The Arc Celebrates Release of Richard Lapointe on Bond, Urges Prosecutors to Drop Case

Washington, DC – The Arc is thrilled to see the release today of Richard Lapointe, who has been in prison since 1987 for a rape and murder he did not commit. After a lengthy, coercive interview with the police, Lapointe falsely confessed to the crime, which was committed against his then-wife’s grandmother. Since then, his legal team and advocates have been fighting for his case to be reconsidered, because of his intellectual disability.

Last week, the Connecticut state Supreme Court raised concerns about the circumstances of the interrogation and the truthfulness of the alleged confessions, and ordered that he be released or given a new trial. Then this week, prosecutors agreed not to pursue the means to keep him in prison while they decide whether to challenge the state Supreme Court decision.

“This nightmare has gone on far too long for Richard. Finally, the state Supreme Court has recognized how the police treated Richard, and for the first time in more than 27 years, he will step outside of prison a free man. The prosecutors should now take the next and final step to end this and dismiss the charges, once and for all,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, who attended the oral argument of the case when it was heard by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The Arc runs the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD), 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. NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for criminal 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.

“Far too many Richards are living in prisons, without the level of support Richard had from advocates and his attorneys – and it took more than 27 years for this injustice to be uncovered. How many more Richards are out there? False imprisonment of anyone, including people with I/DD, is an ugly mark on our nation’s conscience. The National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability is working every day to ensure justice for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Berns.

Those accused of crimes they did not commit often face the greatest injustice of all, some losing their lives when coerced into giving false confessions. Since 1983, over 60 people with intellectual disabilities have been executed based on false confessions. Robert Perske, respected author, advocate and long-time supporter of The Arc, compiled a list of people with intellectual disabilities who gave false confessions to begin documenting these otherwise hidden-away cases. Lapointe is on Perske’s list.

“It’s been a tough road – all the things Richard had to go through to get to this point are unfathomable. I’m feeling very good about all the troops that have stood by Richard all these years. Richard’s situation needs to teach everyone in the system,” said Perske.

“This is an extraordinary day. Richard never gave up hope and neither did his supporters. The truest form of justice is being served today!” Leslie Simoes, Executive Director, The Arc of Connecticut.

House and Senate 2016 Budget Resolutions are an Affront to the Disability Community

The Senate passed its Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Budget Resolution early this morning, following the House’s approval of its own resolution earlier this week. Budget resolutions set the boundaries for federal spending and tax priorities for the fiscal year and the implications are very scary for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families this year.

The House resolution seeks to balance the budget within nine years by cutting $5.5 trillion, while the Senate resolution would balance it in ten years by cutting $5.1 trillion, reflecting differences that could well be resolved in a conference committee. Substantial portions of these cuts come from block granting the Medicaid program (called “flexible state allotments”) and privatizing the Medicare program.   Should a conference agreement pass in both chambers, a process known as budget reconciliation could be triggered to make the proposed changes in the entitlement programs and the tax code alike. This process would likely unravel the social insurance and safety net for our nation’s most vulnerable citizens while simultaneously reducing taxes for those who least need it.

“Bake sales and car washes are simply not an option. Our social insurance and safety net programs require appropriate levels of funding that can only come from the taxes that we pay and from a bipartisan commitment to people with disabilities,” stated Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.   “Most Americans support a balanced approach to deficit reduction, and disability is a bipartisan issue. But the budgets approved in Congress don’t reflect that reality with a ‘cuts only’ approach. Creating even larger wealth inequality in this country through the spending and tax policies promoted in these budgets is an affront to people with I/DD, many of whom are already at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Our government policies should be lifting people up, not pushing them further down.”

To get involved in protecting the rights of people with I/DD, sign up for The Arc’s Action List.

Advances in Affordable Housing – The Arc Applauds $150 Million in New Funding for States

Washington, DC – The Arc released the following statement in response to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) announcement of awards totaling $150 million to 24 states and the District of Columbia to develop an estimated 4,584 units of inclusive, affordable supportive housing in the community for people with significant disabilities and extremely low incomes. HUD awarded the funds through the recently-modernized Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities Project Rental Assistance (PRA) program. The Section 811 PRA program is designed to assist state housing agencies to expand integrated, supportive housing opportunities for people with the most significant and long term disabilities, and was the centerpiece of the Frank Melville Supportive Housing Investment Act of 2010.

“Like all Americans, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve the opportunity to live independently in the community with their peers. Unfortunately, across our nation low-income people with disabilities face a severe shortage of accessible and affordable housing. The money being awarded by HUD will continue the progress and promise of the Melville Act, allowing thousands of individuals to live in the community, where they belong. For many, this announcement is the difference between life in an institution and inclusion in their communities,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Section 811 is the only HUD program dedicated to producing affordable, accessible housing for non-elderly, very low-income people with significant disabilities. The Frank Melville Supportive Housing Investment Act of 2010 modernized Section 811 to make the program more efficient and effective. Today’s awards are the second round of funding under the new Section 811 PRA program, which will create integrated housing linked with community-based services for low-income adults with significant disabilities.

Along with the District of Columbia, states receiving awards are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The Arc Applauds Federal Agencies for Standing Up for Rights of Massachusetts Mother with Disability

Washington, DC – Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services found that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) violated the rights of a mother with developmental disabilities. The mother was denied the opportunity to benefit from supports and services following the removal of her two-day-old infant, and over the next two years as she was seeking to reunite with her daughter.  Unfortunately, despite research that affirms the ability of parents with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) to raise a child successfully with appropriate and effective supports, access to these supports continues to be limited, fragmented and uncertain.  The Arc is a strong proponent of the right of parents with I/DD to raise children with supports, as needed, from family, agencies and the community.

“Plain and simple, this is a case of discrimination against a person with a disability and a clear violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This mother has rights that the state ignored and the outcome is appalling. The situation easily could have been resolved when she was pregnant, not two days after she gave birth. Had the situation been dealt with earlier, a plan could have been crafted and mother and daughter could be together receiving the supports they needed from family and the community. We are grateful to the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services for standing up for the rights of this mother and for parents with I/DD across the country,” said Peter Berns CEO of The Arc.

The Arc of Massachusetts is supporting state legislation to prohibit discrimination against adults with disabilities in family and juvenile court proceedings.  Parents with disabilities are more likely to lose custody of their children after divorce.  According to the National Council on Disability, removal rates of children from parents with psychiatric or intellectual disability is as high as 70—80%. Parents with sensory or physical disabilities also experience extremely high removal rates and loss of their parental rights.

“We hope that caseworkers and leadership at DCF learn from this decision,” said Leo V. Sarkissian, Executive Director of The Arc of Massachusetts.  “Some DCF offices do recognize that persons with disabilities can be effective parents and have shown that in partnering with chapters and other disability support agencies.”

In Massachusetts two local chapters (EMArc and the United Arc) collaborate with DCF in order to provide high quality, curriculum founded, home-based intensive services for parents with I/DD  and have provided these services and supports for over 15 years.

For further information see the recent report of the National Council on Disability: “Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children,” which can be found at: http://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/Sep272012/.

The Arc Receives Support from Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation for Employment Program

Washington, DC – The Arc is pleased to announce that it has received $105,000 over three years from the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation to support its Specialisterne Replication project.  The Specialisterne program creates inclusive employment opportunities for youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including Asperger’s Syndrome, in the information technology (IT) field.
The Arc has a partnership with Specialisterne USA,  a 501(c)(3) charitable organization established by The Specialist People Foundation, a Danish nonprofit organization that works to create meaningful employment for people with autism and similar challenges by building relationships with technology companies that need employees whose skill sets match the characteristics of many people on the autism spectrum.  The program engages top companies with IT needs interested in hiring youth with ASD and pairs them with chapters of The Arc that provide short-term intensive training and on-the-job support for youth with ASD.  At the end of training, companies may hire program participants as developers, programmers, analysts, and administrators.  Employers also receive training on supporting employees with ASD.  Chapters of The Arc in Philadelphia and New York, working in collaboration with Specialisterne USA, began replicating the Specialisterne program in 2014.  The 2015-2016 grant will allow The Arc to expand this crucial program to the Washington, DC area.
The program emphasizes that many youth with ASD are qualified to work in highly skilled positions, and with employer commitment and support they can be successful in community-based jobs of their choosing.
“There are many young people with ASD that possess the skills that are in high demand in the tech industry.  This program plays matchmaker, and through our chapter network, we can not only connect a population we serve with employment in the community, we are raising awareness in a major industry about what people with disabilities can do.  It’s an exciting initiative and we are thrilled to have the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation’s support,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.
Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation has released  $1,539,600 in new and continuing grants, as part of its national M>PWR Initiative designed to empower youth and young people with disabilities to lead productive lives through increased employment.

Execution of Warren Hill “Shakes the Foundation of our Legal System for People with Intellectual Disabilities”

Washington, DC – This evening, the state of Georgia executed Warren Hill, a man who experts unanimously determined to have intellectual disability, which should have ruled out the death penalty per a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v. Virginia, and a 2014 Supreme Court ruling, Hall v. Florida. There was a stay motion and a petition for a writ of certiorari filed to the U.S. Supreme Court which was denied this evening. Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor voted to stay the execution.

“Georgia’s ability 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. Just last year, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring justice for individuals with intellectual disability, with their ruling in Hall v. Florida, and it is extremely disappointing that following this decision justice did not prevail in Georgia.

“The facts in this case are clear – experts unanimously agreed that Mr. Hill had intellectual disability, yet the appeals at the state and federal levels were ignored.  The state’s actions in this case are unconscionable,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Warren Lee Hill, was found by a state court judge to have an IQ of approximately 70 and to meet the criteria for intellectual disability overall by a preponderance of the evidence. Georgia’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” legal standard for proving intellectual disability claims prevents Mr. Hill from being protected by Georgia and federal law prohibiting the execution of people with intellectual disability.

“This is a sad day for our community, and a shameful one for the courts that allowed this unconstitutional execution to take place. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Hill’s family and his legal team.  The Arc will continue fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and in the aftermath of this case we will only increase our legal advocacy efforts to ensure that the Supreme Court’s decisions are upheld and justice is appropriately served,” said Berns.

The Arc has been involved in this case for years. Nationally The Arc has participated in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court and written multiple letters urging clemency on behalf of Mr. Hill.

In its 2002 Atkins decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability (formerly referred to as “mental retardation”) and banned the execution of persons with intellectual disability as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In its more recent 2014 Hall decision, the U.S. Supreme Court again reinforced its earlier decision that people with intellectual disabilities not be executed, requiring that consideration of evidence beyond IQ tests be taken into account when determining intellectual disability.

The Arc Responds to Denial of Clemency for Warren Hill

Washington, DC – This morning, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles voted to deny clemency in the case of Warren Hill, a man who has an intellectual disability (ID). Mr. Hill’s diagnosis of intellectual disability allows for protections found within the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. There is a stay motion and a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. They can still intervene and stay the execution, sparing Mr. Hill’s life.

“A gross miscarriage of justice has been committed in Georgia today. It is extremely disappointing that the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles failed to listen to pleas from The Arc, other organizations and experts to commute Mr. Hill’s sentence to life in prison without possibility of parole.  The facts in this case are clear – and the state’s action clearly goes against the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous decisions in Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida. We hope that the Supreme Court will intervene and stay the execution, they are the last and only chance for justice in this case,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Warren Lee Hill, was found by a state court judge to have an IQ of approximately 70 and to meet the criteria for intellectual disability overall by a preponderance of the evidence. Georgia’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” legal standard for proving intellectual disability claims prevents Mr. Hill from being protected by Georgia and federal law prohibiting the execution of people with intellectual disability.

The Arc has been involved in this case for years. Nationally The Arc has participated in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court and written multiple letters urging clemency on behalf of Mr. Hill.

In its 2002 Atkins decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability (formerly referred to as “mental retardation”) and banned the execution of persons with intellectual disability as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. In its more recent 2014 Hall decision, the U.S. Supreme Court again reinforced its earlier decision that people with intellectual disabilities not be executed, requiring that consideration of evidence beyond IQ tests be taken into account when determining intellectual disability.

The Arc Calls on Governor McAuliffe to Grant a Conditional Pardon for Neli Latson Immediately

Stafford, VA – Today was another day in court for Neli Latson, a young man with autism who has spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. His case has become the symbol for dysfunction in our national justice system for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  As Latson entered a guilty plea today to charges of assault, The Arc is calling on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who now has the legal authority to take action, to promptly grant a conditional pardon so that Latson can be transferred from the criminal justice system to the developmental disability system, where he will receive the services he needs.

“Mr. Latson is caught in a recurring cycle of prosecution and punishment due to factors related to his disabilities. He is not a criminal. He is a person with autism and intellectual disability whose behaviors can be aggressive, often in an attempt to communicate. Prison is not where Mr. Latson belongs,” wrote Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, to Governor McAuliffe in early December requesting a conditional pardon.

Latson, who is 22, has been incarcerated since August 2013 as a result of behavior connected to his disability.  He has been held in solitary confinement for most of that time and is presently at a Virginia state prison.  His tragic situation is the result of events surrounding his initial detention which occurred while waiting for the public library to open, and from subsequent mental health crises resulting from his confinement.  A conditional pardon would allow Latson to be moved immediately to a facility in Florida that will provide the support necessary to help him move on from these events.

Advocates from The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) and The Arc of Virginia have been involved in this case for months, advocating alongside Latson’s legal team.  NCCJD is operated by The Arc and 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 criminal 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 for law enforcement, victim service providers and legal professionals that will support police departments, prosecutor’s offices, and other professionals in the criminal justice system to effectively and fairly administer justice for people with disabilities.

The Arc Marks Senate Passage of ABLE Act

Washington, DC – Today, as the U.S. Senate passed the Achieving a Better Life Act (ABLE Act), The Arc, the nation’s largest organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), released the following statement:

“We are pleased that the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act has been approved by both the U.S. House of Representatives and now the U.S. Senate.  With the clock winding down on this session of Congress, now this important legislation can move to President Obama’s desk.  We appreciate the untiring work of the chief sponsors of the bill and the support of a large and broad representation in both chambers of Congress.

“While the legislation was narrowed due to the constraints from the cost analysis, the approved bill will provide a vehicle for some families and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to save for the future, depending on their own circumstances.  Our efforts will not be finished if President Obama signs this bill – The Arc will continue to work with the leadership and chief sponsors in Congress to expand this program in the future to ensure that everyone in need can get the maximum benefit from this legislation.  We remain disappointed that certain pay-fors remain in the bill,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The ABLE Act aims to change the tax code to allow for tax advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities for certain expenses, like education, housing, and transportation.  Similar to existing “Section 529” education savings accounts, ABLE accounts would let families save for disability-related expenses on behalf of qualified beneficiaries with disabilities that will supplement, but not replace, benefits provided through the Medicaid program, the Supplemental Security Income program, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources.  If properly managed, funds in the ABLE accounts would not jeopardize eligibility for critical federal benefits.  With full understanding of its features, individuals and families could use the ABLE accounts as another tool in planning for the lifetime needs of an individual with long term disabilities.  The version of the bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives includes age limitations and a cap on contributions, added in July by the Committee on Ways and Means to reduce the costs of the bill.  If the President signs the ABLE Act into law, The Arc will issue a fact sheet including the details on the bill as it has been revised through the legislative process.  Further details would come through the regulatory process.

Federal Hiring of People with Disabilities Continues to Disappoint

Washington, DC – The federal government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) recently released Fiscal Year 2013 data on the hiring of people with disabilities in the government’s workforce. Once again, the report demonstrates that hiring of people with targeted disabilities, including intellectual disability (ID), continues to lag, and the federal government is missing an opportunity to be a model employer of people with disabilities.

“While the last few years have seen some modest increases in the numbers of people with disabilities employed by the federal government, The Arc remains deeply concerned that many people with the most significant disabilities, including jobseekers with intellectual and developmental disabilities, are being left behind. The federal government should implement the strategies the Department of Labor has laid out to meet their goal, and that should involve working with organizations like The Arc, with our nearly 700 chapters across the country, to proactively fill job openings with people with disabilities qualified for a variety of positions open in our government,” said Peter V. Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc.

The federal government, through the Department of Labor, has initiated a new effort to increase the number of people with disabilities employed by entities that contract with the government, asking contractors to aspire to a goal of 7 percent of their workforce with disabilities. In explaining why there is a need to step up hiring of people with disabilities, the Department of Labor has stated: “A substantial disparity in the employment rate of individuals with disabilities continues to persist despite years of technological advancements that have made it possible for people with disabilities to apply for and successfully perform a broad array of jobs.” Meanwhile, in Fiscal Year 2013, the federal government only hired 1,389 people with targeted disabilities, representing 1.32 percent of new hires overall. The category of targeted disabilities includes people with intellectual disability (ID).

One factor in the federal hiring picture is the congressionally mandated budget cuts known as sequestration. These cuts forced federal agencies to put in place furloughs, hiring freezes, and reduce overtime. These budget cuts have trickled down to impact hiring of all new employees, including people with disabilities. Several federal agencies, however, have used their Schedule A hiring authority to make hiring people with disabilities a priority. The Schedule A process is a non-competitive hiring method that provides people with disabilities a path to federal employment.

“The numbers demonstrate that successful employment for people with disabilities is doable with the Schedule A process. Agencies that haven’t used this tool in their toolbox should look to their peers for guidance on how to improve their outreach, in addition to utilizing the competitive process to reach people with disabilities that match the skill sets needed for job opportunities,” said Berns.

The agencies that have demonstrated willingness to hire via with Schedule A include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Treasury Department. However, 14 agencies hired no people using this hiring authority in 2013, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Trade Commission, and Department of Housing and Urban Development, which each made over 100 new hires but none through Schedule A.

One federal agency that The Arc has recently partnered with to boost the number of people with intellectual disability employed is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). They have hired five individuals at GS3 and GS4 levels with the opportunity to be promoted to a GS5.

In July, The Arc submitted comments to the EEOC calling on the federal government to become a model employer of people with disabilities, including individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

“While we are pleased that the EEOC is moving forward with strengthening federal regulations, the shockingly low rate of federal employment of people with intellectual disability persists. Agencies can act now to step up their efforts,” said Berns.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly reports that the percentage of working-age people with disabilities in the labor force is about one-third that of persons with no disability. On average, workers with disabilities face significant gaps in pay and compensation, compared to workers with no disability. Additionally, about one in three employment discrimination charges filed with the EEOC allege discrimination on the basis of disability (often, in combination with charges of other types of discrimination).

The Arc’s own research suggests that the employment picture for people with I/DD may be even bleaker. In 2010, The Arc conducted a national online survey, called the FINDS Survey, to obtain perceptions of people with I/DD and their families on a range of life-span issues. Over 5,000 people participated. Only 15 percent of FINDS survey respondents reported that their family member with an intellectual and/or developmental disability was employed.