The Arc Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Protect Constitutional Rights of People with Intellectual Disability on Death Row

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Hall v. Florida, a death penalty case concerning the definition of “mental retardation” (or intellectual disability (ID) as it is now called) that Florida uses in deciding whether an individual with that disability is protected by the Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with ID is unconstitutional as it violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“Florida is clearly violating the Supreme Court’s Atkins v. Virginia ruling and the Court must reaffirm its commitment to the rights of people with intellectual disabilities in our criminal justice system. Freddie Lee Hall has an intellectual disability, and Florida’s effort to flaunt the professional standards on IQ testing to end someone’s life needs to be stopped by the highest court in our country. It is immoral and unjust,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Hall case centers on whether the state may establish a hardline ceiling on IQ, refusing to consider whether anyone with an obtained IQ above that level may actually have ID, despite the fact that use of such a ceiling undermines the purpose of IQ testing and the professional judgment of the diagnostician, among other things. In Hall, the Court has been asked to address Florida’s decision to draw the line at an IQ of 70. Based on the professional expertise of two leading professional organizations in the field, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA), it is universally accepted that IQ test scores must be interpreted by taking into account the standard error of measurement that is inherent in IQ tests. That means that any IQ test score is best understood as a range, rather than a single score: a score of 70, for example, is best understood as indicating that the person’s “true” IQ score is most likely between 65 and 75.

In addition to IQ testing, numerous expert evaluations have documented Freddie Lee Hall’s disability. Before the Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins, a Florida trial court found that Hall had ID “all of his life”. His family recognized his disability in early childhood and teachers repeatedly noted his intellectual disability. The lower court records also include findings of severe and violent abuse of Hall during his childhood.

The Arc has participated in a number of cases on this issue before the Supreme Court including Atkins v. Virginia. The Arc’s amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief was cited by the Justices in support of its ruling that the Constitution protects all defendants with ID. On December 23, 2013, The Arc submitted an amicus brief for the Hall v. Florida case.

Through a two-year grant for $400,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), The Arc is developing the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability. This project is creating a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, whose disability often goes unrecognized. Providing accurate, effective and consistent training for criminal justice professionals is critical.

The Arc Reacts to Startling New Bureau of Justice Statistics on Crimes against People with Cognitive and Other Disabilities

This week, The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released a report on Crime Against Persons with Disabilities, 2009–2012 – Statistical Tables.  Disabilities are classified according to six limitations: hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and independent living.  Among persons with disabilities, those with cognitive disabilities experienced the highest rate of violent victimization (63 per 1,000).  Violent crime against persons with disabilities was nearly three times higher than the rate for persons without disabilities.  The rate of serious violent crime—rape or other sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault—against persons with disabilities was nearly four times higher than that for persons without disabilities in 2012.

The Arc, which is running the new National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, released the following statement on the data:

“This startling data illustrates what we are hearing from self-advocates, parents, caregivers, and others within our chapter network and the disability community – people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are at particular risk of being victims of crimes of all kinds.  It’s a serious problem that we must no longer ignore or treat as a peripheral issue.  In order to effectively address this silent epidemic of unaddressed abuse and victimization among people with disabilities in the U.S., we must have support from all levels of the community – disability advocates, law enforcement, victim advocates, legal professionals, elected leaders, community advocates, and people with disabilities themselves who know all too well the trauma of victimization and the devastation of receiving little or no support.

“The Arc’s new Center on Criminal Justice and Disability aims to be a comprehensive resource to help turn these statistics around so that people with disabilities can lead safer lives in their community and access support and begin to heal when victimization occurs,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc’s new National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) under one roof.  The Center launched its new website earlier this week.

The Arc Reacts to Department of Justice’s Inspector General Beginning Investigation into Storefront Sting Operations Involving People with Disabilities

Washington, DC – In response to the news that the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Inspector General will be investigating storefront stings in four of the cities that used people with intellectual disability (ID) to facilitate operations without their knowledge, The Arc released the following statement:

“We are pleased that the Inspector General is taking this important step, as we requested in our letter to the agency, to find out how these operations that used people with intellectual disability could have occurred, and we hope that the results of this inquiry are the end to this practice across all operations conducted by the Department of Justice.  Because of the unique challenges people with intellectual and developmental disabilities face in the criminal justice system, as either suspects, offenders, or victims, they should not be used as pawns or informants by ATF agents or other law enforcement officials. We are working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to determine how The Arc can help train federal agents to recognize intellectual disability and keep this population out of their operations,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.  “Many people needing help in the criminal justice system have disabilities that are not easily recognizable, and we hope to raise awareness among law enforcement nationwide about ‘hidden disabilities’ to increase the safety and protect the rights of people with I/DD.”

When The Arc first learned that storefront sting operations were entrapping and exploiting people with ID and then charging some for the crimes ATF agents asked them to commit, we reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice expressing our concerns.  Since then, The Arc has met with high-level officials within the DOJ and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to discuss these cases and offer assistance with training of federal law enforcement officials.

The Arc Reacts to Maryland Commission’s Report on Community Inclusion in the Wake of the Robert Ethan Saylor Tragedy

Recently, the state of Maryland’s Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) released their initial report.  Created in September by Governor Martin O’Malley, the Commission is charged with bringing to life accurate, effective and comprehensive attitudes, policies, and supports that will guide first responders in their work with people with I/DD.  Representing The Arc on the Commission is Joanna Pierson, Executive Director of The Arc of Frederick County.

The Commission conducted a national review of materials and approaches in the area of I/DD, examined the status of training in Maryland, looked at how community inclusion efforts over the years have impacted people with I/DD, and determined next steps in their process.  Now the Commission is hosting listening sessions across the state that The Arc will participate in.

“The Commission has started an incredibly important dialogue in Maryland about how to bring more awareness to communities across the state about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Too often, we hear of instances where law enforcement is approaching a situation involving a person with an intellectual or developmental disability from a crisis perspective.  We need to change this approach so that our first responders are first made aware of how to engage people with disabilities so that things don’t escalate into a crisis as they did with Robert Ethan Saylor.  The Arc Maryland is ready to provide this training support with a program that involves people with disabilities, as suggested by the Commission.  We think it is vitally important that any training and awareness brought about by this Commission’s work should be inclusive of all types of intellectual and developmental disabilities so that we can make our state safer and more inclusive for all,” said Kate Fialkowski, Executive Director, The Arc Maryland.

In October, The Arc Maryland conducted an introductory training entitled “Law Enforcement Response to Developmental Disabilities” at the Governor’s Fall Criminal Justice Conference.  In an “Ask Me” format, individuals with developmental disabilities led this training.

At the national level, in October The Arc was awarded a two-year grant for $400,000 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to develop the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability.  This is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  The goal of this project is to create a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with I/DD, whose disability often goes unrecognized, and who are overrepresented in the nation’s criminal justice system – both as victims and suspects/offenders.

“Just a few months into this project, and we are already seeing just how great the need is nationally for resources, information, training, and support around this issue. It shouldn’t take another tragedy like the death of Robert Ethan Saylor to bring the kind of focused attention this issue deserves, and we look forward to working with the Commission to make Maryland’s communities safer for everyone,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc Calls on Department of Justice to End Tactics and Thoroughly Investigate Allegations that People with Disabilities Were Exploited in Sting Operations

After reading news reports of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents engaging in entrapment and exploitation designed to prey on the intellectual disability of individuals whom ATF agents sought to engage in their stings, some of whom have been prosecuted for their participation, The Arc is calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to take action.

In a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday, The Arc outlined the following action items to take in the wake of the scandal:

  • Establish an immediate investigation into the ATF practices which led to the news reports;
  • Ensure an immediate halt to all practices which exploit people based on their intellectual and/or developmental disability (I/DD);
  • Require ATF to suspend any ongoing investigations that are targeting people known to have I/DD;
  • Develop and implement a training program for ATF agents nationwide that provides specific information on how to identify persons with I/DD, and establish protocols to ensure they are no longer targeted or sought out as informants due to having a disability;
  • Encourage the Inspector General to escalate the investigation to cover ATF more broadly and bring the investigation to conclusion sooner rather than later; and
  • Petition the courts for equitable redress where people with intellectual disabilities are serving time for crimes initiated or furthered by the actions of ATF agents.

“Without a firm repudiation of the reported behaviors by ATF agents, the public and the disability community, in particular, will lose faith in a department which it trusts to protect its rights, not to entice vulnerable people into legal trouble.  The Arc is committed to working closely with the appropriate federal agencies to inform protocol and training development for ATF agents, and be of assistance on this important matter as needed,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc has worked extensively over the years with many staff and officials in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to ensure that the rights of people with I/DD are protected throughout mainstream community life and within the criminal justice system.  We have seen remarkable progress in implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, particularly in recent years.  DOJ has continued its commitment to these issues, most recently awarding The Arc a grant to create a National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability to bridge the gap between the disability and law enforcement communities, creating access to justice and safer lives for people with I/DD.

Below is the entire letter to Attorney General Holder.

 

The Honorable Eric Holder

Attorney General of the United States

U.S. Department of Justice

950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20530-0001

 

December 12, 2013

 

Dear Mr. Attorney General:

The Arc of the United States has worked extensively over the years with many staff and officials in the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure that the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are protected throughout mainstream community life and within the criminal justice system.  We have known very competent, inspiring, and visionary DOJ employees working over many decades to ensure full participation for people who face significant barriers in everyday life.  We have seen remarkable progress in implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, particularly in recent years.  We are now looking forward as we begin an exciting new chapter with DOJ start-up funding of a new National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability.

With DOJ’s commitment to the protection of rights of people with disabilities, we were appalled to read news reports of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents engaging in entrapment and exploitation designed to prey on the intellectual disability of individuals whom ATF agents sought to engage in their stings, some of whom have been prosecuted for their participation.  The targeting and use of people in this way, exploiting their disabilities, flies in the face of the excellent work of the Civil Rights division in pursuing full implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision.  This reported behavior, if true, by a federal department charged with protecting the rights of people with disabilities must not be allowed to continue.

While this information is appalling, unfortunately, it is not surprising to The Arc.  This type of injustice against people with I/DD occurs more often than the general public realizes. Individuals with I/DD are over represented in the criminal justice system and often used by other criminals without I/DD to carry out criminal activity. They typically have limited, if any, understanding about their involvement in a crime or consequences of being involved in a crime.  With few options for or opportunities to build safe relationships, their strong need to be accepted by peers in their own communities can create a unique vulnerability that people without I/DD do not experience.

If the media stories about the ATF are based in truth at all, we believe that the harm done to individuals by agencies of their government is so egregious that the following actions are needed immediately:

  • Establish an immediate investigation into the ATF practices which led to the news reports;
  • Ensure an immediate halt to all practices which exploit people based on their intellectual and/or developmental disability;
  • Require ATF to suspend any ongoing investigations that are targeting people known to have I/DD;
  • Develop and implement a training program for ATF agents nationwide that provides specific information on how to identify persons with I/DD, and establish protocols to ensure they are no longer targeted or sought out as informants due to having a disability;
  • Encourage the Inspector General to escalate the investigation to cover ATF more broadly and bring the investigation to conclusion sooner rather than later; and
  • Petition the courts for equitable redress where people with intellectual disabilities are serving time for crimes initiated or furthered by the actions of ATF agents.

Without a firm repudiation of the reported behaviors by ATF agents, the public and the disability community, in particular, will lose faith in a department which it trusts to protect its rights, not to entice vulnerable people into legal trouble.  The Arc is committed to working closely with the appropriate federal agencies to inform protocol and training development for ATF agents, and be of assistance on this important matter as needed. The goal of The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability is to bridge the gap between the disability and law enforcement communities, creating access to justice and safer lives for people with I/DD.  We stand ready to assist you in addressing these issues.

 

Sincerely,

 

Peter V. Berns

Chief Executive Officer, The Arc

 

cc: Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council

 

 

Disability Case at the U.S. Supreme Court – What You Need to Know

Supreme Court of the United StatesEarlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Hall v. Florida, a death penalty case concerning the definition of “mental retardation” (or intellectual disability (ID) as it is now called) that states may use in deciding whether an individual with that disability is protected by the Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with ID is unconstitutional.

Numerous expert evaluations have documented Hall’s disability.  One psychologist’s examination found organic brain dysfunction and severe cognitive impairment, possibly due to repeated head trauma; neuropsychological testing showing severe brain impairment.  Another psychiatrist found that Hall is chronically psychotic; that he suffered violent child abuse; has organic brain damage and is paranoid. The lower court records include findings of severe and violent abuse of Hall during his childhood.

The Hall case is the first case the Supreme Court has taken on the issue of the death penalty for defendants with ID since the Atkins decision, which indicates that there could be a further clarification of states’ responsibilities under that decision.  Specifically, the Hall case centers on whether the state may establish a hardline ceiling on IQ, refusing to consider whether anyone with an IQ above that level may actually have ID (despite the fact that such a ceiling violates the nature of the tests involved and the professional judgment of the diagnostician, among other things).  In Hall, the Court has been asked to address Florida’s decision to draw the line at an IQ of 70.

The Arc strongly believes that every individual with ID should be protected from the death penalty and applauds the Court’s decision to hear this case.  In the past, The Arc has participated in a number of cases on this issue before the Supreme Court including Atkins v. Virginia.  Participating in an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in the Atkins decision, The Arc’s  brief was cited by the Justices in support of its ruling that the Constitution protects all defendants with ID.  Since 2002, The Arc’s advocates have been actively involved in the implementation of the Atkins decision in the Federal and State courts across the country.

The Hall v. Florida case is not the only case pertaining to this issue in the news right now. Earlier this year, Warren Hill’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution because he has ID was denied.  Hill’s lawyers filed a petition directly to the Supreme Court, stating that they had evidence proving Hill has ID.  However, in Georgia (where Hill was convicted), ID must be proven by the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the strictest standard in the country.

Many people in the disability community share The Arc’s belief that states should not be allowed to create a stricter or more limited definition of ID than the professionally accepted clinical definition of ID. To do otherwise allows the states to execute some people with ID while protecting others. This approach violates the intent of the Atkins decision.

The Arc will be closely following Hall v. Florida as it moves through the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014.

Sexual Abuse of People with I/DD a Global Scandal

By Theresa Fears, MSW. Theresa has been working in the field of sexual abuse prevention of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for 13 years. She created the Partnership 4 Safety program at The Arc of Spokane. The Arc has recently launched a National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability to address some of the issues highlighted by Theresa and provide resources for people with I/DD who are in contact with the criminal justice system.

rate of sexual abuse graphicSexual abuse of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) is a huge problem.

Children and teens with I/DD are three to four times more likely to be sexually abused than are those without disabilities. Some researchers estimate that the lifetime rate of abuse of adults with disabilities is as high as 90 percent.

Childhood sexual assault has lifelong consequences. Childhood sexual assault has been connected to depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and an increased risk of sexual abuse in adulthood.

Adult victims of sexual assault may experience the trauma of not being believed or of being blamed for the attack and risking displacement from their homes or residences. Sadly, many victims do not receive therapy to help deal with the trauma of an attack. In a recent study, only 33 percent of victims received therapy after their sexual assaults. There are many false beliefs about those who offend. The most common is that they are strangers, but according to a number of authors, between 97 percent and 99 percent of assaults were committed by someone the victim already knew. Approximately 44 percent of the perpetrators were connected because of the victim’s disability. Perpetrators may include special education teachers, bus drivers, caregivers and other support personnel.

Research on risk factors for sexual assault of people with I/DD has been consistent over the last 20 years. The frequently reported risk factors are:

  • Lack of education about sexual development  and anatomy
  • Lack of information on abuse awareness
  • Lack of healthy relationship education
  • Lack of social norm education
  • Lack of age-appropriate friends

If sexual assault is a problem, then what is the solution? Prevention! There are three levels of prevention according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary prevention takes place before harm has occurred; its purpose is to stop sexual abuse from happening.

Secondary prevention happens immediately after abuse has occurred; its purpose is to prevent it from happening again. And lastly, tertiary prevention is a response to the harm of sexual abuse — generally therapy.

The CDC has recommendations for creating prevention programming based on years of evaluating what works and what doesn’t.

Providing prevention programming across the lifespan would require offering education to parents of people with I/DD and, children, teens and adults with I/DD.

The logical place to begin primary prevention therefore is with the caregivers of young children — the parents.

A solid parent education program should have three goals:

  • To  increase parents’ understating of  the rates of abuse and risk factors
  • To explain parental obligation to support children’s development as sexual beings and
  • To teach parents how to identify and challenge inappropriate or dangerous behaviors of any adult in a child’s life.

How can you begin a prevention program at your agency? First, look to the programs you already have for a natural fit. It would be easier to add sexual abuse prevention training to a parent education, information, support and advocacy program than it would to an employment program for example.

A good free parent education program is the “Where We Live” curriculum created by Pittsburg Action Against Rape (www.pcar.org/special-initiative). Although it is not written for children with I/DD, it can be easily modified. I would be happy to share this information with Apostrophe readers who are interested in beginning parent education in their community.

http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/pdf/VictimizationTBI_Fact%20Sheet4Pros-a.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_abuse_of_people_with_developmental_disabilities#cite_note-5

This article first appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of Apostrophe Magazine (October-December).

The Arc Responds to Warren Hill’s Appeal Denial by the Supreme Court

The Arc released the following statement following news that the United States Supreme Court declined to consider Warren Hill’s appeal to halt his execution because he has intellectual disability (ID). Hill’s lawyers filed the petition directly to the Supreme Court, stating that they had evidence proving Hill has ID. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with ID is unconstitutional. However, in Georgia (where Hill is on trial), ID must be proven by the defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the strictest standard in the country.

“We are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen not to accept Warren Hill’s appeal. The high court was the last chance for a man unjustly sentenced to death, and their inaction will cost Mr. Hill his life.  They failed to order a halt to the execution despite their prior ruling in Atkins v. Virginia that established that it is unconstitutional to execute an inmate with intellectual disability,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), has been involved in this case through filing an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in earlier proceedings, and supporting Hill’s defense team through letters to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and the District Attorney urging his sentence be commuted to life without parole.

 

The Arc Maryland Responds to Governor’s Executive Order to Establish Commission

Governor O’Malley Forms New Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

ANNAPOLIS, Md.The Arc Maryland responds to Governor O’Malley’s Executive Order to establish the Maryland Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The Executive Order was created as a response to the tragic death of Frederick County resident Ethan Saylor, who had Down syndrome, in an effort to improve the training of law enforcement, paramedics and other first responders to better respond to people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.

In a press statement issued on February 21 (http://blog.thearc.org/2013/02/21/the-arc-responds-to-the…), The Arc Maryland responded to the tragic death of Robert Ethan Saylor: “Sadly, this tragedy could have been prevented…with proper training these officers would have realized there was a better way to work with Robert, as opposed to simply using force – an extreme and unnecessary reaction. This is a moment for us not only to mourn, but we must also learn from this tragedy and encourage proper training in our police departments,” said Kate Fialkowski, Executive Director, The Arc Maryland.

Individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (includes children, youth and adults with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome) represent 3% of the population living in our communities as valuable contributing citizens. Individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) are disproportionately victimized and disproportionately suspected of criminal activity—7 times more likely to come in contact with law enforcement than the general population. Individuals with I/DD often have co-occurring medical conditions such as neurological, cardiac, or respiratory conditions that make them more vulnerable in stress situations. The use of prone restraints – which is associated with increased risk of asphyxia and aspiration – can result in fatality. (National Review of Restraint Related Deaths of Children and Adults with Disabilities: The Lethal Consequences of Restraint, 2011).

Carol Fried, President of The Arc Maryland said: “It’s our collective responsibility as a community to understand the unique gifts of our fellow community members, but also to ensure that our protective service systems are savvy in ensuring safe treatment of a vulnerable population.”

A comprehensive approach is necessary and The Arc Maryland applauds Governor O’Malley for establishing this Commission. It is critical that our state develops policies and practices for law enforcement and first responders, that there should be a coordinated and comprehensive strategy for response, and all first responders should have appropriate training to effectively respond to individuals with I/DD in a variety of public safety situations.

In its continuing efforts to build awareness and improve community inclusion, The Arc Maryland is scheduled to conduct an introductory training entitled “Law Enforcement Response to Developmental Disabilities” at the Governor’s Fall Criminal Justice Conference on October 10, 2013. In an “Ask Me” format, individuals with developmental disabilities will lead this training.  “The Arc has a long history of criminal justice and first responder training on a national level. We’re happy to contribute our extensive experience in any way that can benefit the state and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families,” said Ms. Fialkowski.

The Arc Launches New National Resource Center on Justice and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Office of Justice Programs SealWashington, DC – The Arc is pleased to announce it has been awarded a two-year grant for $400,000 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to develop a national center on justice and intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  This is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  According to the National Crime Victim Survey of 2010, the victimization rate is twice as high for individuals with disabilities as compared to those without disabilities.  And we don’t have to look far for examples where law enforcement and people with I/DD could have benefited from this kind of work, including the tragic death of Robert Ethan Saylor in Frederick, Maryland, who died earlier this year after three off-duty deputies attempted to remove him from a movie theater over a misunderstanding over a ticket.

The goal of this project is to create a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with I/DD, whose disability often goes unrecognized, and who are overrepresented in the nation’s criminal justice system – both as victims and offenders.

“When individuals with I/DD become involved in the criminal justice system as suspects or victims, they often face miscommunication, fear, confusion and prejudice. This new center will play a critical role in improving first response and communication between people with I/DD and the justice system.  No similar center on this topic exists, nor are there sufficient resources to address the gap in expertise in the field, and so this effort is long overdue,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc will work closely with several other national partners within the criminal justice, legal and victim advocacy communities to research, analyze and replicate evidence-based solutions to the problems of injustice and victimization that have gone on for far too long within the I/DD community.  For example, people with I/DD are often unable to report crimes or are not seen as credible witnesses. They are also vulnerable to becoming perpetrators of crime, including sex offenses, and used by other criminals to assist in law-breaking activities. And with many forms of mild I/DD not being easily identifiable, justice personnel may not recognize that someone has a disability or know how to work effectively with the individual. Although organized training is available for criminal justice professionals on mental illness, few resources on I/DD exist. Many law enforcement and other justice professionals do not know the difference between mental illness and I/DD and often think they are synonymous.

“When our chapters work with their local law enforcement agencies, they hear time and time again that training is provided for mental health issues, yet that doesn’t encompass millions of people with I/DD living in our communities.  Through this grant, The Arc’s center will become a national focal point for the collection and dissemination of resources and serve as a bridge between the justice and disability communities,” said Berns.

The center will consist of a resource library, directories of expert witnesses, attorneys, forensic interviewers, and victim advocates, a database of relevant state laws, and hands-on technical assistance and training.  Additionally, The Arc will create a Justice and I/DD Certification program using training curriculum authored by Leigh Ann Davis, M.S.S.W., M.P.A., and hold five trainings around the country and web-based trainings.