John J. Wilson, Acting Administrator July 2000

Special Education and the Juvenile Justice System

Sue Burrell and Loren Warboys


Federal Laws Related to Special Education

Special Education in Juvenile Delinquency Cases

Youth With Disabilities in Institutional Settings




Additional Resources

Points of view or opinions expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of OJJDP or the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the
National Institute of Justice, and the Office for Victims of Crime.

From the Administrator

Large numbers of youth involved with the juvenile justice system have education-related disabilities, and as many as 20 percent of students with emotional disabilities are arrested at least once before they leave school. Information regarding disabilities can assist those providing needed services to youth at every stage of the juvenile justice process and even help to determine whether formal delinquency proceedings should take place.

Special Education and the Juvenile Justice System is intended to inform judges, attorneys, advocates, probation officers, institutional staff, and other youth-serving professionals about the impact of special education issues on juvenile justice matters. The Bulletin summarizes the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and analyzes their relevance to the juvenile justice process—from intake and initial interview to institutional placement and secure confinement.

While special education considerations may impose significant responsibilities on the juvenile justice system, they also serve as a substantial information resource for juvenile justice professionals. This Bulletin increases our understanding of issues surrounding special education, helping equip those who work with juveniles to meet the special needs of all youth.

John J. Wilson
Acting Administrator



This Bulletin is dedicated to the memory of Loren Warboys, who passed away in December 1999 after an extended struggle with leukemia. Early in his career, Loren recognized the need for advocacy on behalf of youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system, and he worked for the next two decades to protect their legal rights. As one of only a handful of nationally recognized legal experts in this field, Loren was constantly involved in policy discussions over legislation and regulations. He was counsel in a number of groundbreaking cases on behalf of youth with disabilities in institutions and wrote many articles and training manuals on the interplay between juvenile justice and special education. He also spent countless hours consulting on these issues with families, educators, public officials, and juvenile justice professionals. Loren's unflagging compassion and commitment have had a lasting effect in making the juvenile justice system more attuned and better equipped to meet the needs of youth with disabilities.

Sue Burrell is a staff attorney and Loren Warboys was the managing director of Youth Law Center, a San Francisco-based private, nonprofit law firm specializing in protecting the rights of youth in juvenile justice and child welfare systems throughout the Nation. The authors were guided in the preparation of this Bulletin by the many ideas and experiences offered to them over the years by youth with disabilities in the juvenile court process and juvenile institutions. The hope that these youth may enjoy a bright future and reach their greatest potential has truly inspired this work.

Renee Bradley, Ph.D., from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, contributed significantly to the review of this Bulletin to ensure its relevance to both the education and juvenile justice communities.

NCJ 179359

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