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Information on the Prevalence of Learning Disabilities in the Prison Population, The Regional Education Laboratory West

This memo, prepared by REL West, provides information and references relating to the prevalence of learning disabilities in adult and juvenile prison populations. There are six references in this document. Each reference is summarized below.

1) Berzofsky, M., Bronson, J., & Maruschak, L. L. (2015). Disabilities among prison and jail inmates, 2011–12. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

  • This report found that 32% of state and federal prisoners and 40% of local jail inmates reported having at least one disability. It also found that prisoners and jail inmates were 3-4 times more likely than the general population to report having at least one disability.

2) Greenberg, E., Dunleavy, E., & Kutner, M. (2007). Literacy behind bars: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy Prison Survey (NCES 2007–473). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

  • Here, researchers found that, overall, incarcerated adults have a lower literacy rate than adults in the general population, based on a survey of approximately 1,200 inmates in state and federal prisons and approximately 18,000 adults living in households. This trend was consistent when controlling for most differences in age, gender, and race; however, the study found higher average literacy for incarcerated Black adults than Black adults living in households. The study also found that inmates participating in prison education programs had higher literacy than those who did not participate in these programs.

3) National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice. (n.d.). Special education in correctional facilities, College Park, MD.

  • This study notes the challenges of getting accurate statistics for juvenile inmates, partly due to the transience of the population and the wide range of facilities serving juveniles. One statistic from a 1985 study suggested that 28% of youth in correctional facilities had disabilities, 80% of whom were receiving special education and related services.

4) Quinn, M. M., Rutherford, R. B., Leone, P. E., Osher, D. M., & Poirier, J. M. (2005). Youth with disabilities in juvenile corrections: A national survey. Exceptional Children, 71(3), 339–345.

  • This resource reports on a 1997 study seeking to determine the percentage of youth with disabilities in juvenile corrections. These results estimated that 33.4% of youth in juvenile correction facilities were reported as being eligible for special education services, which is almost four times higher than in public schools.

5) Reingle Gonzalez, J. M., Cannell, M. B., Jetelina, K. K., & Froehlich-Grobe, K. (2015, December 2). Disproportionate prevalence rate of prisoners with disabilities: Evidence from a nationally representative sample. Journal of Disability Policy Studies.

  • In a survey of 18,185 inmates in state and federal correctional facilities, researchers found that the prevalence of disability was significantly higher than the non-institutionalized population, finding that 41% of inmates reported having a disability. Learning disabilities were the most commonly reported disability.

6) Rutherford, Jr., R. R., Bullis, M., Anderson, C. W., & Griller-Clark, H. M. (2002). Youth with disabilities in the correctional system: Prevalence rates and identification issues. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.

  • This document provides a review of several resources relating to the prevalence of disability in the juvenile justice system. The authors suggest the prevalence of disability of youths in juvenile and adult correctional facilities is between 20% and 60%.