Preparing scholars with expertise to advance juvenile justice in special education

The U.S. Department of Education supports the efforts of Arizona State University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

 Project title 
Preparing scholars with expertise to advance juvenile justice in special education

 Official grant name 

Preparing Leaders on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice

 Award amount 
$3,750,000

 Grant effective dates 
November 1, 2021October 31, 2026

 Principal investigator(s) 
Sarup Mathur

 Direct sponsor 
U.S. Department of Education



The challenge

There is a chronic shortage of scholars with the necessary expertise to lead fundamental change within the juvenile justice educational system. Nationwide, there is a critical need to recruit and prepare college and university professors to fill the positions of an estimated 55% of faculty who have either considered changing careers or retiring early as a result of the pandemic. There is an even greater need to address the shortage of special education teachers and researchers with expertise working with students with special needs in juvenile justice settings.  The prevalence of students with disabilities in juvenile justice systems is more than four times the rate in typical school populations. Many students in this vulnerable population are living in poverty, academically far below grade level, dropped out of school or are at-risk for leaving school before graduating, are homeless, in foster care or living in another non-traditional setting such as a group home or residential treatment program. Additionally, many students with disabilities in the juvenile justice system are English language learners.  Special education educators are not sufficiently prepared to address the characteristics and complexities related to serving students with disabilities in the juvenile justice system and need explicit training to effectively identify and implement evidence-based practices with fidelity.  It’s estimated that each existing special education doctoral program must graduate 7.5 scholars per year in order to meet the current demand in special education. The high turnover rate in special education juvenile justice settings jeopardizes the field’s capacity to provide systemic leadership; support and retain qualified special education teachers; and conduct rigorous and robust research to address the needs of students with disabilities in the juvenile justice system.  With limited skilled professors who can prepare educational professionals in prevention models to work effectively at schools, the juvenile justice system becomes the default system for high-needs students with disabilities.



The approach

In partnership with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the University of Illinois at Chicago, ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College will prepare nine faculty members in special education with an emphasis on students served in juvenile justice settings. The project, Preparing Leaders on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice (PLEDJJ), will meet the intensive academic, behavioral, social, mental health and trauma-related needs of students with disabilities in the juvenile justice system. 

PLEDJJ will leverage the expertise of faculty across partnering universities — each with active research agendas on juvenile justice special education and teacher education research — to prepare highly specialized leaders whose work will transform the future of juvenile justice special education.

Through established relationships with local juvenile justice systems, and national research and policy organizations, this cohort-based, tri-institutional project will prepare highly effective higher education faculty in special education with theoretical, practical and research experience in juvenile justice special education. 

PLEDJJ scholars will participate in biweekly seminars, cross-partner research and training experiences, and an annual engagement in planning and running a juvenile justice strand at a premiere national special education conference. PLEDJJ scholars will have opportunities to engage in research internships and practice internships in juvenile corrections facilities, adult corrections settings, juvenile probation settings, behavioral health settings and residential treatment centers. They will also have the opportunity to participate in a cross-university research exchange to gain practical experience in research implementation and management.

A major emphasis of PLEDJJ is to prepare scholars to secure a faculty position in a higher education institution. In years four and five, scholars will participate in 10 biweekly seminars focused on the job search process and five-year career planning.  



Findings & impact

Each university has extended offers to three candidates and are awaiting acceptance.

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