A Better Path, A Better Future: Three Federally-Funded Projects Supporting Community Reentry of Youth with Disabilities Leaving Juvenile Justice Facilities

David R Johnson PhD, Sarup R Mathur, Deanne Unruh, Heather Griller Clark, Xueqin Qian
Deanne Unruh


A report describing three innovative projects that have developed strategies for improving the reentry of youth with disabilities from juvenile justice facilities into school, community, employment, and family. One of the goals of juvenile justice programming is to prevent recidivism and to support youth to successfully rejoin their communities upon release. Incarcerated youth with disabilities - including youth with learning disabilities and emotional/behavioral disturbances - are at a higher risk for recidivism than youth without disabilities, and too often experience negative post-release outcomes. A Better Path, A Better Future addresses this issue, and includes the following:

  • An overview of youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system in the U.S.
  • A description of the legal framework set by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system receive the special education and related services for which they're eligible while incarcerated.
  • Profiles of three four-year model demonstration projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), to develop and test models for reducing recidivism and increasing high school completion, postsecondary education participation, and employment of incarcerated youth with disabilities upon release. The projects are Project RISE (Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University), Project STAY OUT (Secondary Special Education and Transition Research Unit, University of Oregon), and ICI's MAP Project.
  • Findings from the data collected across the three projects for three groups: Interagency stakeholders for each of the projects, youth participants, and family/caregivers.
  • Ten lessons learned through the experiences of the projects that can inform future work supporting community reentry of incarcerated youth with disabilities.


November 2017 
Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota


  • Specific life stage
    • Adolescents and young adults
  • Health and safety
    • Judicial system
  • Educational accountability and assessment
    • IDEA
    • Students with Disabilities
  • Specific disability
    • Emotional/behavioral disorder (EBD)
    • Learning disabilities