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Juvenile Justice


The Juvenile Justice Team advocates for New Jersey youth with disabilities who are caught up in the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Juvenile justice issues are also disability rights issues. Deprived of an appropriate education, services and supports that would have kept them in school and out of the juvenile justice system, youth with disabilities are ending up incarcerated rather than educated.  

Understanding the Issue 

Youth with disabilities, especially Black boys with disabilities, are most vulnerable to being propelled along the School-to-Prison Pipeline: disciplined more harshly, referred to law enforcement, subject to school-based arrest, and incarcerated. Over 13% of students with disabilities receive out-of-school suspension compared with 6% of students without disabilities. For Black male high school students with disabilities approximately one-third are subjected to school discipline. Moreover, students with disabilities represent a quarter of students arrested and referred to law enforcement. 

The higher rate of school discipline does not reflect a higher rate of misbehavior by students with disabilities, but reflects instead the impact of school policies, practices and leadership. Each suspension increases a child’s odds of becoming delinquent, abusing substances, getting involved with gangs, and getting caught up in the juvenile justice system.  

Youth with disabilities are especially vulnerable to the impact of secure confinement, which can leave them traumatized and permanently damaged. The rate of suicide in juvenile justice facilities is approximately four times greater than in the general population. Moreover, juvenile incarceration greatly increases the likelihood of further involvement with the criminal justice system. 

The large, prison-like juvenile correctional facilities in New Jersey should be closed. The majority of incarcerated juveniles, including the many with disabilities, should be held accountable while receiving developmentally appropriate programming and services in smaller facilities, closer to home and family support, that will prepare them for a productive adult life rather than a return-trip to criminal justice system. 

How We Help 

The Special Education & Juvenile Justice Project: Disability Rights New Jersey received a grant from the Ford Foundation through the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) to prevent “Mis-Incarceration” – that is, to prevent youth with disabilities from entering the juvenile justice system.  

In September 2020, we launched the Special Education and Juvenile Justice Project in Mercer County. Working closely with the Public Defender, we represent youth involved in the juvenile justice system who are in need of special education services and supports. Our goals are to get the child back in school with educational services and supports in place and also, when the charge is based on an incident that occurred in school, to get the delinquency charge reduced or dismissed.  

Tracking the Impact of COVID-19: The incarcerated population is one of the most vulnerable to Coronavirus infection. The Team has initiated regular calls with the Juvenile Justice Commission leadership to monitor the response to Covid-19 in the juvenile facilities, in regard to testing, quarantine, safety, access to education, services, and maintaining connection with family.   

Your Next Step

To make a referral to the Special Education and Juvenile Justice Project or for more information about the work of the Juvenile Justice Team, contact:

Regina Ann Smith 

(609)-984-8263 (direct office line)
(609) 777-0187 (FAX)  
(609) 633-7106 (TTY)
rsmith@disabilityrightsnj.org