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Juvenile Justice

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Did you know that...

  • Seventy percent of children in the juvenile justice system have educational disabilities -- the vast majority have an Emotional Disturbance (ED) and/or Specific Learning Disabilities?
  • Children with ED fail more courses, earn lower grade point averages, miss more days of school, and are retained more often than other students with disabilities?
  • Children with ED have the lowest graduation rates of all children with disabilitiess, nationally, only 35% graduate from high school (compared to 76% for all students)?
  • Children with ED are three times more likely to be arrested before leaving school, when compared to all other students?
  • For children with ED who drop out of school, 73 percent are arrested within five years?
  • Children with ED are twice as likely to live in a correctional facility, halfway house, drug treatment center, or "on the street" after leaving school, when compared to students with other disabilitie?.
  • Children with ED are twice as likely to become teenage mothers as students with other disabilities? [Source: Stopping the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Pipeline]

Juvenile Justice involvement in kids within the special education system is a hot topic. When the federal special education law was passed in 1975, Congress found that most children with disabilities were not receiving an appropriate education - and that millions of children were excluded from school altogether.

Today, schools continue to suspend and expel students with disabilities for behaviors that are a direct result of their disabilities. These children often become delinquent, feel worthless, are viewed as "failures," stop trying, and/or end up in the juvenile justice system as a result of their treatment by those who are charged with educating them.

If you are advocating for a child with these issues or you see these issues appear, the articles and resources collected on this page will help. If you are charged with educating such a child, take a moment to this about that child's problems. You can make a difference in the child's education and ultimate success in life.

NEW! December 2014 Correctional Education Guidance Package from U.S. DOE & DOJ release aimed at helping states and local agencies strengthen the quality of education services provided to America’s estimated 60,000 young people in confinement every day.

OSERS Letter Clarifying Provision of FAPE and State and public agency obligations under IDEA to eligible students with disabilities in correctional facilities.

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Juvenile Justice and Education

Strategies-When the Juvenile Justice System Operates on "Blind Trust". Most juvenile court judges are advocates for children with disabilities but they can’t fulfill this role if they don’t have relevant information about the child and the case. Adults need to ensure that the judge has the necessary information..

Strategies When Schools Have Children Arrested for School-Related Behavior Problems - Pete Wright shares strategies he used when schools had kids arrested for behaviors related to their disabilities; juvenile courts as allies.

Juvenile Justice: Special Education Issues, Part I by Robert E Shepherd, Jr., Criminal Justice Magazine (V. 17, No 4), published by the American Bar Association (Winter 2003).
Legal issues presented by children who are behavioral risks in the school system and who then become involved in the juvenile justice system; tools for providing effective representation to young people with educational disabilities who face delinquency charges.

Juvenile Justice, Special Education Issues, Part II by Robert E. Shepherd, Jr., Criminal Justice Magazine (V. 18, No. 1), published by the American Bar Association (Spring 2003).
A disproportionate number of youth in the juvenile justice system suffer from mental health disorders and other disabilities covered by special education law. Effective representation of youth includes being knowledgeable about the characteristics of these youth, and how to intelligently present their problems to the court and its personnel.

Juvenile Justice and Special Ed Law Clinic Publications
This page includes articles by Prof. Joe Tulman from the American Bar Association's Children's Rights Litigation Committee. These articles include: Applying Disability Rights to Equalize Treatment for People with Disabilities in the Delinquency and Criminal Systems; Disability and Delinquency: How Failures to Identify, Accommodate, and Serve Youth with Education-Related Disabilities Leads to Their Disproportionate Representation in the Delinquency System; Special Education Advocacy Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) For Children in the Juvenile Delinquency System; and The Role of the Probation Officer in Intake: Stories from Before, During, and After the Delinquency Initial Hearing.

Reading Problems and Delinquency by Peter Wright describes the link between undiagnosed, unremediated learning disabilities, reading problems, and delinquency. This article includes research about the learning disabilities / juvenile delinquency link, proposes to improve the training of juvenile court staff, and encourages early identification and early intervention to prevent problems related to the failure to teach children to read (1974).

Special Education and the Juvenile Justice System Juvenile Justice Bulletin from The Education Resources Information Center (ERIC).
This bulletin summarizes provisions of federal law as they pertain to special education and juvenile justice. It discusses provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 1997 including: the definition of disability; free appropriate public education; identification, referral, and evaluation; the individualized education program (IEP); special education and related services, due process protections, and the "stay put" rule (that a student should usually stay in his/her current educational placement pending any court proceedings). Full text

Stopping the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Pipeline is an ongoing effort to stop the flow of children from schools to jails. In August 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center, along with attorneys from the Southern Disability Law Center and the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, obtained a class-wide settlement agreement affecting all special education students in Jefferson Parish. The agreement requires major systemic changes including:

  • improvements in the education provided to those with emotional disturbances,
  • reform of the parish's overly harsh disciplinary procedures,
  • counseling for emotionally disturbed children,
  • the provision of job training and other services to help high school students transition into jobs upon graduation.

Sources of more information:

When Schools Criminalize Disability/Education Law Strategies for Legal Advocates
This booklet from the Center of Law and Education explores legal theories and strategies for challenging inappropriate school-initiated delinquency petitions and crime reports, and addressing their aftermath. This collection discusses approaches that, while well-grounded in law, may not have been tested in the courts. In particular, they focus on using education advocacy based on IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act to hold local schools accountable when they criminalize the behavior for which they are legally obligated to provide appropriate educational services; obtain better outcomes for clients in the juvenile courts; enforce schools’ obligation to address behavioral issues as educational ones; and reduce the risk of future school-initiated delinquency petitions or crime reports.

GAO Report on Special Education: Clearer Guidance Would Enhance Implementation of Federal Disciplinary Provisions (PDF)
In the 2000-01 school year, more than 91,000 special education students were removed from their educational settings for disciplinary reasons. The GAO (General Accounting Office) was asked to determine where disciplined special education students are placed, the extent to which local school districts continue educational services for those students, and how the U.S. Department of Education provides support and oversight for special education disciplinary placements.

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Juvenile Defender Delinquency Notebook (PDF)
The National Juvnile Defender Center has revised and updated this manual for its 2nd edition, which is intended as an advocacy and training guide for juvenile defenders. Thirteen chapters cover everything from the initiation of the attorney-client relationship to appeals and related proceedings. Over 500 downloadable pages in which case you should stock up on ink cartridges and invest in several reams of paper. Available as a free PDF document.

Resources on Delinquency and Juvenile Justice from

Children of the Code Interview: Dr. Peter E. Leone on Juvenile Injustice, Reading Difficulties, Special Education and Juvenile Delinquency
Dr. Leone is a Professor of Special Education who specializes in Behavior Disorders at the University of Maryland. He is the Director of The National Center on Education, Disability, and Juvenile Justice which is a collaborative project involving partners from the University of Maryland, Arizona State University, the American Institutes for Research in Washington, DC, and the PACER parent advocacy center in Minneapolis.

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Related Articles

Frequently Asked Questions: Juvenile Justice
This article answers questions such as Who are young people with disabilities in the juvenile justice system? and Why are so many young people with disabilities involved in juvenile corrections?

From Emotions to Advocacy: The Parents' Journey
Undetected, unremediated learning disabilities are causally connected to many other serious life problems—from juvenile delinquency and substance abuse to severe marital problems, domestic violence, and chronic unemployment. Typically, learning disabled adults develop negative views of themselves as lazy or stupid—or worse. Most of these adults—numbering in the millions—have developed a strong, pervasive sense of having failed.

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The Juvenile Justice Bill Tracking Database follows juvenile justice legislation in all states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the American Territories. Whether you're interested in recent legislation about due process and procedures, juvenile sex offenders, mental health and substance abuse, or reentry and aftercare for juveniles, you'll find the answer in this continually updated database.

At Juvenile Justice Connection join juvenile justice professionals from across the US and the world; share information and news, including juvenile justice news from NIC, OJJDP, and other local, state and federal sources; info on training and development opportunities available to juvenile justice organizations and professionals; and the latest research into practice related to juvenile justice programs, services and practices.

The National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice
Educational disability does not cause delinquency, but learning and behavioral disorders place youth at greater risk for involvement with the juvenile courts and for incarceration. School failure, poorly developed social skills, and inadequate school and community supports are associated with the over-representation of youth with disabilities at all stages of the juvenile justice system.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention State Contacts
Includes a detailed search and clickable U.S. map to find contact information for the state representatives and organizations that administer many OJJDP programs.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
This program seeks to reduce the involvement of elementary and middle school students in delinquent behavior, violence, and gangs through its classroom curriculum, taught by law enforcement officers.

Forum for Youth Investment
This organization’s goal is to create strategic alliances among the full range of organizations that invest in youth, and to forge strong connections with organizations that invest in young children, families and communities. This Web site contains many resources including contact information for consultants, publications, working papers, articles, news and updates, an FYI newsletter, as well as specific attention to juvenile justice. The Forum is an initiative of the International Youth Foundation.

Juvenile Justice Evaluation Center Online
The Juvenile Justice Evaluation Center (JJEC) Online is a tool designed to assist juvenile justice practitioners, policymakers, and state agency administrators with the assessment and evaluation of programs and initiatives. The Web site is divided into four sections: JJEC Information, State Information, Juvenile Justice Program Areas, and Evaluation Resources. These sections provide professionals in the field with readily accessible evaluation assistance.

National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice
The National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice provides various types of assistance to program administrators, policy makers, families, government officials, researchers, and service providers on a wide variety of issues. Center staff provide access to resources and specialized information, or help with a defined problem. This site includes on-line assistance, training, resources, projects, and more.

National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) Abstracts Database
This database includes summaries of juvenile justice publications, including Federal, State, and local government reports, books, research reports, and journal articles.

OJJDP National Training and Technical Assistance Center
The National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) supports the delivery of high quality training and technical assistance to the juvenile justice field. This site contains a wealth of information including a Roadmap for finding training and technical assistance as well as a Toolbox for providing effective training and technical assistance that includes curricula.

PACER Center Juvenile Justice Program
This site provides a wealth of resources on the relationship between juvenile justice and youth with disabilities. Included within this site are publications and links to other important resources.

For the latest on juvenile justice issues, subscribe to any of the following e-mail lists:

JUVJUST:OJJDP's JUVJUST listserv provides information weekly on juvenile justice and other youth service-related publications, funding opportunities, and events.

OJJDP News @ a Glance: The bimonthly electronic newsletter OJJDP News @ a Glance highlights OJJDP activities, publications, funding opportunities, and upcoming events.

JUSTINFO: The National Criminal Justice Reference Service's biweekly electronic newsletter JUSTINFO offers information about publications, events, funding and training opportunities, and Web-based resources available from its federal sponsors, including the Office of Justice Programs, the National Institute of Corrections, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Subscribe or browse past issues.

Student Rights Alliance. If you've been suspended or expelled from a DC public school, learn what you can do.

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Safe Schools

Early Warning, Timely Response - A Guide to Safe Schools
Central to this guide are the key insights that keeping children safe is a community-wide effort and that effective schools create environments where children and young people truly feel connected. This is why our common goal must be to reconnect with every child and particularly with those young people who are isolated and troubled.

The Nuts and Bolts of Implementing School Safety Programs
This free publication, from the Vera Institute of Justice, helps teachers, principals, and school administrators identify effective and appropriate school safety programs. The manual identifies programs from around the country and describes the resources needed to implement each program.

School Policies and Legal Issues Supporting Safe Schools (PDF)
This free guide, from the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, addresses the development and implementation of school policies that support safe schools. Section 1 provides an overview of guiding principles to keep in mind when developing policies at the district level to prevent violence. Section 2 addresses specific policy and legal components that relate to such topics as discipline and due process, threats of violence, suspension and expulsion, zero tolerance, and dress codes. Checklists are included to ensure that schools attend to due process when developing policies for suspensions or expulsions, search and seizure, or general liability issues.

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Acquiring and Utilizing Resources To Enhance and Sustain a Safe Learning Environment (PDF)
This free guide, from the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Provides practical information on a spectrum of resources that concerned individuals and organizations can use in the quest to create safe schools. It draws on published research and also includes interviews with experts working on school safety issues at the state and local levels. Major topics covered include: What are resources? What role do resources play in safe school planning? Identifying and accessing resources and Appendix of online and print resources.

Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General
This report -- the first Surgeon General's report on youth violence -- is a product of extensive collaboration. It reviews a massive body of research on where, when, and how much youth violence occurs, what causes it, and which of today's many preventive strategies are genuinely effective.

Students' Guide to Police Practices. Published by the Office of the Independent Police Auditor, San Jose, CA (August 2008). This Guide is written in a factual, but accessible style and will help your son or daughter understand basic legal rights and common police practices. If your teen is driving, you should get a copy and go over it with your teen. You should go over the list of common crimes (like jaywalking and curfew violations). Young teens, even kids with "good values", can have moment of giving into temptation and shoplift. Some information and resources are specific to CA, but it contains basic information about your legal rights, common crimes, and how to avoid becoming the victim of a crime. Spanish and Vietnamese versions are available from San Jose's Office of the Independent Police Auditor. 


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Last revised: 12/12/14

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