NDRN Statement in Support of Secretary Duncan's Proposal to Reduce Incarceration and Increase School Funding

For Immediate Release
09/30/2015           

Contact: David Card
202.408.9514 x122
press@ndrn.org

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan gave a speech about the Administration's plans for education policy. In that speech he stated:

“If our states and localities took just half the people convicted of nonviolent crimes and found paths for them other than incarceration, they would save upwards of $15 billion a year.” Those funds could then be reinvested “… into paying the teachers who are working in our highest-need schools and communities – they could provide a 50 percent average salary increase to every single one of them.” The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) strongly supports Secretary Duncan’s proposal.

“It is hard to imagine a sounder or more timely public policy proposal,” said NDRN Executive Director Curt Decker. More than 65 percent of youth in the justice system meet the criteria for a disability, a rate that is three times higher than that of the general population. The millions we spend housing and feeding our young people behind razor wire can be far better spent providing the support and services they need to stay in school.”

The Network, which consists of the nationwide system of Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agencies for people with disabilities, represents hundreds of children with disabilities per year in cases involving their removal from school and their referral into the juvenile justice system. As the P&As represent so many youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system, NDRN has advocated for the creation of a new funding stream to allow all the P&As to increase the amount of advocacy in this important arena.

NDRN recently released a report on juvenile justice called Orphanages, Training Schools, Reform Schools and Now This? which addresses three issues related to Secretary Duncan’s proposal: diversion of youth from the juvenile justice system; humane conditions for youth within the system; and re-entry for youth prior to discharge. This report provides insight stemming from the everyday work of the P&As who represent these youth.

Youth with disabilities, and especially those who are also youth of color are more likely to be removed from school and placed in the juvenile justice system. They are removed through the use of suspension and expulsion and through informal and illegal methods of removal that end run the due process protections the law provides. Implicit bias plays a role in the high rates of school removal. Teachers who are well trained, who are engaging and motivated, and who have effective classroom management skills, refer fewer students to the office and/or to school resource officers for arrest.

Research in adolescent development and access to evidence based treatment methods has improved in recent years, allowing more successful options for community treatment. Most, if not all, of the rehabilitation needs of non-violent youth could be addressed better in the community, and research has shown that incarcerating youth is often counter-productive. It can result in more criminal behavior, not less.

In short, the Secretary’s proposal is correct. Not only is incarceration expensive, it often does not work to divert youth from criminal behavior. When youth are incarcerated, their education often stops or slows dramatically, they are separated from family and positive peers, and they often do not receive the mental health treatment they require. The Department of Education’s recent guidance document on correctional education will be useful in helping governments, school districts, P&As and other advocates to work to improve educational services and adult outcomes for those few youth who cannot be safely rehabilitated in the community. For non- violent youth however, quality community based services are a better investment.

When incarceration is unavoidable, quality re-entry planning has been proven to improve outcomes for youth and adults with disabilities. Educational services and treatment, including substance use and mental health services, as well as concrete planning around access to medical care and other vital services upon release has a significant impact on preventing return trips into the criminal justice system.

“Improving community based services, including and especially quality neighborhood schools, is a far better use of public funds than further expanding a bloated prison industry,” continued Decker. “NDRN and the P&A network are excited about Secretary Duncan’s announcement today and look forward to working with the community and the Administration on implementation.”

For more information about NDRN: www.ndrn.org

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.