Judges' familiarity with learning and behavioral disabilities and dispositions imposed

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Virginia Tech


The escalating youth crime in the United States has included a disproportionate number of incarcerated youthful offenders with learning and behavioral disabilities. The differential disposition hypothesis maintains that youthful offenders with disabilities may receive more restrictive dispositions than their nondisabled counterparts for similar offenses. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between judges’ familiarity with learning and behavioral disabilities and the dispositions they imposed.

Qualitative and quantitative analyses were employed to examine the differential disposition hypothesis. A sample of juvenile judges presiding within the Commonwealth of Virginia was surveyed. The population of offenders consisted of 1,570 incarcerated youths at the Virginia Department of Youth and Family Services Center. The records of 36 nondisabled male youthful offenders and 36 male youthful offenders with disabilities were analyzed. Demographic and dispositional data were coded to determine evidence of disparity.

Although the statistical analysis did not support the differential disposition hypothesis, the qualitative findings and demographic information may be of interest to school systems, the juvenile justice system, and persons interested in appropriate habilitation and rehabilitation of youthful offenders with disabilities.



differential dispositions, rehabilitation, disabilities, offenders