Youth Involved in the Juvenile Corrections System

In America there is an expectation that youth will grow up, get an education, develop skills, get a job, become economically self-sufficient and contribute to society. However, for many youth today, there are enormous challenges to achieving this goal. There is a growing recognition that youth involved in the juvenile corrections system represent one of the most vulnerable populations in our country.

Students with disabilities are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system:

  • Youth with emotional disabilities comprise over 47.4 percent of students with disabilities in secure care, while within public schools they account for only about eight percent of students with disabilities.
  • Students with learning disabilities are also overrepresented in the juvenile justice system and account for 38.6 percent of students with disabilities in these settings.
  • Of youth with disabilities in secure care, there are almost five percent with mental retardation, 2.9 percent with “other health impairments,” and another 0.8 percent with multiple disabilities.

Mental health-related characteristics of detained youth

  • Excluding conduct disorder, because of its relative frequency in detained youth, nearly two- thirds of males and three-fourths of females meet diagnostic criteria for one or more psychiatric disorders.
  • At least 11 percent of detained youth are identified as having posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Research and practice suggest that long-term success in helping youth involved in the juvenile justice system, including those with disabilities, prepare for economic self-sufficiency is possible when strategies are used that address the developmental needs of these youth: a solid academic foundation, life skills, and good workplace attitudes and attributes.

By addressing the specific developmental needs of this population, caring adults (e.g., policymakers, program administrators, judges, court personnel, secure care staff, corrections professionals, youth service professionals, parents, family members) can substantially increase the likelihood that former youth offenders, with and without disabilities, will complete their education, become employed, and ultimately become productive members of society.

Guideposts for Success for Youth Involved in the Juvenile Corrections System

The Guideposts are a framework to assist the multiple organizations that need to be involved to meet the needs and improve the transition outcomes of youth involved with the juvenile corrections system and to create necessary community webs of support.

The Juvenile Justice Guideposts highlight specific experiences, supports, and services that are relevant to improving transition outcomes for youth with and without disabilities involved or at risk of becoming involved in the juvenile justice system within the framework of the Guideposts for Success. An increased understanding of the unique needs of this particular population of young people, combined with an enhanced level of coordination among the court and corrections systems, education, workforce, child welfare systems, and mental health systems can help decrease recidivism and increase the likelihood that these youth will become productive adult members of our society. This coordination is also a necessary precursor for the leveraging (“blending” or “braiding”) of resources among these partners.

The Guideposts for Success, a comprehensive framework that identifies what all youth, including youth with disabilities, need to succeed during the critical transition years. The five Guidepost areas of focus are:

  • School-based preparatory experiences
  • Career-preparation and work-based experiences
  • Youth development and leadership opportunities
  • Connecting activities (support and community services)
  • Family involvement and supports

NCWD/Youth Resources

Partner Resources

Related Resources

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