For Many With Disabilities, Special Education Leads To Jail
Cody Beck was 12 years old when he was handcuffed
in front of several classmates and put in the back of a police car
outside of Grenada Middle School.
Cody had lost his temper in an argument with another student,
and hit several teachers when they tried to intervene. He was taken
to the local youth court, and then sent to a mental health facility
two hours away from his home. Twelve days later, the sixth-grader
was released from the facility and charged with three counts of
Officials at his school determined the incident was a result of
Cody's disability. As a child, Cody was diagnosed with bipolar
disorder. He had been given an individualized education program, or
IEP, a legal document that details the resources, accommodations
and classes that a special education student should receive to help
manage his or her disability. But despite there being a medical
reason for his behavior, Cody was not allowed to return to school.
He was called to youth court three times in the four months after
the incident happened, and was out of school for nearly half that
time as he waited to start at a special private school.
Cody is one of thousands of children caught up in the juvenile
justice system each year. At least one in three of those arrested
has a disability, ranging from emotional disability like bipolar
disorder to learning disabilities like dyslexia, and some
researchers estimate the figure may be as high as 70 percent.
Across the country, students with emotional disabilities are three
times more likely to be arrested before leaving high school than
the general population.
When the special education system fails youth and they end up in
jail, many stay there for years or decades. The vast majority of
adults in American prisons have a disability, according to a 1997
Bureau of Justice Statistics survey. Data hasn't been updated
since, but experts attribute the high percentage of individuals
with disabilities in the nation's bloated prison population - which
has grown 700 percent since 1970 - in part to deep problems in the
education of children with special needs.
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