Juvenile offenders, particularly those with disabilities, are at high risk for school failure and diminished educational, employment, and social opportunities that contribute to continued social maladjustment as adults. To better understand the occupational preferences and aptitudes of juvenile offenders, 201 juvenile offenders, including 52 who had been in special education, completed an inventory of occupational interests and aptitudes. Special education and non-special education groups had similar interests, although the former preferred occupations involving work with plants and animals. Scores on measures of general, verbal, and numerical aptitude were below average, and participants who had been in special education scored significantly lower than others on most aptitude measures Implications for special education, alternative education, and correctional education programs are discussed. Multifaceted, intervention programs beginning in middle school that keep students in school, remediate academic and social problems, engage students in prevocational and vocational programs with transition specialists, and teach self-determination skills are recommended.
Juvenile offenders are at elevated risk for adult social maladjustment, including unemployment and underemployment. Several interrelated factors contribute to their continuing problems, including lack of family and community support systems, economic disadvantage, and affiliation with deviant lifestyles (Loeber, 1990; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992). In addition, juvenile offenders often have become disengaged from the educational system due to significant learning and/or behavioral problems and school failure (Tremblay, Masse, Perron, Leblanc, Schwartzman, & Ledingham, 1992). Many juvenile offenders view schools as hostile places that are irrelevant to their lives (Pollard, Pollard, 8 Meers, 1995) and drop out and/or are pushed out of school before they acquire the knowledge, skills, and diplomas that would allow them to find employment and/or continue their education (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996; Bullis, Yovanoff, Mueller, & Havel, 2002).
Several studies have reported that many juvenile offenders have disabilities and have been involved in special education (e.g., Leone, 1994; Nelson, Rutherford, & Wolford, 1987; Quinn, Rutherford, & Leone, 2001; Wolford, 2000, Zabel & Nigra, 1999). Based on a national survey, Quinn et al. (2002) reported the prevalence of youth with disabilities in correctional facilities ranging from 30% to 70%. The most common disabilities among juvenile offenders are emotional/behavioral disorders and learning disabilities (National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice, 2001). These two disabilities frequently co-occur and are co-morbid with conduct disorders and juvenile delinquency (Forness, Kavale, King & Kasari, 1994).
Delinquents with disabilities face even greater challenges than other juvenile offenders (Leone & Cutting 2004). Juvenile offenders who have been in special education tend to represent what Walker, Colvin, and Ramsey (1995) have called "early starters." They get into trouble, are suspended from school, and make their first court appearances earlier than other juvenile offenders. They also are more likely to be recidivists (Archwamety & Katsyannis, 2000).
Most juvenile offenders have experienced social and academic problems in school. On measures of intelligence, incarcerated juvenile offenders, as a group, perform in the below average to the low average range, and their academic achievement scores are substantially below grade level (Foley, 2001; Lynam, Moffitt, & Strouthamer-Loeber, 1993). Zabel and Nigro (2001) reported reading mathematics, and language achievement scores of juvenile offenders who had not been in special education that were 2-3 years below their grade levels. Juvenile offenders who had been in special …