Transition Services and Rehabilitation Approaches for Justice-Involved Youth and Adults with Disabilities


Unique issues and challenges exist for justice-involved people with disabilities, requiring person-centered planning and approaches to rehabilitation and community re-entry that account for intersectional identities. The Yang-Tan Institute (YTI) has contributed to addressing these critical needs for more than 30 years and continues to engage in research and outreach efforts focused on these issues, as the number of justice involved people has grown and the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities and other marginalized identities have become more complex.

Project Activities

The United States leads the world in the number of people incarcerated, under parole, on probation, or with a criminal record. Having even a minor criminal record can present major obstacles to employment.1 Additionally, criminal justice involvement has implications for access to housing, financial benefits, healthcare, and political participation. People with disabilities experience disproportionate risk of arrest and incarceration. Individuals in state and federal prisons are nearly three times as likely to have a disability, and four times as likely to have a cognitive disability, as the general population, while one in five prison inmates has a serious mental illness.2 National estimates of the rate of disability among incarcerated youth range from 40% to 70%.3

Substantial overlap exists with disability issues and justice-related issues: (1) overlap of disability issues and incarceration risk factors (e.g., educational/employment barriers); (2) experience of disability in the incarceration setting; (3) youth and juvenile justice-specific issues; and (4) opportunities for inter-sectional thinking in rehabilitation practices and frameworks (e.g., vocational rehabilitation).

In the area of criminal justice involvement, YTI’s work includes:

  • The Inmate to Citizen 5-year research demonstration project that designed and tested a person-centered approach supporting the assessment, treatment, and discharge planning of inmates with disabilities, for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). YTI faculty worked with the three Special Needs Units (SNUs) in New York State to train both corrections and civilian personnel on person-centered practices and to provide organizational development support to aid the SNUs in integrating these practices into their existing policies and procedures.
  • A Comprehensive Needs Assessment for the New York State Adult Career and Continuing Education Services - Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR), which considered Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) “barriers to employment” and successful service delivery to out-of-school youth, including justice-involved youth; the needs assessment included a cultural competence and organizational capacity survey of vocational rehabilitation professionals and community service providers, focus groups, and secondary data analysis.
  • A 2018 summer fellowship for ILR students focusing on issues of intersectionality for justice-involved youth with disabilities.
  • Current research about the role of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA “Manifestation Determination Review” as a procedural safeguard for preventing justice involvement.

Each of these projects has demonstrated that disability is an important, but often overlooked, intersectional identity in juvenile justice trends and in mass incarceration more broadly. This topic is given considerable attention in the “Intersectionality in Disability Studies” course, established by YTI/ILR faculty in 2017. YTI’s efforts to foster equitable treatment within law enforcement, education, employment, and other domains are coupled with initiatives designed to empower justice-involved youth and adults to re-enter their communities through person-centered planning.

Society for Human Resource Management (2012). Bureau of Justice Statistics (2015).

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2015).

Bonczar. (2003); Meyer et al. (2017); Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2015); Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (2015); Hagner, et al. (2008).

Contact Information

LaWanda Cook

Matt Saleh

Funding Agencies


Principal Investigator

Collaborating Partners