Georgia youth detained in adult jail will for the first time have access to special education services, following a recent ruling by a U.S. District Court.
The April 29 class action ruling affects 17 to 21 year olds with disabilities incarcerated in DeKalb County Jail. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), they have a federally guaranteed right to special education and accommodations.
Hundreds of youth incarcerated in the facility have been denied this right over the past decade, plaintiffs’ lawyers said in a statement. Without access to appropriate education, these young people have been far less likely to graduate high school, attend college or find meaningful employment, they said, adding that people in Georgia without a high school diploma are twice as likely to live in poverty.
“This is a victory for youth and young adults in DeKalb County who have been denied the special education services they’re entitled to, a disproportionate number of whom are poor, Black and frequently caught in a vicious school to prison pipeline,” Aaron Finch, Lead Counsel at Children’s Rights, said in the press release. “The positive effects of education on incarcerated youth are profound. Recidivism rates drop and those who achieve higher levels of education while incarcerated are more likely to experience better life outcomes once released.”
The lawsuit, T.H. vs. DeKalb County School District, was filed in 2019 by the large national legal group Children’s Rights along with the Barton Juvenile Defender Clinic at Emory University School of Law, Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, LLP and Hecht Walker, P.C. The outcome of this case marks the first time a Georgia court has ruled that the federal rights enshrined in IDEA apply to youth in adult jail settings.
The state Department of Education and the DeKalb County School District have already begun coordinating with the local sheriff to offer classes to eligible youth in the fall.