Perkins School for the Blind Transition Center

Students with Disabilities and the Juvenile Justice System: What Parents Need to Know

Students with disabilities, including emotional and behavioral disorders, or learning and developmental disabilities, are at a higher risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system. A disabled youth may enter the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” because of the lack of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan, “Zero-Tolerance Policies” in schools, bullying, and school absences. Parents must be aware of several school-related factors that may lead a disabled student to end up in the juvenile justice system as well as strategies to protect the child’s rights in school and in court. First, parents should become familiar with the school policies and procedures and create an IEP or 504 Plan to ensure that the school is responsive to the child’s emotional, behavioral or learning needs. Second, many states developed “Zero-Tolerance Policies” due to concerns of student violence; however, now many schools use these policies as a response to nonviolent and other behavioral offenses. Not only are children with disabilities disproportionately affected by these behavior-based policies but they also suffer more severe consequences when it comes to missing school because of suspensions. Third, children with disabilities are more likely to experience bullying in school and as a result find themselves being disciplined, suspended or arrested more often. Finally, students with disabilities may avoid or refuse to attend school due to bullying, anxiety, depression or other diagnoses and/or behavioral disorders. These may result in truancy charges if not properly handled. Parents should work with the school to incorporate letters from health care providers or other relevant documentation into the child’s IEP or 504 Plan regarding excused absences and how a child’s disability may affect school performance and/or attendance. In order to prevent involvement in the juvenile justice system parents can use an IEP or a 504 Plan as a tool to protect their child’s rights in school; make sure faculty, administrators and school officers are aware of the disability and how to appropriately intervene, prevent bullying, and avoid truancy charges.

Justice concept with an American flag, gavel and block, and Lady Justice

It is important to note that adults suffering from a mental illness, emotional and behavioral disorders, or learning and developmental disabilities, are also at increased risk for contact with the criminal justice system. These adults and/or their support system must advocate for sentencing alternatives, placement in appropriate correctional programs with monitoring such as case management, and comprehensive discharge plans including community services and interventions when on probation or parole. Police officers, correctional facility staff, and administrators must be made aware of the individual’s mental illness and the possibility that the illness contributes to continued criminal involvement and/or will impede the ability to comply with conditions of release.

This article is summarized from: This article is copyright 2015 AHA Association and has been reprinted with permission. Further reproduction of this article is prohibited without express written permission of Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association/AHA.

Carolyn Reinach Wolf, Esq. is an Executive Partner in the law firm Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara & Wolf, LLP and Director of the Firm’s Mental Health Law practice. Ms. Wolf’s practice represents mental health and health care professionals, hospitals, outpatient programs, skilled nursing facilities, higher education institutions, individuals and families. The New York Times Sunday Edition (February 9, 2013) ran a front page story in the Metro section on Ms. Wolf and her unique mental health practice that impacted and saved the lives of people with serious mental health issues.

Jamie A. Rosen, Esq. is an Associate at Abrams Fensterman where she practices Mental Health, Health Care, and Elder Law. Ms. Rosen received her J.D. from the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University.

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