She said her own son could have gone that way, because of his attention deficit disorder.
"I think about the number of times that he got in trouble directly as a result of his AD/HD," she said. "If he hadn't had the protections in place, I hate to think where he might be. He's graduating with honors with a college scholarship. I know that wouldn't have happened without a positive behavior plan."
Kids at Risk
Mears' study, based on examination of data from numerous sources, including individual districts as well as from city- and statewide studies, found that children who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities make up roughly 20 percent of the population in the juvenile justice system, while they are just 10 percent of the overall population.
The National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice solicited information from departments of education, juvenile courts and detention centers and, from the responses, estimated that at least 34 percent of the children in the juvenile justice system had been enrolled in special education at some point in their school.
"Actually, we think that's low," said Leone, the NCEDJJ director. "A handful of states said that more than half the kids in long-term juvenile detention had been enrolled in special education. We don't think that's an aberration."
The disparity in the numbers may be due in part to inaccuracies in record keeping, or failure of the youngster's family or school to report on the child's education history.
"I think it's a problem that we're becoming more and more aware of," Leone said. "I think there's a growing awareness in a larger community."