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Lily Hofstra

A significant issue in New Mexico and across the nation is the over-representation of youth with disabilities in juvenile detention. According to a 2015 report by the National Council on Disability (NCD), up to 85 percent of youth in juvenile detention have disabilities that would make them eligible for special education, but only 37 percent of these youth actually receive these services while enrolled in school. Significantly, children of color are detained at disproportionate rates. The NCD report concluded that many youth who end up in detention could experience more positive outcomes and avoid the criminal justice system if provided with appropriate special education services in school.

The NCD report highlighted that both conscious and unconscious racial biases can lead to the exclusion of students from school. The report found that improper implementation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including in relation to identification, discipline, and placement, often impacts students of color with disabilities disproportionately. Among its recommendations, the report emphasized that any effort to intervene in the school-to-prison pipeline must address racial biases and racial disparities in special and general education programs.