The Construction and Criminalization of Disability in School Incarceration

Main Article Content

Jyoti Nanda


This Article explores how race functions to ascribe and criminalize disability. It posits that for White students in wealthy schools, disabilities or perceived disabilities are often viewed as medical conditions and treated with care and resources. For students of color, however, the construction of disability (if it exists) may be a criminalized condition that is treated as warranting punishment and segregated classrooms, possibly leading to juvenile justice system involvement. Providing a review of the K-12 disability legal regimes, this Article maps how the process of identifying a student with a disability happens in a hypercriminalized school setting. The Article argues that the school itself contributes to the construction and criminalization of disability and that the attribution of disability is a product of the subjectivity built into the law, heavily surveilled school environments, and biases held by teachers and administrators. For students of color, instead of a designation that attracts more resources, disability is one of the mechanisms through which they are criminalized. This Article culminates with a call for scholars and practitioners to understand the web that exists in the construction and criminalization of disabilities for Black and Latinx children and the role that schools and school actors play in this process.


Author Biography

Jyoti Nanda

Binder Clinical Teaching Fellow and Youth and Justice Clinic Faculty Founder, UCLA School of Law. An early draft of this Article benefitted from helpful comments at the NYU School of Law Clinical Teaching Workshop and the Criminal Justice Workshop at UCLA School of Law. For comments on or conversations about this Article, the author thanks Cheryl Harris, Devon Carbado, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Scott Cummings, Beth Colgan, Harit Trivedi, Tendayi Achuime, Asli Bâli, Bob Dinerstein, Noah Zatz, Beth Ribet, Devon Rios, Vivian Wong, Dawn Yuster, Suma Peesapati, Katherine Perez, Neelum Arya, and the students in Professor Carbado’s Advanced Critical Race Studies class at UCLA School of Law. Special thanks to Sunney Poyner for invaluable research and editorial suggestions as well as Alma D. Gonzalez, editor-inchief of the Columbia Journal of Race and Law, and the Journal’s editorial staff for their edits. This Article is dedicated to the author’s clients, and their families, in the UCLA School of Law Youth and Justice Clinic (2014–2019).

Article Details

How to Cite
Nanda, J. (2019). The Construction and Criminalization of Disability in School Incarceration. Columbia Journal of Race and Law, 9(2), 265–322.