Case Dismissed: National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability Provides Critical Support to Bring Justice in Illinois

The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) fields calls from all over the country regarding people with disabilities in the criminal justice system. From a first encounter with a police officer to their time behind bars, the horrors people with disabilities regularly face are shocking and appalling. All too often, it’s simply a blatant disregard for human rights that set off a chain of events that deny people with I/DD justice. And the fact that this continues to occur in 2014 is unacceptable. However, every so often, a case comes to our attention and events unfold in a way that looks a little bit more like “justice.”

Pathways to Justice - First Contact

A few months ago, an Illinois family contacted NCCJD to search for assistance. Their son, Jack1, who has intellectual and developmental disabilities, had been charged with felony assault at the group home he had recently moved into. After a verbal altercation between Jack and another resident, a third resident called the police. Jack was arrested and, in the process, struck a police officer who grabbed him by the hoodie from behind as he attempted to exit the situation. The officer threatened to taze him if he did not cooperate while they had Jack on the ground trying to handcuff him.

Pathways to Justice - Jail

Jack spent 24 hours in jail without support or access to his medication. His parents called and spoke to the supervisor of the Adult Detention Center to inform them of Jack’s needs. Jack’s parents were told that their son should be able to tell the nurse himself about his needs and pharmacy information. Jack was unable to do that, leaving him at risk and without access to his medications. Jack was read his Miranda rights without assistance and he did not understand what he was agreeing to. His parents were never called while he was jailed.

Jack was assigned a public defender the day he went to bond court. The judge initially put a large bond on Jack because he struck a police officer. However, the public defender argued for low-no bail because of Jack’s disability. The judge reduced bond from $30,000 to $10,000, after asking Jack’s parents if they could afford the $1,000 on a $10,000. Jack was out on bond when, as part of the legal process, his competency was evaluated and he was found unfit to stand trial. The state attorney refused to dismiss charges and the public defender was forced to send Jack for a sanity evaluation—which was completed by the same state appointed psychologist that earlier saw him for competency. Jack was found not sane at the time of the incident.

Pathways to Justice - Trial

These sets of circumstances are all too common for people with disabilities, and are a great injustice. Thankfully, Jack had a public defender that insisted upon a competency evaluation and a sanity evaluation. And Jack’s parents contacted NCCJD and The Arc of Illinois Life Span Program looking for resources. Jack’s mother found NCCJD through The Arc’s main webpage and used the “Request Assistance” form to e-mail NCCJD. Working together with family members, Jack’s service providers, The Arc of Illinois Life Span Program, and NCCJD, advocates were able to put together a personalized justice plan for Jack. The plan outlined resources and possible alternatives for assisting Jack in the community and the plan was supported by the Director of Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities. The report was submitted to Jack’s public defender, who used the report to get the case dismissed. Because the public defender was able to demonstrate that Jack had appropriate services in the community and that there were additional supports being made available as needed, the case was dismissed.

Jack was arrested in mid-March of 2014 and the case was finally dismissed in mid-October. There were almost monthly hearings throughout the ordeal, causing a great amount of stress to everyone involved. When the case was finally dismissed, the family felt like Jack had been misunderstood by the legal system from the beginning. They believe the court did not understand the difference between mental illness and developmental disability, because the judge often spoke to Jack as though he had a normal IQ but was experiencing mental illness. The parents continually questioned the public defender as to whether the judge and state attorney were aware that Jack had a developmental disability. Despite all the shortcomings in this case, the public defender took the necessary steps to ensure dismissal of the case, and the Judge was open to reading the personalized justice plan and making a dismissal.

When asked how he felt when he was arrested, Jack said:

“My heart was racing 290 because I was in the back of a squad car, handcuffed.” [At the police station] “I pretty much felt like a nervous wreck.” [When I went to the Adult Detention Center] “I felt sick to my stomach because I was around people I didn’t know.” [A couple of days before court] “I felt scared and nervous.” [At court] “I felt scared I was going to jail.” [On the last day of court] “the judge calmly talked to me and explained what would happen the next time I got in trouble.” [When the court case was dismissed] “I was still edgy.” “I feel more calmly now” [that it is over.]

The family said of their experience:

“Although this experience was excruciatingly painful for us, there was a positive outcome. The experience has helped our family realize there is work to be done in this area to make sure this never happens to anyone else. We are on board with helping NCCJD and The Arc of Illinois in any way we can to get legislation changed and the first responders, courts, etc. trained in handling the I/DD population. This needs to happen in all communities across the U.S. with group homes. NCCJD is a great national center to dispense this information so that each state/community doesn’t have to keep reinventing the wheel, which would make this happen even faster! We would also like to thank Leigh Ann Davis and Kathryn Walker for their time and efforts. Leigh Ann took time out of a business trip to make contact with me to make sure information was being shared. This is what we need — go to people!!!”

Deb Fornoff, Director of The Arc of Illinois, Illinois Life Span Program said:

“The staff of The National Center on Criminal Justice and Developmental Disability provided support, information, and connection with experienced legal advocates who provided the information we needed to put together a Personal Justice Plan. This Plan was assembled with tremendous collaboration between this man’s family and their son’s service providers, and facilitated by the staff from Illinois Life Span. It provided much needed information to the court about this individual and the services and supports in place and available to him. The plan included details that were otherwise very difficult to address. Thank you, Leigh Ann Davis and Kathryn Walker for your time, your help, and your ongoing commitment to alleviating the injustice that currently exists for individuals with ID/DD in our legal system nationwide.”

NCCJD would not be the resource it is without the dedication of advocates like Deb and families like Jack’s. To anyone with a criminal justice and disability issue, please request assistance! For more information on Personalized Justice Plans, view NCCJD’s archived webinar.

To find a list of resources by state or submit a resource, please visit our state by state map.

1 Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

The Arc Calls on Cuyahoga County Prosecutor to Pursue Ice Bucket Challenge Assault Perpetrators to Fullest Extent of the Law

Washington, DC – As the nation has reacted with outrage to the incident in Bay Village, Ohio where a teenager with autism was doused with urine instead of ice water in a fake Ice Bucket Challenge, The Arc is calling on the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office to charge the five teenagers identified in the case to the fullest extent of the law.

“The perpetrators of this horrific act, who reportedly were neighborhood friends of the victim, need to be held accountable for their behavior.  While some seek to characterize what was done to this teen as an innocent prank, it is anything but.  Call it what it is – it was an assault and abuse.  These kinds of acts are an outright attack on the humanity of people with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities in Ohio and nationwide.  There is no possible excuse for this type of assault and the perpetrators should be prosecuted,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“Unfortunately, people with disabilities experience violence and abuse at high rates, often at the hands of abusers who are known to them.  Many have a strong need to feel accepted and fit in which can, at times, lead them into places and situations with people who they think are their friends, but who are anything but.  When abuse or other violent acts are committed, whether by friends or complete strangers, our legal system must respond.  In this case, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office must send a message that will stop future perpetrators in their tracks – it is not okay to attack a person with a disability,” Berns added.

The Arc has a long history of standing up for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), and supporting them to do the same, when they find themselves in dangerous situations and in our legal system.  Most recently, last year, 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 (NCCJD).  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.  NCCJD is 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.  Currently, NCCJD is developing training and technical assistance for law enforcement agencies that will support police departments like Bay Village’s force, as well as prosecutor’s offices,  such as the office in Cuyahoga County, to administer justice for people with disabilities.  And The Arc supports people with I/DD to be prepared for situations like these, connect them with other survivors of abuse and bullying, and find a collective voice to stand up against it.

The Arc also runs the Autism NOW Center, an online resource center that helps people weed through the volumes of information found online about autism spectrum disorders and provide high-quality, vetted resources and information to people with autism and other developmental disabilities, their family, friends, colleagues, teachers, employers and others.

“Never should a human have to endure such needless acts of abuse. It is never justified and it is never the victim’s fault for they may not even know why they were treated the way they were, but there are people who do. The ones who do know why this kind of abuse is so wrong are the ones who stand together, like The Arc and our chapters, which stand united to push for these random acts of abuse to be punished by law.   Random acts of kindness make a better person. Be good to those in need and one day the favor will be returned twofold,” Amy Goodman, Co-Director of the Autism NOW Center.

“We cannot stand by and accept this horrific act- the prosecutors know what they must do and they must do it swiftly to send the message that attacks on people with disabilities will not be tolerated and will be punished,” Cindy Norwood, Executive Director, The Arc of Greater Cleveland.

FASD Awareness Day

Today is International FASD Awareness Day! We celebrate this awareness day every September 9 (the ninth day of the ninth month), symbolizing the nine months of pregnancy, during which a woman can prevent FASDs by not drinking alcohol. FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can affect a person whose mother drank alcohol while pregnant. FASDs are the most common condition associated with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) that are 100% preventable.

The Arc is very active in both preventing FASDs from occurring, and in serving people who have FASDs.

The Arc’s FASDs Prevention Project

The project, funded by a cooperative grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, informs and educates health care professionals/providers about the risks alcohol can pose to an unborn child. Up to 25% of woman continue to drink during pregnancy. Research with health care professionals and women of child-bearing age indicates that many professionals/providers still advise women that light to moderate consumption of alcohol, especially later in pregnancy, is safe. The prevalence of FASD supports the need for more education, alcohol screening, and intervention with women at risk of alcohol-exposed pregnancy. To that end, The Arc has created an FASD prevention toolkit for health care professionals to reinforce the message that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

In addition to FASD prevention efforts, The Arc partnered with various organizations, including the Center for Disease Control (CDC), to create and promote an informational toolkit to help spread FASD awareness to all women of child-bearing age. With nearly half of all US pregnancies being unplanned, the awareness of the effects of alcohol on the developing fetus is an imperative message to provide to women.

The Arc’s National Center for Criminal Justice & Disability (NCCJD)

NCCJD is a training and technical assistance center funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance whose mission is to pursue and promote safety, fairness and justice for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities as suspects, offenders, victims or witnesses. People with I/DD are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. People with FASDs are more likely to be arrested and imprisoned, and are often repeat offenders—it is difficult for a person with an FASD to fully comprehend the rules and regulations of the court and probations systems, and they are often not adequately supported in navigating the criminal justice system. 50% of people with FASDs have a history of confinement in jail, prison, a residential drug facility or psychiatric hospital and the average age that children with FASDs begin to have trouble with the law is 12.8. These are statistics that NCCJD is working to change.

Self-Advocates with FASD in Action (SAFA)

SAFA is the nation’s first self-advocacy group created by and for people with FASDs in March 2011. Despite doubling in members, the group held their last face-to-face meeting in May 2012. SAFA is currently seeking support to continue their in-person meeting, and grow the network to include more local groups nationwide. With proper funding, they also hope to create a certificate program for members to take that will enable them to create presentations on FASDs to present to the community.

AnnaAnna is a founding member who is currently working in her home state of Alaska to help others with FASDs advocate and speak up for themselves. She worked at the Center for Human Development (the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities) and has been a member of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education (The Council on Developmental Disabilities) for 10 years. Anna uses her voice and personal experience to help educate Alaska native people, women, and people who live in rural places about the effects of FASDs. Interested in learning more, or contributing to SAFA?

The Arc and the CDC, along with partners such as NOFAS, Better Endings New Beginnings, and SAMSHA FASD Center for Excellence, are dedicated to providing accurate information to the public, in order to help raise awareness to the 100% preventability of FASDs.

Chapters of The Arc Selected for National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability’s “Pathways to Justice” Training Program

We are pleased to announce that five chapters of The Arc were selected to pilot implementation of The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability’s (NCCJD) “Pathways to Justice” Training Program. Through this program, chapters will help build the capacity of the criminal justice system to effectively identify, serve and protect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), many of whom have “mild” disabilities that often go unnoticed among criminal justice professionals without appropriate training.

Each chapter will create and/or strengthen their current multidisciplinary team on criminal justice and disability issues (what NCCJD is referring to as “Disability Response Teams”) and gather roughly 50 trainees from law enforcement, victim advocacy and the legal profession for a one-day training on criminal justice issues. The selected chapters are listed below:

“When individuals with I/DD become involved in the criminal justice system as suspects or victims, they often face miscommunication, fear, confusion and prejudice. The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability plays a critical role in improving first response and communication between people with I/DD and the justice system nationally.

“Through NCCJD’s “Pathways to Justice” training program we are tapping into the most powerful resource The Arc possesses – our chapter network. The five chapters selected either have longstanding criminal justice programs or a commitment to building their capacity in providing such training, both of which are invaluable to achieving NCCJD’s overall goals. We look forward to working closely with each chapter and learning from their work. Through this collaborative effort NCCJD 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 Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Last year, 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

The Arc Applauds Stay of Execution of Robert Campbell, Vows to Continue Legal Advocacy Efforts

Washington, DC – Today, the state of Texas was scheduled to execute Robert Campbell, a man who has an intellectual disability (ID), which should have ruled out the death penalty per a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v. Virginia.  But this evening, a federal appeals court halted his execution, mere hours before he was scheduled to receive a lethal injection. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit delayed his execution to allow more time to pursue his legal team’s argument that he is not eligible for the death penalty due to his ID.

“We are grateful that the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Supreme Court’s ruling, saving Robert Campbell’s life. While we can appreciate justice being served, we were far too close to witnessing a grave miscarriage of justice. There are still many questions surrounding this trial, and we hope to hear answers as to why evidence regarding Mr. Campbell’s IQ was withheld until very recently. In a life or death situation, it is disturbing that all the facts were not being presented.

“As a family-based organization, we have great sympathy for the family and friends of the victim.  However, in the case of a defendant with intellectual disability, the death penalty is not an acceptable or fair sentence. The Arc is committed to fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and we will continue our legal advocacy work to make sure that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on this issue is followed in jurisdictions across the country,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

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 (I/DD), whose disability often goes unrecognized. Providing accurate, effective and consistent training for criminal justice professionals is critical.

The Arc Responds to the Scheduled Execution of Robert Campbell

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement about the scheduled execution of Robert Campbell, an individual with intellectual disability (ID). Campbell is scheduled to be executed tomorrow (Tuesday, May 13) at 6 pm in Texas, despite evidence showing he has ID. It has been reported that the state of Texas and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice withheld two prior IQ tests within the range for ID, showing an IQ of 68 from a test during elementary school, and 71 from his prison records. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with ID is unconstitutional because it violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“We are extremely disappointed that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Robert Campbell’s appeal despite clear evidence showing that he has intellectual disability. To ignore experts and cross the line drawn by a more than decade-old Supreme Court ruling shakes the foundation of our legal system for people with intellectual disabilities.  It is unconscionable that key evidence about Mr. Campbell’s IQ was withheld in this life or death situation. The Arc asks the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to take up this case immediately to ensure that Mr. Campbell’s disability is taken into account and justice can truly be served.

“The Arc is committed to fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and will continue our legal advocacy work to make sure the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on this issue is abided by in jurisdictions across the country,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

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 (I/DD), whose disability often goes unrecognized. Providing accurate, effective and consistent training for criminal justice professionals is critical.

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.