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.