Juvenile Justice

Students with disabilities who are detained or incarcerated maintain their right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). This includes special education programs and services as specified in their Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The ISD/RESA is responsible for ensuring eligible confined students with disabilities receive special education programs and services. The ISD has flexibility in determining how to meet their obligations and are responsible to meet the individual needs of eligible students. The ISD might collaborate with entities outside of special education, including adult education, local school districts, juvenile justice facilities, county jails, other ISDs and counties.

  • FAPE in the County Jail  This document provides information regarding the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Michigan Compiled Law (MCL), and Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education (MARSE) pertaining to eligible students (up to age 26) while they are confined to county jails in the state of Michigan.

Beyond the legal requirements, these youth who are most at risk for academic failure and/or continued involvement with the justice system need access to every possibility for rehabilitation, education, and reintegration into their school and community.

If youth are not given the supports and opportunities necessary to succeed, they risk dropping out of school and further involvement with the criminal justice system. The School-to-Prison Pipeline refers to policies and practices that push youth out of school and into the criminal justice system. Data shows that students with disabilities, especially students of color with disabilities, are at the greatest risk. 

Keeping kids out of the system

If a student’s behavior impedes their learning or the learning of others, the IEP team must consider the use of positive behavior interventions and supports, and other strategies, to address the behavior. Parents/guardians can request a Functional Behavior Assessment to develop a Behavior Intervention Plan

Zero tolerance policies can criminalize infractions of school rules. Students of color are more likely to experience harsher punishments than white students. The Rethink Discipline Laws aimed to reduce suspensions and expulsions. This law includes restorative justice practices and the mandatory consideration of 7 factors before a student is suspended or expelled.

Too many young people are incarcerated for noncriminal offenses. Michigan’s Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform will collect data from the state and counties to better understand how Michigan treats juveniles who break the law. The Task Force will focus on how to reduce the number of young adults in the system and prevent them from entering it at all.

If your child is referred to the criminal justice system by their school, you can send a letter to the judge, prosecuting attorney, and/or court referee assigned to the case to let them know that your child has a disability and that this is a school matter that should be handled by the school, instead of being heard by the court. Sample letter from Disability Rights Michigan

When a student with an IEP is first confined

When a student with an IEP is in a juvenile detention center or county jail, it is the responsibility of the public education agency to ensure their special education programs, services, and supports continue. The student’s current IEP will be reviewed and possibly updated so it can be implemented while incarcerated. You are your child’s best advocate, and you have the right to be involved in your child’s education while at the facility.

Schools must have procedures in place to share the relevant student records with the correctional facility. The court may order a competency evaluation that considers factors like emotional disturbance, mental illness, and developmental disabilities.

Parents do not lose their rights when their child is placed in a correctional facility, even if the student has been convicted as an adult and incarcerated in an adult prison. Parents remain required members of the IEP and placement teams. All of the protections under IDEA extend to eligible students with disabilities in correctional facilities and their parents, unless a court has limited their rights or parental rights have transferred to the student at the age of majority.

Students with unidentified disability

Many youth in the justice systems go through school with unaddressed academic, behavioral, or mental health needs. One study found that up to 85 percent of children in juvenile detention facilities have disabilities that make them eligible for special education, but only 37 percent received services in school.

IDEA requires that all eligible students with disabilities who are in need of special education be identified, located, and evaluated. This includes students who were not identified prior to their entry. In Michigan, special education for eligible students is mandated from birth through 25 years of age.

If someone struggles in school but does not have an IEP, the parent, guardian, or adult learner can request a comprehensive special education evaluation from the ISD/RESA. The facility could also initiate the evaluation process and request parental consent. 

Returning home

Planning for their return home should begin right away. Talk about how and where your child will continue their education. Depending on their age, talk about what will happen as they transition to adulthood.

When your child is discharged, they will likely return to public school. It is important to make their re-entry into school as smooth as possible. The facility’s transition team will communicate with the home school and transfer paperwork. Students can’t be kept out of school because of a delay in transferring records.

Adult learners with disabilities, ages 18 to 26, retain their right to special education if they have not received a regular high school diploma. This includes young adults who are enrolled in adult education, alternative education, and transition programs.

  • FAPE for Adult Learners MDE guidance that establishes the requirements and defines who is responsible for implementing the requirements for adult learners, including to Child Find, Evaluation, Programs and Services, and funding.

Additional Resources


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