Youth with Disabilities in the Juvenile Justice System: A Nationwide Problem

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By Leigh Ann Davis
Program Manager for Justice Initiatives
The Arc

There is an epidemic in our juvenile justice system right now that The Arc is working tirelessly to address. Even with the decline of juvenile crime and incarceration over the past ten years, youth with disabilities, including intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), are being incarcerated at higher rates. One study reports that 65 to 70 percent of youth involved with the justice system have a disability—that is three times higher than the rate compared to youth without disabilities. The first step to resolving this issue is gaining insight about the history of juvenile justice initiatives in the U.S., and how youth with disabilities are served (or not being served) by the juvenile justice system.

The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) delves into this topic sharing a number of  related stories, statistics, and research in this area in their newest white paper entitled, “Justice Involved Youth with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: A Call to Action for the Juvenile Justice Community." This is an excellent resource for anyone seeking to learn more about this topic and for experts in the juvenile justice community to learn about existing cases that put a human face on this widespread problem. Visit NCCJD’s website to download a copy today and learn more about the critical issues facing youth with I/DD and their families. 

Collaboration across professions in the system is essential to creating strategies and processes to better identify and serve juveniles with disabilities. NCCJD is the first of its kind national center focusing on the issues that individuals with I/DD who are involved in the criminal justice system face, including youth with disabilities involved in juvenile justice system.  We hope to connect with experts in the juvenile justice community to address the needs of these youth and create lasting solutions.

About NCCJD: The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice & Disability™ is the national focal point for the collection and dissemination of resources and serves as a bridge between criminal justice and disability professionals. NCCJD™ pursues and promotes safety, fairness and justice for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as suspects, offenders, victims or witnesses. NCCJD is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance.

About The Arc: The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. The Arc encompasses all ages and more than 100 different diagnoses including autism, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and various other developmental disabilities. With over 650 chapters nationwide, The Arc is on the front lines to ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families have the support and services they need to be fully engaged in their communities. The Arc promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. Visit for more information.