Unlocking Futures

Imagine you’re a student with a disability that impacts how you interact with others and process situations. In an instant, that disability may be criminalized, and you could find yourself thrust into a juvenile justice system that offers little support and few education resources. This scenario is all too common. Thousands of young people are punished every day for what is often typical adolescent behavior, or behaviors related to their disability.

As the public continues to raise attention to issues of school climate and youth mental health, it’s important to acknowledge another social system that runs parallel to education, with significant, widespread impacts on
the outcomes of those young people involved: the juvenile justice system. Spending even a short time in the juvenile justice system as a young person can have effects that last into adulthood. Yet conversations about youth well-being rarely include this typically overlooked and underserved group. Students with disabilities in particular are more likely than their nondisabled peers to find themselves engaged in the juvenile justice system, with learning disabilities as one of the most common disability types.

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