Students with Disabilities in Correctional Facilities.
by Quinn, Mary M. - Rutherford, Robert B., Jr. - Leone, Peter E.
Youth with disabling conditions are over represented in juvenile correctional
facilities (Burrell & Warboys, 2000). Many special educators, parents,
and advocates are interested in ensuring that these youth receive the education
and related services to which they are entitled under federal and state
statutes. Until recently, however, the nature and extent of over representation,
the educational services provided, and the credentials of teachers in juvenile
corrections have not been adequately examined.
The Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice, in collaboration
with the National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice
(CECP/EDJJ), recently completed a national survey of the prevalence of
youth with disabilities in juvenile detention, and in juvenile and adult
correctional facilities in the United States. Preliminary analysis of findings
from the survey of public and private facilities and state agencies sheds
light on the status of education services to youth with disabilities in
juvenile detention, and in juvenile and adult correctional facilities (Quinn,
Rutherford, Wolford, Leone, & Nelson, 2001). This digest presents the
survey's major findings on the prevalence of students with disabilities
in correctional facilities and the educational and related services offered
In the mid 1980s, Rutherford, Nelson, and Wolford (1985) conducted a
national survey of state special education and correctional education agencies
to determine the need for, and provision of, special education services
to incarcerated youth with disabilities. Rutherford and his colleagues
found that youth with disabilities were substantially over represented
in the juvenile justice system. Casey and Keilitz (1990) conducted a meta-analysis
of studies of the prevalence of youth with learning disabilities and mental
retardation in juvenile corrections and found that students with learning
disabilities and mental retardation were over represented (average weighted
prevalence estimates were 35.6 % and 12.6%, respectively). More recent
studies have also found disproportionate representation in juvenile corrections
(e.g., Bullock & McArthur, 1994).
While the mechanisms associated with over representation are not well
understood, some evidence suggests that police officers, attorneys, judges,
corrections staff, and probation officers are typically unaware of characteristics
associated with youths' disabilities (Keilitz & Dunivant, 1986). That
is, youth may be more vulnerable to involvement in the juvenile or criminal
justice system when poorly developed reasoning ability, inappropriate affect,
and inattention are misinterpreted by professionals as hostility, lack
of cooperation, and other inappropriate responses.
A conservative, preliminary estimate of the prevalence of youth with
disabling conditions in juvenile corrections is 32%. This finding is notably
higher than the prevalence of disabilities among school-age children in
the United States, which is about 9% (U.S. Department of Education, 2000).
The results of this survey suggest that youth with a specific learning
disability or an emotional disturbance are more vulnerable to placement
in juvenile or adult corrections than youth not identified as disabled.
The survey found that 46% of youth with a disability in corrections had
a primary diagnosis of specific learning disability and 45% were identified
with an emotional disturbance.
This phenomenon has several implications. First, local schools and communities
must recognize that youth placed at risk for involvement in the juvenile
justice system, including students with disabilities, must receive support
and preventative services to minimize their vulnerability. Early identification
of youth placed at risk can lower the odds of incarceration and assist
youth, their families, and their communities in developing more productive
relationships and experiences. In addition to prevention, community-based
services in lieu of incarceration can provide appropriate sanctions for
youth while avoiding the negative outcomes associated with imprisonment.
With daily costs as high as $200 to $500 per day for youth placed in juvenile
corrections, financial incentives to develop alternatives should exist
(South Dakota Department of Corrections, 2001).
EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS AND RELATED SERVICES
In their 1985 survey, Rutherford, Nelson, and Wolford found that although
services offered in most states varied widely, not all youth with disabilities
in juvenile corrections were receiving the special education services to
which they were entitled. Findings from the current CECP/EDJJ survey indicate
that most juveniles who are detained or incarcerated are enrolled in an
educational program, with the type of facility affecting the availability
of education. Respondents reported that 84% of youth in short-term detention
facilities, 48% of youth in long-term correctional facilities, and 29%
of youth in adult corrections facilities were enrolled in education programs.
The finding that only 29% of juveniles in adult corrections facilities
were enrolled in education programs is disturbing, particularly as states
have increased the number and percentage of youth transferred from juvenile
to criminal courts and from juvenile to adult correctional facilities (Juszkiewicz,
2000). This finding may also confirm the difficulty that adult correctional
facilities have had in providing educational services, especially to youth
Most facilities reported that they had procedures in place to determine
whether incarcerated youth were eligible for special education and related
services. While 89% of juvenile and adult correctional facilities reported
procedures for identification and placement, only 73% of the local detention
facilities had procedures in place. Within the 27% of local detention facilities
lacking these procedures are approximately 3,400 youth.
The CECP/EDJJ survey found variability in the credentials of teachers
serving special education students in juvenile and adult correctional facilities,
as well as in the related services students received. Facilities reported
that only 17% of their teachers were fully certified to teach special education.
Of the related services offered to detained or incarcerated youth, counseling
and speech and language services were the most prevalent. For all types
of facilities, about 60% offered related services for counseling; 34% for
speech and language services; 21% for occupational therapy; and 39% for
other types of services.
These findings imply that correctional facilities need to develop programs
and services that meet statutory requirements. The Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) entitles eligible youth to special education services
in juvenile and adult corrections, with some limitations. Similarly, Title
II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that public entities,
including detention facilities and prisons, provide accommodations in programs
and services for individuals with disabilities. However, the record of
class action litigation during the past 20 years in this area suggests
that in many jurisdictions, correctional facilities have provided inadequate
services until they were sued (Leone & Meisel, 1997). Providing adequate
services to youth in corrections involves communicating with the home school,
developing effective screening and assessment procedures, and providing
quality special education and related services.
Clearly, more research is needed to understand the impact of disability
on delinquent behavior. Currently, a number of hypothesized relationships
exist but empirical evidence is scarce. Further, information about the
adequacy of education services for youth with disabilities in correctional
settings is limited to a description of compliance with statutory requirements
and not a review of the implementation of empirically based instructional
practices and outcomes for youth.
The over representation of youth with disabilities in corrections raises
questions for policymakers and the public. Alternatives to incarceration
and more widely available prevention services can reduce the number of
youth with disabilities in juvenile and adult correctional institutions.
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