Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

The IDEA of an Adequate Education for All: Ensuring Success for Incarcerated Youth with Disabilities

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

The IDEA of an Adequate Education for All: Ensuring Success for Incarcerated Youth with Disabilities

Article excerpt


Juvenile crime is a significant problem in the United States. In 2009, U.S. courts handled over 1.5 million delinquency cases, resulting in the disposition of approximately 5,000 delinquency cases per day.1 That same year, juvenile correctional facilities housed 315,500 young people at some point between referral of their proceeding to court and ultimate case disposition.2 Of these 315,000, courts ordered 133,800 youth to residential placement facilities.3 Overall, 27% of youth adjudicated in delinquency cases were detained and ultimately incarcerated.4

Youth reentry and juvenile recidivism also continue to be national policy concerns. Estimates suggest that 24% of juveniles are re-incarcerated every year nationwide,5 while some states report recidivism rates as high as 55%.6

Scholars and policymakers are divided on how to best address youth crime and ensure proper juvenile offender rehabilitation. However, many agree that any successful institutionalization designed to rehabilitate youth, reintroduce them to society, and reduce recidivism must focus on education. A 1996 Rand Corporation study, for example, found that of all crime prevention methods, "education is the most cost-effective."7 Higher levels of academic achievement correlate with lower rates of recidivism.8 In California in particular, youth parolees are three to five times more likely to succeed on parole if they earn a high school diploma or GED prior to their release.9 Mounting evidence likewise supports the causal link between poor academic performance, school dropout, unemployment or underemployment, and law-violating behavior.10

The positive effects of education extend beyond the juvenile justice system; marginal literacy has a significant relationship to poverty and unemployment as an adult." By one estimate, the poverty rate for individuals in the workforce without a high school diploma is three times that of those who have graduated from high school.'2

Youth with learning, developmental, and behavioral disabilities are at an increased risk both for educational failure and incarceration. They are more likely than their non-disabled peers to experience school failure and subsequent poor adult outcomes.13 One of the first large-scale national evaluations of youth with disabilities found that approximately 50% of this population would drop out of school.14 A follow-up study indicated that the consequences of school failure and delinquency are related: 75% of these same school drop-outs were arrested within five years of exiting the educational system.15

As compared to the general public school population, a disproportionate number of youth with disabilities are incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities.16 Arrests are commonly associated with lower school achievement scores and disability,17 especially for youth with specific learning disabilities or emotional disturbances.18 While schools identify and certify approximately 9% to 13% of public school students as eligible for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"),19 studies show that a larger percentage of youth in the juvenile justice system - 30% to 70%20 - have disabilities.21 The most common conditions are "specific learning disability" and "behavioral and emotional disorder."22 One study reported that 47.7% of youth incarcerated in juvenile corrections facilities are identified with some form of an emotional disorder.23

Helping youth, especially those who suffer from one or more disabilities, acquire educational skills is one of the most effective means of reducing recidivism and enabling youth to exit the juvenile justice system and become productive, contributing members of society. Even academically challenged youth with a history of disability and school failure can make significant achievement gains in a short period of time if given a sufficient level of academic support.24

This article focuses on the education of youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system, with particular emphasis on the role of litigation in reforming educational services for incarcerated youth. …

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