Running head: REHABILITATING THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
Rehabilitating the Juvenile Justice System
Research indicates that youth with disabilities are over-represented in the juvenile justice system. Although The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has provisions related to the juvenile justice system, high proportions of youth are never screened and therefore never get identified as having a disability. By diverting youth with disabilities to treatment facilities, the system can address the problems that precipitated their detention and reduce the probability of recidivism. Planning for transition back into the community should begin the moment a child enters the juvenile system. Transitional assistance should involve family, educators, and behavioral health professionals. The system was created with rehabilitation in mind and with a little rehabilitation of its own it can return to its original roots.
Rehabilitating the Juvenile Justice System
Juvenile crime is a serious concern that is shared by the general public as well as state, local, and federal officials. The birthplace of the juvenile court can be traced back to Chicago in 1899 where it was created to address the needs of young offenders by diverting them from the destructive punishments of the adult criminal court system. The juvenile court was established with the specific purpose of encouraging rehabilitation based on the individual juvenile’s needs. By design the court was to focus on the offender’s need of assistance, not the actual crime that brought him before the court. It is estimated that at least forty percent of incarcerated youth have a diagnosable learning disability. It is also well established that the majority of youth who enter the juvenile justice system have higher rates of diagnosable mental health disorders than youth in the general population. In one study of first offenders, ninety-three percent had at least one DSM-V diagnosis, including conduct disorder (63.3%), ADHD (23.3%), or dysthymia (23.3%) (Lubit & Billick, 2003). The juvenile justice system was created with the express purpose of diverting young offenders from the criminal court system and offering opportunities for rehabilitation in place of incarceration. Information about a youth’s disability is relevant at every stage of a juvenile court case and proper screening could help explain behavior in a way that leads to constructive intervention versus confinement. Education has been a proven medium for successfully rehabilitating juvenile offenders and reducing the rate of recidivism. Youth within the juvenile justice system are very likely to need assistance to return to public schools or alternative learning centers. The problems encountered by youth within the system who are returning to school are even further exacerbated when the youth have special needs. Research indicates that learning disabled and emotionally disturbed youth were almost always the least likely to have their transition needs met. A Wisconsin study that spanned three years found only 1.6% of the released juveniles returned to school and graduated (Agnew, 2005). Youth with learning disabilities or emotional disturbance are eligible for special education and related services under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Proper screening, diversion to community based rehabilitation, and transition assistance can assist disabled youth involved in the juvenile justice system reach their educational potential by giving them the tools they need to succeed. Youthful offenders with disabilities who find themselves involved with the juvenile justice system report that their disability is often unnoticed and/or not addressed (Mendel, 2003). Unfortunately, these oversights greatly reduce their chances of leading productive lives as adults. Early identification of these disabilities is important to the integrity of a youth’s case. A disability...
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