Unsettling Trend: Thousands with Special Needs Caught Up in the Juvenile Justice System

“Across the country, students with emotional disabilities are three times more likely to be arrested before leaving high school than the general population.”

“The vast majority of adults in American prisons have a disability, according to a 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey. Data hasn’t been updated since, but experts attribute the high percentage of individuals with disabilities in the nation’s bloated prison population – which has grown 700 percent since 1970 – in part to deep problems in the education of children with special needs.”

Both of these are startling statistics. They are both pulled directly from, “Pipeline to Prison: Special education too often leads to jail for thousands of American children,” published by The Hechinger Report late last month. Using Mississippi as the benchmark for much of its data, the report explores the correlation between the justice system and being an individual with special needs.

It is not a secret that students with special needs can experience emotional outbursts and other behavior issues, and unfortunately these incidents sometimes become physical, leading to disciplinary action and often suspensions. The report stated that more than 8,000 students with disabilities received out-of-school suspensions in the 2011-2012 school year, with almost half of these students receiving an additional suspension that same year. Also, according to the report, suspensions are said to be the entry point into the criminal justice system for students with disabilities.

So why are so many students with special needs making their way into prison? Schools are supposed to provide students with the skills and tools needed to succeed in the real world, regardless of special need. However, many schools in Mississippi and others around the nation lack mental health care, highly qualified special education teachers and specialists, and appropriately trained staff.

The report specifically says that providing mental health services to these students in need helps them cope and could potentially keep them out of trouble’s way. Numerous states and districts have also committed to Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) to reinforce positive behavior. To read the entire report, click here.

Online services can match districts and students with the the specific support they need. To learn more, download this free eBook, “Changing Minds: 5 Ways To Tackle Tough Challenges in Behavioral and Mental Health Services.”