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.
During the month of October – National Youth Justice Awareness Month – I had the opportunity to travel with Tanya, Maui, Breauna, and Cassaundra, four women formerly involved with the juvenile justice system in West Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Southern, California. Their ages range from early twenties to late thirties – bridging decades and spanning the city streets of Los Angeles to the Appalachian Mountains. We were traveling together to conferences, roundtables and strategy sessions to advocate for juvenile justice reform focused on the needs of girls. These four women were so different and yet they shared strikingly similar experiences.
The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that on any given night there are approximately 1.3 million homeless youth in America. Thousands of these youth are runaways, minors who left home without permission and stayed away for at least one night. Youth run away from home for many reasons, but often they choose to leave because home is not a safe place –over 46 percent of runaway and homeless youth are victims of abuse or neglect.
The Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) envisions a nation where fewer children are at risk of delinquency; and if they are at risk or involved with the justice system, they and their families receive every possible opportunity to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives.