at Rikers Island are often remanded for brief periods (less than two months).

Educational Services Provided by Agencies Responsible for the Education of Incarcerated/Institutionalized Youth


Educational and Support Services

OCFS (1,584 students in program on June 30, 2004.  3,289 students received educational services during the 2003-04 school year.  713 students identified on 12/1/04 as students with disabilities; the majority classified with emotional disturbance.)
  • Individuals 11-20 having committed an offense before 16 years of age.
  • 32 facilities.  All youth without a high school credential are required to participate in educational programs.
State agency operates the education program using State appropriations.
K-12 Academics
GED Instruction
Career and Technical Education
Job ReadinessLibrary ServicesSpecial Education
DOCS (3,027 inmates under 21 years of age on June 26, 2004.  1,549 were receiving educational services.  468 were identified on 12/1/04 as students with disabilities.  The majority are classified with learning disabilities.)
  • Individuals 16 years or older with sentences generally longer than one year.
  • 63/70 facilities provide educational services.  Seven are work-release facilities and have no educational services.
  • All inmates below the 9th grade level in reading and math are required by the Commissioner of DOCS to participate in education programs.
State agency operates the education program using State appropriations.
Adult Basic Education
GED Instruction
English for Speakers Of Other Languages (ESOL)
Special Education
Career and Technical Education
County Jails (1,560 students on any given day.  8,500 admitted for 2003-04.  Rikers’ average daily enrollment for 2003-04 is 1,091.  The total Rikers’ enrollment is 4,556 for 2003-04.  Approximately 35 percent are students with disabilities.)
  • Individuals 16 years and older in custody generally for less than a year.
  • 59 facilities (Erie and Onondaga County each have two facilities.)
  • Some facilities allow individual choice to attend educational programs while others require attendance.
  • Public school district of location is responsible for educational program and generates State Aid.
K-12 Academics
GED Instruction
Adult Basic Education
Career and Technical Education
Job Readiness
Computer Training
Special Education


Institutionalized Youth

Office of Children and Family Services

OCFS is responsible for the care and custody of individuals 11-20 years of age who have committed an offense before 16 years of age. Table 1 provides information regarding the age and placement status of youth in OCFS facilities on June 30, 2004, and Table 2 provides information regarding the age and placement of youth for the school year July 1, 2003--June 30,2004. The majority of youth in these facilities receive instruction leading to high school credit towards a high school diploma. About 50 percent of the youth are students with disabilities. OCFS reported that 690 (43 percent of all students) were enrolled in GED instruction during the year.

Table 1 Youth in Care at OCFS Facilities on June 30, 2004

Service Setting

Age Group


11 to 15

16 to 20

Secure 39 225 264
Limited Secure 393 444 837
Non Secure Centers 200 283 483
Total 632 952 1,584

Source:  OCFS [The average length of stay is often much shorter in limited and non-secure centers than in secure centers.]

Table 2 Youth Served in OCFS Facilities Between July 1, 2003 and June 30, 2004

Service Setting

Age Group


11 to 15

16 to 20

Secure 40 379 419
Limited Secure 494 1,234 1,728
Non Secure Centers 319 823 1,142
Total 853 2,436 3,289

Source:  OCFS

Department of Correctional Services

DOCS operates the State prison system and is responsible for the custody of individuals who are sentenced to periods of confinement exceeding one year. The majority of the individuals are over 21 years of age. Table 3 shows the number of individuals under 21 years of age who were enrolled in educational programming as of June 26, 2004, as well as the number of individuals not enrolled in educational programming. The reading and math levels of individuals are assessed at intake and are used to determine whether an individual is required to participate in educational programming. The Commissioner of DOCS requires all inmates below a 9th grade reading and/or math level to participate in educational programs. The educational program is designed to allow individuals who are functioning at the 9th grade math and reading levels or higher to receive GED instruction.  As of December 1, 2003, approximately 31 percent of the inmates were identified as individuals with disabilities.

Table 3 Individuals Under 21 in DOCS Prisons by Academic Status on June 26, 2004

Academic Educational Status

Number of Inmates

Enrolled in Education * 1,549
Not Enrolled in Education 1,478
Total 3,027

Source:  DOCS

County Jails and Rikers Island

Chapter 683 of the Laws of 1986, which was signed into law effective September 1, 1986, requires the provision of educational services to youth incarcerated in correctional facilities maintained by counties or the City of New York. Part 118 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education requires that the educational services be provided by school districts wherein the correctional facilities are located. A person under 21 years of age who has not received a high school diploma is eligible for educational services. Youth, ages 16-20, who are remanded to county jails and Rikers Island are in detained or sentenced status. Detained individuals are pending a court hearing. Sentenced individuals have been remanded to the facility for a period of generally less than one year.

An annual plan is submitted by each school district that is responsible for the provision of educational services. The plan consists of a narrative description of the content and scope of the educational programs and services available to students in the correctional facility. The plan is reviewed by Department staff and serves as a desk audit to ensure program quality. The amount of instructional time provided to each student must total not less than three hours per school day. No less than 10 hours of the minimum 15 hours of instruction required each week must be instruction in reading, mathematics and oral and written communication.

Table 4 provides information on students 21 years of age or under reported for Rikers Island and the county jails for the 2003-04 school year.

Table 4 Average Daily and Total Enrollment for Rikers Island and County Jails


Rikers Island

County Jails

Average Daily Enrollment 1,091 1,558
Total Enrollment 4,556 8,500
Students with Disabilities 35% 47%

Source:  NYC Department of Education for Rikers Island.  System to Track and Account for Children (STAC) and Annual Program Plans for County Jails.

Rikers Island

Additional information is provided regarding Rikers Island because of its size and complexity. The New York City Department of Education provides educational services to individuals up to the age of 21 years who are placed at Rikers Island.  There are two Department of Education schools on Rikers Island in nine separate jails and 13 different locations.

The Austin MacCormick / Island Academy serves 16 - 18 year old individuals at the following locations:

  • Adolescent Reception and Detention Center (ARDC) - detained individuals. Cell study provided for individuals who are restricted from attending the school area.
  • Rose M. Singer Center - all sentenced and detained females.
  • Eric M. Thomas Center (EMTC) - sentenced males.

The Horizon Academy enrolls 19 and 20 year old students in six different jails including the North Infirmary Command Center. The Horizon Academy includes the Anna M. Kross Center, formerly operated by District 75, a program for students with emotional disturbance.

Positive Program Developments

Improved Academic Instruction

Department staff in concert with the Regional Adult Education Network and the New York City Literacy Assistance Center has provided guidance to teachers statewide on how to prepare individuals for the GED Tests.  Department staff meets regularly with a New York City Department of Education GED Task Force to discuss the performance of programs leading to a high school equivalency diploma and GED testing and instructional policies and procedures. The results of these efforts are reflected in the GED Testing Results section that follows.

Department staff supports and acknowledges the New York City Department of Education in conducting a full-day professional development initiative scheduled for January 2005 entitled, "Sharing Best Practices in Correctional Education." The professional development day provides an opportunity for teachers to share with their colleagues best practices in areas such as Differentiated Instruction, Special Education, Wilson Reading, Transitional Services and Curriculum Management. Over 150 correctional teachers are anticipated to participate in this event.

GED Testing Results

The following table provides GED testing information results achieved by students enrolled in OCFS, DOCS, county jails and Rikers Island for the July 1, 2003 - June 30, 2004 school year.  The pass rate in all the programs exceeds the State average of all GED test-takers.

Table 5 2003-04 Agency GED Testing Results


Number of GED
Test Takers

Pass Rate

Total Score

OCFS 366 60% 2451
DOCS 2,665 71% 2450
County Jails 1,783 71% 2531
Rikers 381 78% 2493
State Total 52,584 56% 2373

Source:  GED Testing Unit

Use of Technology

Department staff has used the Computer Recycling for Education and Technology Enhancement Act (CREATE) to provide surplus computers to incarcerated settings.  Often these settings have limited technological resources to provide students the necessary computer equipment required to enhance learning.  Many teachers in these settings are very adept at providing computer assisted instruction and benefit from additional computer resources.  The Department has facilitated the placement of approximately 500 computers to incarcerated settings.  We will continue to ensure that a percentage of surplus computers go to incarcerated education programs so that these settings will continue to benefit from the program.

Labor Market Orientation/Transitional Opportunities

The Department is providing leadership to a multi-agency coalition project involving 57 agencies entitled, "Destination:  Labor Market Entry," with an objective of increasing employment readiness assets (knowledge, skills and abilities) for incarcerated and institutionalized students through the training of teachers and administrators.  This coalition has contracted with Dr. Cal Crow, Program Director, Center for Learning Connections, for a series of orientation and higher-level workshops that are being offered throughout the State.  The workshops are providing teachers with specific ideas and strategies on how to help individuals develop a learner and worker identification, something that these students often lack.  A cadre of teachers and administrators has expressed interest in becoming trainers, and staff development will be offered.

Four pilot locations have been identified where Dr. Crow is working directly with teachers, students and administrators in classroom situations.  The four locations are Rikers Island, LaGuardia Community College (CUNY CATCH Program), the Orange County Jail and the Onondaga County Jail and Justice Center.

Department staff, in partnership with the New York State Department of Labor and educational providers, is developing a CD-Rom version of the Career Zone.  This CD will be customized to the needs of incarcerated populations and will be available to facility staff where security concerns prohibit the accessing of internet resources.  This customized version of the Career Zone will provide valuable information to students to help prepare them for independent functioning in the community.

The Department provided technical assistance and financial support, including $1 million in IDEA discretionary funds, to OCFS to purchase equipment necessary to replenish its Career and Technical Education programs and to develop curriculum frameworks in six career and technical education areas, as well as in math and English Language Arts.  The Frameworks developed by the International Center for Leadership in Education are specifically designed for students in OCFS facilities to develop more rigor and relevance in their learning, to integrate the academic skills they need for the workplace, to comply with New York State standards, and to prepare them for State exams.  The OCFS has graciously consented to share this information with other members of the multi-agency coalition.

Two New York City reentry programs, the CUNY CATCH and Friends of Island Academy, which are supported by the Department, have been acknowledged for their excellence by being identified by the National Youth Employment Coalition and the Youth Development and Research Fund as two of the top 12 youth employment and development programs serving juvenile offenders nationally.

The Department provided resources for DOCS to partner with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER).  NCCER is a consortium of industry contractors that have collaborated to develop a basic curriculum common to all construction trades. NCCER has partnered with the publisher Prentice Hall to produce a series of training materials that is available in Spanish and English.  All members of NCCER have agreed that a person who completes part or all of the curriculum will have satisfied their training needs.  Students pass standardized tests for each area of the curriculum.  They are entered into a national database of trained potential employees that the employers access when they are hiring.

Instructional staff that use the program must be certified by NCCER as having the expertise and competency to manage the program. To date, 20 of DOCS vocational instructors and central office administrators have been trained by NCCER to be Master trainers and an additional 58 instructors have become certified Craft Instructors.

Transfer of Records

In response to a request from Commissioner Richard Mills, the Council on Children and Families (CCF) convened a multi-agency workgroup in 2002 to address issues related to the transfer of educational records.  The workgroup addressed how this issue impacted on consistent and timely implementation of educational programs for youth admitted to and released from Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) juvenile correctional facilities and Office of Mental Health (OMH) residential facilities.  The Department provided clarification in its School Executive's Bulletin publication to explain that prior consent to disclose information is not required under certain situations.  The workgroup developed a sample request form for use when disclosing student information from educational records to officials of a State Department or Agency that operates or supervises educational programs.

A New York City workgroup, consisting of representatives from SED, OCFS, OMH and the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), convened to continue the CCF agenda.  A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the NYS Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) and the NYCDOE was developed and addressed school re-entry and access to records. Upon review and sign off by OCFS, the MOU will be finalized.  The next step is the development of an MOU between NYCDOE and the NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH). To facilitate a smooth transition, NYCDOE hired regional school services administrators to address placement of middle school students upon release and established borough enrollment centers to immediately register high school students upon release.  In addition, NYCDOE awarded funds to four community-based organizations to develop transition centers which function as a safety net for students who do not have immediate placements upon returning to New York City public schools.  Lastly, NYCDOE is in the process of creating an online reporting system allowing service providers to enter student information on forms posted at the NYCDOE web page.

Next Steps

The Department has identified three areas to focus its efforts to improve education services for students who are incarcerated and/or institutionalized through the judicial system:

  • funding issues at county jails;
  • data collection system; and
  • special education services.

Funding Issues at County Jails

The Department has in the past and will continue to support legislation to change the funding mechanism for the incarcerated youth education programs (county jails) that would result in more consistent program planning and better use of funds.  Under the current system, which uses current-year full-time equivalents, budgeting forecasting is extremely difficult and results in under-use of funds.  Using the current method requires that districts establish a budget without knowing the exact number of individuals (revenue producers) that require educational services during the year.  The budget forecast tends to be fiscally conservative and often results in districts not fully utilizing State Aid that is ultimately generated during the year.

Alternative methods would be to use two-year previous full-time equivalents or adopt a base-year model similar to the one used by special education.  This would result in some increase in State Aid.  Estimates could be established by working with current fiscal data.  The change would require legislative action to amend current law, as well as make provisions for school districts that take over a program or new providers that do not have a two-year or base-year full-time equivalent record.  The advantages of this approach include:

  • budget predictability;
  • improved cash flow; and
  • higher utilization rate by the educational providers.

Data Collection System

The Department needs to improve the data collection system regarding the number of students with and without disabilities in these programs.  Currently, information is captured using data instruments such as annual program plans, System to Track and Account for Children (STAC) forms, and System of Accountability for Student Success (SASS) forms.  Discussions with Department staff responsible for these various data collection mechanisms are scheduled to coordinate efforts and refine systems to provide us with sufficient detail and accuracy regarding the number and types of students that attend these programs.  The individual student tracking system, once fully implemented, will provide the Department with the ability to follow students through the various educational venues in which they are placed.  The system will be used by all agencies responsible for the education of students under the age of 21 and allow the Department to track the progress of all students, regardless of their placement status.

Special Education

Since 1998, the Department’s Special Education Quality Assurance (SEQA) Office conducted Quality Assurance reviews in 22 OCFS facilities.  A 1999 summary report of Quality Assurance reviews showed that OCFS facilities consistently provided a holistic, integrated approach with communication between the residential component and education program seen as a high priority. Areas of strength were:  experienced and committed education staff, high expectations for learning, individualized instruction with varying degrees of group instruction to meet student needs, highly structured programs, safe and secure facilities, and a team approach between residential and education staff.  Quality Assurance reviews conducted in 2004 support these conclusions, as well as highlight the following:  transitional services and linkages to the community, students with disabilities integrated with their general education peers, implementation of Vocational Education Programs and partnerships with BOCES to create career learning experiences.

The findings of Quality Assurance reviews conducted in DOCS facilities since 2001-02 indicated that the education program is designed to address students’ needs and to assist them in preparing for a successful transition to their families and communities upon release.  The academic program is designed to provide the student with a diversified program of academic learning classed with the New York State standards.  The program is structured to meet various levels of academic need, ranging from basic education through college, and students also have the opportunity to obtain a high school equivalency diploma.

During the past two years, the New York City SEQA Office has monitored issues identified during a visit to Rikers Island Academy in January 2002.  The New York City SEQA staff has met with the NYCDOE Local Instructional Superintendent of Rikers Island on several occasions and recently conducted an onsite visit to review any outstanding compliance issues.  Technical assistance is provided to NYCDOE to improve the quality of educational services to incarcerated youth at Rikers Island.  The Department’s SEQA Office is also involved in the annual review of Rikers Island’s Incarcerated Education Plan under Part 118 of the Commissioner’s Regulations.

In contrast to the positive program developments highlighted for OCFS, DOCS and Rikers Island, the county jail education programs are less fully developed, and the Department is concerned that these programs do not provide comprehensive special education programs and services for students with disabilities.  As indicated above, there is a disproportionately high percentage of incarcerated youth who are individuals with disabilities, with data showing that at least one-third of the school-age individuals incarcerated in county correctional facilities are identified as students with disabilities.  The incidence rate may actually be closer to 50 percent.  The Department has, in writing, informed each of the incarcerated youth programs of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) entitlement for students with disabilities to receive special education services.  However, these programs face many challenges to providing appropriate special education services including limited access to instructional and related service professionals, the small size but heterogeneous characteristics of the daily enrollment, the short length of stay of most students, and the lack of immediate availability of the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) in some instances.

In order to better understand the issues related to the provision of special education services to incarcerated youth, including issues relating to education record transfers, recruitment of certified special education staff, range of special education services available in incarcerated youth programs and the provision of special education services consistent with students’ IEPs, staff are contacting each program for additional information, conducting visits to selected programs, and discussing special education issues with representatives of other agencies, the New York State Association of Incarcerated Education Programs, educational providers, and jail administrators.  This information will assist the Department in determining next steps, which may include a collaborative staff development initiative, revised annual application and oversight procedures or amendments to the regulations, as appropriate.

* Includes individuals required by the Commissioner of DOCS and volunteering to participate in educational programming.

Last Updated: June 8, 2017