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Juvenile Justice

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Over representation of youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system. An estimated 70 % of justice-involved youth have disabilities, including psychiatric, mental health, sensory, and intellectual disabilities as well as co-occurring disorders. The vast majority of these youth are in contact with the justice system for minor offenses. Often their contact with the system is related to conduct that is a manifestation of an unrecognized disability or an  identified disability that is not being appropriately addressed. For many, community services either are not available or are not being coordinating effectively to provide the right supports.

This over-representation of youth with disabilities includes two categories of youth people confined in secure facilities who have not committed any offense. Far too many parents of youth with a serious emotional disturbance (SED) relinquish custody of their children in the desperate hope that the system can provide them with much needed mental health services that the parents cannot afford. In addition, other children and youth with SEDs are placed in secure JJ  facilities for weeks or months as their wait for placement in residential treatment facilities.

Secure juvenile justice facilities are not safe places for vulnerable youth with disabilities. Young people with mental health problems or intellectual disabilities often get worse, not better, when confined in secure JJ facilities, and would do better in community-based settings that provide appropriate treatment without jeopardizing community safety. Even short-term confinement in a secure detention facility pending court proceedings places youth in harm’s way. This includes physical and sexual assaults from other residents and staff; inadequate suicide protocols and precautions; improper use by staff of toxic psychotropic medications to induce compliance rather than for treatment purposes; prolonged, forced physical exercise as punishment; improper use of force (e.g., pepper spray, tasers, restraint chairs) as unauthorized punishment; denials of medically necessary services; and other violation of youth rights.

Early intervention, prevention, and diversion are the key strategies for addressing these problems. NDRN staff provide training, technical assistance, and a forum for information sharing along the entire continuum of advocacy services to protect the rights of children with disabilities.


Letter re JJDPA funding (April 17, 2012)

Protection & Advocacy for Juvenile Justice (PAJJ) – The Need for a Federal P&A JJ Program

Addressing the Needs of Youth with Disabilities in the Juvenile Justice system: The Current State of Knowledge (Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center, 2003)

Collateral Consequences of Confinement: Fact Sheet (Campaign for Youth Justice, 2009)

Costs of Confinement: Why Good Juvenile Justice Policies Make Good Fiscal Sense (Justice Policy Institute, 2009)

Evidence-Based Practices for Delinquent Youth with Mental Illness in Maryland: Medicaid Must Cover These Cost Effective Services: A Public Report by Maryland Disability Law Center (Jan. 31, 2007)

State-by-State information re JJ issues

The Juvenile Justice System [overview] 

The Prevalence of Youths with Disabilities in the Juvenile Justice System (NDRN, 2007)

What Patents Need to Know about Children with Disabilities and the Delinquency System (PACER Nov. 2001)

Why Juvenile Detention Makes Teens Worse (Time Magazine, 8-07-0-9)

Youth Violence:  A Report of the Surgeon General (US Dept. of Health & Human Services, 2001)

Bullying in Schools (audio recording of 2-14-2011 teleconference)

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