Home News Center New Jersey Parents Caucus Helps Ensure Youth in Adult Prisons Get Access to Special Education

New Jersey Parents Caucus Helps Ensure Youth in Adult Prisons Get Access to Special Education

November 29, 2021
Courtney M. McSwain

In August 2021, New Jersey youth justice advocates celebrated a victory with the groundbreaking settlement of Adam X et. al. v. New Jersey Department of Corrections and Department of Education et al. Adam X exposed egregious neglect and denial of special education services for incarcerated New Jersey youth with disabilities in adult prisons. The settlement creates more oversight and accountability to make sure youth with special education needs receive proper education per federal IDEA law. NJJN member New Jersey Parent's Caucus (NJPC) played an instrumental role in the lawsuit filed in 2017 by the ACLU of New Jersey, Disability Rights Advocates and Proskauer Rose LLP. 

Three youth plaintiffs in the lawsuit, referred to as Adam X, Brian Y., and Casey Z., shared their experiences in solitary confinement with no special education services despite having a disability, behavioral health diagnosis, or previous special education designation. According to federal law, students qualifying for special education are to receive those services while in prison up to the age of 21. 

All three youth plaintiffs were identified for the lawsuit through NJPC. They were part of
NJPC's NJ Youth Caucus, and their experiences were documented through NJPC's extensive data collection. In 2007, NJPC began compiling a dataset of comprehensive state data from the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJ DOC), as well as qualitative data by means of a survey assessment provided to incarcerated youth and their parents. The dataset was included in NJPC‘s The Incarceration of Children and Youth in New Jersey’s Adult Prison System report which comprehensively documented educational neglect and other abuses. To date, NJPC has compiled accounts from 905 young people. 

"Our data served as the foundation of the
Adam X lawsuit," says Wright. "We have an extensive collection of information that demonstrates the systemic denial of special education services and makes clear the violation of rights of youth in New Jersey's adult prisons."

NJPC spends extensive time building relationships with incarcerated and system-impacted youth and helps them become advocates for themselves and the broader movement for system transformation. Even while incarcerated, youth working with NJPC have the opportunity to become a part of the NJ Youth Caucus and attend advocacy meetings via telephone, contribute artwork to various campaigns and for those who are parents, provide support to their children.

"The letters we collected from young people who were locked up in adult prisons started the process of identifying special education denial as something that needed addressing,' Wright says. "The DOC and DOE were effectively diminishing the capacity for young men and women to be properly educated and have access to appropriate services of support, which ultimately took away their ability to be productive citizens. Without that special education access, they often wouldn't graduate. And without education, how can a young person reenter society in a healthy way when they come home?"

NJPC continues the drumbeat of justice for youth in the state. In 2022, the organization will launch its "Treat Youth as Youth" campaign to end the solitary confinement of youth, end the waiver of youth into the adult system, end racial and ethnic disparities, and ensure those with lived experience are at the forefront of future decision making. 

As Wright says, "Our goal with this new campaign is to set a vision for youth justice in our state that takes it back to what it's supposed to be - a system for rehabilitation that is not based on geography or race and does not further perpetuate trauma. We see the areas where children's rights are being denied and children are further harmed by a system with little accountability. It is our job to stand up for children and fight alongside our youth and their families."

You can learn more about the New Jersey Parent's Caucus on their website or by finding them on Facebook and Twitter. 

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