Children with disabilities are disproportionately placed in the juvenile justice system, receive inadequate treatment and are denied educational opportunities, the National Disability Rights Network asserted in a report released today.
“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,” said Curt Decker, NDRN’s executive director. “The millions we spend housing and feeding our young people behind razor wire can be far better spent helping them to find their way in this world.”
The findings in Orphanages, Training Schools, Reform Schools and Now This? are based upon scores of investigations by the nationwide Protection and Advocacy (P&A) System. P&As provide legal and other advocacy services to children and youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system, and also maintain a presence in the facilities in which they are found, including prisons, jails, and detention centers. P&As have the legal authority to monitor and investigate allegations of abuse in these facilities.
Issues addressed in this report include: Diversion of children and youth with disabilities from the juvenile justice system (particularly stemming the “School to Prison Pipeline”), humane conditions while incarcerated (such as accommodation and communication needs, medical care, mental health treatment, and the prevention of abuse and neglect) and re-entry services like education and treatment to ensure the child or youth’s success upon release from the facility.
The report describes the problems children and youth with disabilities encounter, solutions used with success by the P&As, and provides specific recommendations for systemic improvements.
Some of those recommendations include:
• Congress should authorize and fund a Protection and Advocacy for Juvenile Justice Program to help divert youth with disabilities from entering the juvenile justice system, investigate and monitor conditions for youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system, and ensure proper return to the community with needed services and supports.
• Congress should prohibit the use of solitary confinement and/or isolation for all juveniles, including those housed in adult settings.
• Congress should require that schools identified as having elevated school-based arrest rates: 1) lose the opportunity to use federal funds to employ School Resource Officers (SROs); 2) ensure SROs work is limited to traditional police activities and not discipline of non- violent student behavior; and, 3) require SROs in those schools to undergo training in specific, related topics.
• The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and Department of Justice (DOJ) should fully enforce laws requiring that education of youth in facilities is equal to that provided to students in other public schools.
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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.