About 89,000 juveniles were held in public and private correctional facilities in 2008, according to the most recent one-day count conducted by the U.S Justice Department (pdf) And we know that, compared to the student population at large, incarcerated youth tend to be well below grade level academically, and with learning disabilities that may or may not have been diagnosed, much less addressed in a prison setting.
This article from the Los Angeles Times about a mother who fought for special education services for her imprisoned son, shines a spotlight on an under-covered issue.
Yamileth Fuentes constantly worried about her son Michael's education. As the mother of a child with learning disabilities, she made sure he didn't get overlooked in school. She fretted when his math worksheets weren't challenging enough, or when his spelling slipped. The energetic 42-year-old Metro bus driver wasn't afraid to fight on her son's behalf. She enlisted the help of clergymen, bureaucrats and an army of lawyers in the battle to get Michael a proper education. Once, she even stopped her bus to confront the mayor when she spotted him giving a news conference on a downtown street corner. She believed, as countless other parents do, that her child should be given every opportunity to succeed. Even if he was sitting behind bars, accused of murder.
I have nothing but admiration for this mother, who says she wants her son to walk out of prison a better man than he went in. But I also admit to feeling pessimistic about the prospects for this young man who, despite having a mother who cares deeply about him, will probably still leave prison undereducated—and with two children of his own to support. May he prove me wrong.
Who is studying the issure of incarcerated youth with special education needs? In a quick search, I came across the National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice, but the site looks like it went dormant around 2007.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.