Talk About Sexual Violence: James’ Story

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault and violence disproportionately affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), with findings from NPR revealing that people with I/DD are assaulted at seven times the rate of people without disabilities. The first step to tackling this epidemic is talking about it. Read more from one survivor:

James Meadours smiles at the camera in a selfie, wearing a navy blue polo shirt and glasses.

I never thought lightning could strike twice in the same place, but in my life it happened. I was sexually assaulted four times during my life and this is not uncommon for men or women with disabilities. I want to share the last time it happened to me.

I was looking for a Church that welcomed people including those with disabilities. A friend encouraged me to join him for a Church service and when I was there I met a member who was deaf and wanted to teach me sign language.  I thought we were becoming friends. One time we spoke on the phone and he asked if I was gay, I told him I was not. We got together the day before Church at my home and he began to be sexual with me. Even knowing I was not gay, he still approached me. Again, I told him I was not interested and let him know by shaking my head “NO” and backed away. I used sign language to say NO but he signed YES.

The next day when I went to Church I didn’t tell anyone.  I felt ashamed and afraid if I told anyone I could be hurt. I reached out to the pastor and nothing was done and out of frustration I told my friend and he called 211 to make a report on my behalf with my permission. 

I went to the hospital to make sure I was OK. People listened and took the time to help me. The SANE Nurse (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) was gentle and understanding. I wanted to make a formal report to law enforcement and hoped the officer would be kind and help me feel at ease. Later in the week an officer made a home visit and gathered evidence. The kindness the officer showed me is not typical.

I pressed charges and went to court. He went to jail.

My friends believed me and were helpful at different stages, but when I approached the local rape crisis center two weeks later they didn’t know how to provide support since they do not usually help many men, especially men with disabilities. It was a new experience for them, but despite them not having training, they tried to be helpful.

No one taught me the steps to recovery. I did remember what the SANE nurse told me – she looked me in the eye and said I needed to take care of myself before helping others who have suffered. After two years of recovery work, I realized when I was at a meeting to discuss sexual assault that I wanted to tell my story. This was the beginning of my journey to become an advocate to support others with disabilities who have suffered with sexual assault. I am now a national advocate and speaker at many conferences sharing my story and recommending changes so others can find healing and if they want they can become part of the MeToo movement.

As Sexual Assault Awareness Month draws to a close, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence! And, sign up for our criminal justice emails to receive resources, timely news, and ideas on how to advocate and get involved throughout the year.

Our Call to Action

Recommendations for Schools and Students

  1. Provide age-appropriate sex education for students with disabilities.
  2. Discuss safe vs. unsafe relationships.
  3. Identify who to report a sexual assault incident to.
  4. Ensure a personal safety plan is included in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Recommendations for Individuals

  1. Reach out to a trusted person if you have experienced sexual assault.
  2. Learn about your rights as a crime victim and what can happen if you report.
  3. Locate and attend sexual assault support groups.
  4. If you are interviewed by law enforcement, request privacy.
  5. Know your rights about your accommodation needs.

Recommendations for Disability Service Providers

  1. Require sexual trauma training for providers.
  2. Demand deeper background checks for all employees.
  3. Listen and believe when someone discloses sexual assault.
  4. Provide accommodations when a person reports an incident.
  5. Ensure privacy when a person reports sexual violence.

Recommendations for Criminal Justice Professionals

  1. Required training for first responders, law enforcement, the courts, and sexual assault and rape crisis professionals about serving crime victims with I/DD.
  2. Learn effective strategies for interviewing crime victims with disabilities.
  3. Use disability specific accommodations.
  4. Consider community outreach to reduce fear of talking with law enforcement.

Talk About Sexual Violence: Kecia

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault and violence disproportionately affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), with findings from NPR revealing that people with I/DD are assaulted at seven times the rate of people without disabilities. The first step to tackling this epidemic is talking about it. Read more from one survivor:

Kecia Weller poses for a photo against a gray mottled background with a blue shirt on.

“Get involved. Help people with disabilities learn about safe relationships and prevention of sexual assault. Special attention must be provided at peer advocacy meetings to teach people how to support survivors when they report the abuse and create their own safety plans. There are many ways people with disabilities can be supportive. A few ideas include volunteering to be a listener on a hot line, educating school teachers about the frequency of abuse against students with disabilities and most important, learning more yourself about the alarming rate of sexual and other kinds of assault happening to men and women with disabilities.”

Read more of Kecia’s story.

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence! And, sign up for our criminal justice emails to receive resources, timely news, and ideas on how to advocate and get involved throughout the year.

Our Call to Action

Recommendations for Schools and Students

  1. Provide age-appropriate sex education for students with disabilities.
  2. Discuss safe vs. unsafe relationships.
  3. Identify who to report a sexual assault incident to.
  4. Ensure a personal safety plan is included in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Recommendations for Individuals

  1. Reach out to a trusted person if you have experienced sexual assault.
  2. Learn about your rights as a crime victim and what can happen if you report.
  3. Locate and attend sexual assault support groups.
  4. If you are interviewed by law enforcement, request privacy.
  5. Know your rights about your accommodation needs.

Recommendations for Disability Service Providers

  1. Require sexual trauma training for providers.
  2. Demand deeper background checks for all employees.
  3. Listen and believe when someone discloses sexual assault.
  4. Provide accommodations when a person reports an incident.
  5. Ensure privacy when a person reports sexual violence.

Recommendations for Criminal Justice Professionals

  1. Required training for first responders, law enforcement, the courts, and sexual assault and rape crisis professionals about serving crime victims with I/DD.
  2. Learn effective strategies for interviewing crime victims with disabilities.
  3. Use disability specific accommodations.
  4. Consider community outreach to reduce fear of talking with law enforcement.

 

Talk About Sexual Violence: Chris’ Story

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault and violence disproportionately affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), with findings from NPR revealing that people with I/DD are assaulted at seven times the rate of people without disabilities. The first step to tackling this epidemic is talking about it. Read more from one survivor:

Chris Miller poses for a selfie in a blue shirt.

Chris Miller

“For as long as I can remember society has had the idea that men do not show emotion. We are told to be strong, not to cry or share feelings. These ideas are communicated from an early age; the expectations of manhood are very high and never include opening up about any type of abuse, especially sexual assault and violence perpetrated against them, as an adult or child.

We are told and it is believed that rape and assault do not happen to us – but the fact is that 1 in 6 men have been victims of sexual assault and the rate of men with disabilities is even higher. Men with disabilities face an even more difficult hurdle of not being believed or seen as credible when they do report because they have a disability, and can be even more difficult for those who are LGBTQ, who are at greater risk for sexual assault due to their sexual orientation. Some people with disabilities communicate in non-traditional ways, meaning not verbally or use a communication device, so they are often looked at as not reliable witnesses or just simply not believed. Another reason people do not speak up is simply a lack of having someone they trust. Many live segregated lives and reporting an assault can be threatening and result in loss of home, caregiver or job. Those in authority have looked the other way when we have disclosed. When disclosure happens we are not asked how we feel. For those that are not able to tell, they act out their fear and frustration and then are medicated and the abuse continues. Many of us do not believe there will be any consequences even if we do tell. This is a deep-reaching issue that we must deal with to have a healthy, inclusive and safer society. Every sexual assault survivor needs to know they matter, are respected and can be safe.” 

During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence! And, sign up for our criminal justice emails to receive resources, timely news, and ideas on how to advocate and get involved throughout the year.

Our Call to Action

Recommendations for Schools and Students

  1. Provide age-appropriate sex education for students with disabilities.
  2. Discuss safe vs. unsafe relationships.
  3. Identify who to report a sexual assault incident to.
  4. Ensure a personal safety plan is included in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).

Recommendations for Individuals

  1. Reach out to a trusted person if you have experienced sexual assault.
  2. Learn about your rights as a crime victim and what can happen if you report.
  3. Locate and attend sexual assault support groups.
  4. If you are interviewed by law enforcement, request privacy.
  5. Know your rights about your accommodation needs.

Recommendations for Disability Service Providers

  1. Require sexual trauma training for providers.
  2. Demand deeper background checks for all employees.
  3. Listen and believe when someone discloses sexual assault.
  4. Provide accommodations when a person reports an incident.
  5. Ensure privacy when a person reports sexual violence.

Recommendations for Criminal Justice Professionals

  1. Required training for first responders, law enforcement, the courts, and sexual assault and rape crisis professionals about serving crime victims with I/DD.
  2. Learn effective strategies for interviewing crime victims with disabilities.
  3. Use disability specific accommodations.
  4. Consider community outreach to reduce fear of talking with law enforcement.

 

Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Shining the Light on a Silent Epidemic

Chris Miller, James Meadours, and Kecia Weller

Every day, in every community across the U.S., people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are being sexually assaulted. Too many have a story to tell, and yet few are ever heard. The Talk About Sexual Violence project aims to change that by educating health care providers about sexual violence in the lives of people with I/DD. Here are just three snapshots of this epidemic, shared directly by those affected by it:

Chris Miller

Chris Miller poses for a selfie in a blue shirt.For as long as I can remember society has had the idea that men do not show emotion. We are told to be strong, not to cry or share feelings. People don’t believe that rape and assault happens to us, but the fact is that 1 in 6 men have been victims of sexual assault and the rate of men with disabilities is even higher. Many of us do not believe there will be any consequences if we tell someone about what happened to us. This is a deep reaching issue that we must deal with to have a healthy, inclusive and safer society. Every sexual assault survivor needs to know they matter, are respected and can be safe.

 

James Meadours

I never thought lightning could strike twice in the same place, but in my life it happened. I was sexually assaulted four times during my life and this is not uncommon for men or women with disabilities. My friends believed me and were helpful at different stages, but when I talked to the local rape crisis center two weeks after the rape, they didn’t know how to provide support since they do not usually help many men, especially men with disabilities. It was a new experience for them, but even though they didn’t have any training, they tried to be helpful. No one taught me the steps to recovery. I did remember what the SANE nurse told me – she looked me in the eye and said I needed to take care of myself before helping others who have suffered. After two years of recovery work, I realized when I was at a meeting to discuss sexual assault that I wanted to tell my story. This was the beginning of my journey to become an advocate to support others with disabilities who have suffered with sexual assault. I am now a national advocate and speaker at many conferences sharing my story and recommending changes so others can find healing and if they want they can become part of the MeToo movement.

 

Kecia Weller

Kecia Weller poses for a photo against a gray mottled background with a blue shirt on.Get involved. Help people with disabilities learn about safe relationships and prevention of sexual assault. Special attention must be provided at peer advocacy meetings to teach people how to support survivors when they report the abuse and create their own safety plans. There are many ways people with disabilities can be supportive. A few ideas include volunteering to be a listener on a hot line, educating school teachers about the frequency of abuse against students with disabilities and most important, learning more yourself about the alarming rate of sexual and other kinds of assault happening to men and women with disabilities.

 

Learn more about educating health care providers about this silent epidemic and supporting people with I/DD to tell their truth. Men with disabilities and other marginalized individuals are especially alone and need outreach now more than ever. This Sexual Assault Awareness Month, join us in the movement to Talk About Sexual Violence!

Supreme Court Reaffirms Commitment to Clinical Standards, Not Stereotypes, In Determining Intellectual Disability in Death Penalty Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a per curiam (published in the name of the Court rather than specific judges) opinion today reversing the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) and finding that Bobby Moore is a person with intellectual disability and his execution is prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“The Arc applauds the Court’s decision today which again embraces the standards-based approach in determining intellectual disability for which The Arc has long advocated. When it comes to matters of life and death, there is simply no room for courts to ground their determinations of intellectual disability in outmoded and baseless stereotypes. The Arc is grateful to the Court for taking a strong stance today to ensure that its precedent on this issue is properly interpreted in jurisdictions around the country,” said Marty Ford, Senior Advisor, The Arc.

This is the second time Mr. Moore has sought relief from the Supreme Court and won. In 2017, in the same case, the Court rejected Texas’ use of stereotypical and outdated factors—rather than well-established clinical standards—to determine intellectual disability in death penalty cases on the grounds that they “create an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed.” The Court then sent the case back to the TCCA to determine whether Mr. Moore had intellectual disability in light of its opinion. Following the TCCA’s 2018 finding that he did not have intellectual disability, Mr. Moore again petitioned for Supreme Court review. Notably, the prosecutor in Mr. Moore’s case—the district attorney of Harris County—filed a brief in support of Mr. Moore noting that, in light of the Supreme Court’s 2017 opinion, Mr. Moore is an individual with intellectual disability who cannot be executed.

In its opinion today, the Court noted that “Moore has shown he is a person with intellectual disability” and that the most recent TCCA opinion must be reversed because it continued to exhibit “lay stereotypes” of people with intellectual disability despite the Supreme Court’s clear instruction to rely on well-established clinical standards instead. Chief Justice Roberts, in a concurring opinion, noted that while he still believes the original Moore opinion “lacked clarity,” “it is easy to see that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals misapplied it here…the court repeated the same errors that this Court previously condemned…” Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, dissented, noting that “The error in this litigation was not the state court’s decision on remand but our own failure to provide a coherent rule of decision in Moore.

The Arc filed amicus briefs on Mr. Moore’s behalf when he first went before the Supreme Court in 2016 and again when his case was remanded to the TCCA in 2017.

In its 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with intellectual disability and banned their execution as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Subsequently, in Hall v. Florida (2014), the Court rejected an arbitrary cutoff for IQ scores in making the intellectual disability determination and emphasized the importance of courts consulting clinical standards in their analysis. The Court’s 2017 and 2019 decisions in Moore v. Texas have strengthened this precedent by emphasizing the need to rely on well-established clinical standards—rather than stereotypes—in making intellectual disability determinations in death penalty cases.

The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victim in this case, and we supported appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. The Arc did not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Moore or others with disabilities, but rather, to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all parties are protected. The Arc is committed to seeking lawful outcomes for people with ID and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this issue are abided by in jurisdictions across the country.

Two of The Arc’s Programs to Receive Prestigious Zero Project Awards

The Arc of the United States is pleased to announce two of its programs, Wings for Autism®/Wings for All® and the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD)’s Pathways to Justice®, have been named 2019 Zero Project Awardees. The Zero Project is an initiative of the Essl Foundation that recognizes and provides a platform for the world’s most innovative and effective solutions to problems faced by people with disabilities around the world. The Arc’s programs are being recognized this year for outstanding contributions towards promoting independent living and political participation, the 2019 Zero Project Awards’ themes.

“The Arc of the United States has long fought to ensure that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are included in all aspects of society, and that the civil rights of people with I/DD are respected in every context,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, “We are proud that Wings for Autism/Wings for All and NCCJD’s Pathways to Justice will be recognized as Zero Project awardees this year.”

Pathways to Justice and Wings for Autism are among 76 policies and practices selected by an international group of 3,000 experts who take part in a multi-round voting and selection process. The Arc’s CEO Peter Berns as well as leadership from the two recognized programs will accept the award in Vienna, Austria in February.

Since 2013, NCCJD has endeavored to improve the criminal justice system’s response to victims, witnesses, suspects, defendants, and prisoners with I/DD. The Center’s signature program, Pathways to Justice, offers specialized training and support to develop local, multidisciplinary Disability Response Teams composed of criminal justice and disability leaders, including self-advocates, to improve local justice systems. NCCJD has trained over 5,000 justice professionals in 12 different states since 2015.

“Societies can’t be inclusive without equal access to justice for ALL, including people with disabilities. Pathways to Justice is revolutionizing the way the criminal justice system sees and interacts with people with developmental disabilities, laying the groundwork for inclusive justice to take root and flourish across the country,” said Leigh Ann Davis, Director of NCCJD.

Originated by the Charles River Center, a local chapter of The Arc in Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Port Authority, Wings for Autism/Wings for All is an airport “rehearsal” program created to alleviate some of the stress that individuals with I/DD and their families experience when traveling by air. The program also provides vital training and educational resources on disability competency to airport, airline, and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staff and volunteers.

From 2014 to 2018, Wings for Autism has held over 130 trainings in almost 60 airports throughout the United States and has supported more than 18,000 people with autism and other disabilities, as well as their families. Additionally, the program has trained more than 1,800 aviation professionals in disability competency and inclusion.

“The Wings for Autism/Wings for All program has successfully helped thousands of individuals with disabilities and their families enjoy the basic right to travel and live independently. Simultaneously, we’ve supported aviation professionals across the country to create safe and inclusive spaces in airports to better accommodate travelers with disabilities. We are honored to be in the company of so many other great organizations who are also addressing independent living issues on an individual and systemic level as well,” said Kerry Mauger, Program Manager of Wings for Autism.

The Arc Expands “Talk About Sexual Violence” Project to Focus on Men With Disabilities

The Arc of the United States is pleased to announce the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD®) received a grant from the WITH Foundation to expand its successful initiative Talk About Sexual Violence (TASV). TASV was born out of a partnership between The Arc’s NCCJD and the Board Resource Center (BRC) and serves as a platform for educating healthcare professionals on how to talk to their patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) about sexual violence. The WITH Foundation’s grant will expand the program’s current focus on women survivors to include resources about male survivors and the unique barriers they face in disclosing or reporting sexual violence.

Efforts to address sexual violence—even movements like #MeToo—have typically focused on women. However, men also experience sexual violence and have comparatively few resources to support them. Research shows that 14% of men with disabilities will experience violent victimization compared to 4% of men without disabilities. Men are less likely than women to disclose an assault, and men with I/DD may be even less likely due to additional challenges they face if they do speak out about it or report it. Health care providers are generally not asking male patients about sexual assault and may not know how to respond if a patient does disclose. 

NCCJD’s Director, Leigh Ann Davis, who has worked in the field of sexual violence prevention of people with disabilities for over 20 years and is a survivor herself, states: “This is a topic of urgent national importance, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to addressing sexual trauma experienced by men with I/DD. With support from The WITH Foundation, we can expand our current project, reach new audiences, build new partnerships with male-focused sexual assault organizations and plant seeds for prevention, detection, and healing in the future.”

Health care professionals are in a frontline position to educate patients about and potentially prevent sexual violence. The primary challenge facing health care professionals is lack of training and experience in speaking directly to people with disabilities about this critical issue which can have dire consequences in the person’s life when left untreated, both emotionally and physically. TASV will work to reduce this gap in knowledge by creating brief video clips with supporting training materials healthcare professionals can use to educate and prepare themselves for these sensitive discussions.

While this project will focus its efforts in California, the initiative will have national reach and impact. This grant is part of a larger grant program by The WITH Foundation that is dedicated to addressing the issue of sexual violence against people with disabilities. The WITH Foundation has provided close to $258,000 to six organizations to fund a variety of programs that promote comprehensive and accessible healthcare for adults with I/DD.

“It is a privilege to support these efforts as they work to enhance healthcare delivery models, increase the understanding of supported decision-making, and/or address critical issues for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities” said Ryan Easterly, Executive Director of the WITH Foundation.

 

The Arc Responds to Appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court

 

Today, The Arc responded to Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the United States Supreme Court. In August, The Arc came out in opposition to Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the highest court based on his decisions on cases involving self-determination of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), education, employment, and his stances on the Affordable Care Act and school choice.

The Arc has not publicly opposed a nominee to the Supreme Court in 30 years, since 1987 when Judge Robert Bork was nominated by President Ronald Reagan. When Judge Gorsuch was nominated to the highest court, The Arc did a thorough analysis of his record and decided to not oppose his appointment. The Arc solely takes positions based on the core values, mission statement, position statements, and public policy agenda for the organization.

“The Arc is disappointed in the Senate’s confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh, this is a devastating blow to disability and civil rights in our country. After a thorough analysis of Judge Kavanaugh’s record we chose to oppose his appointment and activate our grassroots network. Our organization was founded to promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We couldn’t sit by idly knowing that Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated a disregard for the impact of his judicial philosophy on the lives of people with disabilities and their families time and time again.

“Particularly concerning is his opinion in Doe. V. Tarlow, a case where women with intellectual disability who resided in the District of Columbia’s Forest Haven institution brought a class action lawsuit against the District for violating their due process rights. The District, through its developmental disabilities agency, consented to subject them to non-emergency surgical procedures, including abortions and eye surgeries, without even talking to them and their family members. Judge Kavanaugh’s ruling is disturbing in his apparent lack of appreciation for the humanity of individuals with intellectual disability, their basic human rights, and their ability and right to participate in important life decisions even when found legally unable to make decisions by themselves.

“We believe Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment poses a threat to the civil rights of millions of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. It is shocking that so many Senators ignored the gaps in Judge Kavanaugh’s knowledge and understanding of the value and perspectives of people with intellectual disability. Even more disheartening is those Senators who ignored the pleas of their constituents with disabilities who called on them to oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment. We appreciate those who stood up for their constituents, their support did not go unnoticed. We remain united with our colleagues across the disability and civil rights communities and will continue our advocacy to support the values we hold dear as an organization,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc Partners with the Vera Institute of Justice on National Initiative to Improve Police Responses to Persons with Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities

People living with mental health disabilities and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are disproportionately represented in contacts with law enforcement and other first responders, as well as in every part of the criminal justice system, including jails and prisons. While people with I/DD comprise 2 to 3 percent of the general population, they represent 4 to 10 percent of the prison population.

Interactions with law enforcement can be extremely harmful to community members with disabilities. These interactions are also challenging for responding officers, who do not always have the tools or resources to understand disability. Conservative estimates show that at least 10 percent of calls to police involve people who have mental health disabilities and that 50 to 80 percent of police encounters involve persons with some type of disability. In response to this critical need, the Vera Institute of Justice—in cooperation with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and in partnership with a consortium of organizations, including The Arc—is launching Serving Safely: The National Initiative to Enhance Policing for Persons with Mental Illnesses and Developmental Disabilities. This new initiative is designed to promote collaborative responses for people with mental health disabilities and I/DD who come into contact with the police to improve outcomes and the safety of all parties.

Through Serving Safely, The Arc, Vera, BJA, and other partners will work together to minimize unnecessary detention and incarceration of persons with mental health and developmental disabilities, strengthen connections to community-based supports and services, and grow meaningful partnerships between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

The Arc has a long history of work in the criminal justice field and is thrilled to be partnering with Vera on this project. In 2013, The Arc created the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD®). This is the first national center of its kind serving as a bridge between the I/DD community and criminal justice community that focuses on both victim and suspect/defendant/incarcerated person issues. The Center provides training and technical assistance; resources for professionals, people with disabilities, and their supporters; and educates the public about the intersection of criminal justice reform and the advancement of disability rights. Pathways to Justice®, NCCJD’s signature training curriculum, is a comprehensive, community-based training program that helps criminal justice professionals—including law enforcement—understand disability, disability culture, and professionals’ legal obligations toward the disability community.

NCCJD is building the capacity of the criminal justice system to respond appropriately to gaps in existing services for people with disabilities, focusing on people with I/DD, who often remain a hidden population within the criminal justice system, with little or no access to advocacy supports or services. Vera will be partnering directly with the experts and staff that run NCCJD on Serving Safely.

Other key partners on the project include:

  • American College of Emergency Physicians
  • CIT International
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • National Disability Rights Network
  • Prosecutors’ Center for Excellence
  • Dr. Amy Watson, University of Illinois, Chicago
  • Dr. Michael Compton

Serving Safely has already started to accept requests from law enforcement agencies for training and technical assistance at www.vera.org/projects/serving-safely/training-and-technical-assistance. If you are interested in learning more about The Arc’s role in the Serving Safely initiative, please email NCCJDinfo@thearc.org.

About The Arc
The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and cerebral palsy. The Arc has a network of nearly 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

About the Vera Institute of Justice
The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization working with governments to build and improve justice systems that ensure fairness, promote safety, and strengthen communities. For more information about Serving Safely and the Vera Institute of Justice, see www.vera.org/projects/serving-safely.

The Arc Responds to Supreme Court Decision to Decline Review of Brendan Dassey Case

Washington, DC – Washington, D.C. – Today, The U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant review of Dassey v. Dittman. Brendan Dassey, a young man with social, learning, and developmental disabilities, was a central figure in Netflix’s smash docuseries, Making a Murderer He was sentenced to life in prison at the age of 16 after conviction for first-degree homicide, rape, and mutilation of a corpse based solely on his confession – no physical evidence linked him to the crime.

Dassey appealed the conviction on the grounds that his confession was involuntary. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected this argument and affirmed Dassey’s conviction. A federal district court and a divided panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that this rejection warranted habeas relief, but by a 4-3 vote, the en banc Seventh Circuit disagreed. Dassey’s attorneys then made an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the case, Dassey may spend the rest of his life in prison.

The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, released this statement following the news that the nation’s highest court will not review Dassey’s case:

“This is a sad day for Brendan Dassey and his family, as well as our criminal justice system. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to not review this case means that Brendan will likely serve life in prison based solely on a dubiously obtained confession.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed the issue of false confessions by juveniles in almost four decades. There has been significant growth of knowledge and understanding of how adolescents can be more susceptible to authority figures, coercion, and misleading tactics in the last four decades.  This is particularly true for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Brendan Dassey has already been incarcerated for over a decade, solely on the basis of an unreliable confession. Now the reality of life in prison for a crime there is no physical evidence he committed is sinking in. Sadly, our prisons and jails hold many Brendan Dasseys, too often forgotten, some not even recognized as being robbed of justice. We have a responsibility to ensure everyone in our country accesses justice the same way, which is why we must acknowledge the gaps in justice many are facing. 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 efforts to ensure that justice is appropriately served,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

While people with intellectual and developmental disabilities comprise 2% to 3% of the general population, they represent 4% to 10% of the prison population. Those accused of crimes they did not commit often face the greatest injustices of all, some losing their lives when coerced into giving false confessions. Long before Brendan Dassey’s case hit mainstream media, Robert Perske, respected author, advocate, and long-time supporter of The Arc, compiled a list of people with intellectual disability who gave false confessions to begin documenting these otherwise hidden-away cases.

Earlier this month, The Arc’s Criminal Justice Advisory Panel was launched. The panel is the latest addition to the organization’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability’s® (NCCJD®) ongoing advocacy to protect the rights of people with I/DD involved in the criminal justice system. During this event, The Arc presented, Steven Drizin, Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth, with The Perske Award for championing the rights of people with I/DD in the criminal justice system. Drizin was presented the award for a lifetime of work on justice reform for youth and people with disabilities and his representation of Brendan Dassey

Established in 2013, NCCJD is the only national center of its kind serving as a bridge between the I/DD community and criminal justice community that focuses on both victim and suspect/defendant/inmate issues. The center provides training and technical assistance, resources for professionals, people with disabilities, and their supporters, as well as educates the public about the intersection of criminal justice reform and the advancement of disability rights. Pathways to Justice,® NCCJD’s signature training tool, is a comprehensive, community-based training program facilitated through chapters of The Arc that helps criminal justice professionals understand their legal obligations toward the disability community, and includes the topic of false confessions. NCCJD is building the capacity of the criminal justice system to respond appropriately to gaps in existing services for people with disabilities, focusing on people with I/DD, who often remain a hidden population within the criminal justice system, with little or no access to advocacy supports or services.

About The Arc

The Arc advocates for and serves people wit­­h I/DD, including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and cerebral palsy. The Arc has a network of nearly 650 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.

About The Arc’s Criminal Justice Advisory Panel

The Advisory Panel is the latest addition to NCCJD’s ongoing advocacy to protect the rights of people with I/DD involved in the criminal justice system. It brings together legal professionals who share The Arc’s mission to protect and promote the civil rights of people with I/DD and will help expand NCCJD’s crucial advocacy.