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Diversion programs may be especially helpful for students with learning and attention issues who are already struggling academically, socially and emotionally. By maintaining a connection to family, friends and other caring adults, and by avoiding the “label” that comes with incarceration, diversion programs can help youth receive the supports and services they need to prevent future delinquency.32

Research shows that the trends toward incarceration are reversible. Many promising programs have been implemented, but not at scale. In Washington’s King County, for example, one judge became aware of the prevalence of learning disabilities and ADHD among incarcerated youth. The judge worked with the Learning Disabilities Association of Washington to design a program to educate offenders about their disability and help them develop coping strategies. Over a 15-year period, the program helped reduce recidivism by 43%.33

The Department of Justice (DOJ) also has begun initiatives to improve education for incarcerated youth, including those with disabilities. In 2014, DOJ and USED issued a four-part guidance package that included a guidance letter making it clear that, with very few exceptions, all protections under IDEA apply to students in correctional facilities.34

In November 2016, DOJ announced plans to build a semi-autonomous school district within the federal prison system. Among other offerings, it will include programs for literacy and expanded opportunities for individuals with learning disabilities.35

For a full discussion of how to address the challenges and opportunities discussed in this chapter, see NCLD’s Recommended Policy Changes.