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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: Creating opportunities for youth with disabilities to achieve successful futures.

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Juvenile Justice

This topic explores the overrepresentation of youth with disabilities within the juvenile justice system and provides insights into prevention, education, and transition for incarcerated youth.


Overwhelmingly, youth involved in the juvenile justice system are disadvantaged, male, minority, and have significant learning or emotional disabilities (Drakeford & Garfinkel, n.d.). Youth with disabilities are particularly overrepresented in the juvenile delinquency system. Observers have estimated that up to 75% of youth in the juvenile justice system have disabilities (PACER Center, n.d.). Often, these young people have met with few successes in their school careers, which have instead been characterized by extensive suspension, expulsion, and often dropping out. When young people with disabilities and poor school performance enter the juvenile justice system, their educational needs are often overlooked and they do not receive the services guaranteed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Regardless of the setting whether youth are on probation or parole, incarcerated, or are completing community service requirements within local neighborhoods this population is often left out of educational policy decisions. However, with so many young people involved in the juvenile corrections system, it is imperative that educators, policymakers, and administrators look seriously at how best to address the educational and transition needs of incarcerated youth.

Here are some questions to ask when thinking about youth with disabilities and their involvement within the juvenile justice system:

  1. When we develop curriculum and transition plans to serve youth in residential placements, do we consider the individual strengths and needs of each individual?
  2. Do we take into account their home community and what barriers they may face when they leave the residential placement setting?
  3. Do we coordinate the curriculum and transition plan with the family, and take into consideration family strengths and needs?
  4. What resources are available to youth in residential placements through coordination with existing social service and educational organizations?


Drakeford, W. & Garfinkel, L. F. (n.d.). Differential treatment of African American youth. Retrieved from

PACER Center. (n.d.). Background of the juvenile justice program. Retrieved from

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This page was last updated on November 29, 2017.