The Arc Brings Disability Perspective to Police-Led Hate Crimes Advisory Committee

Hate Crimes Panel Group

Leigh Ann Davis, Chief Will Johnson with Arlington Police Department (TX), Peter Berns, Ariel Simms

Since 2013, The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD®) has served as a bridge between the disability and law enforcement communities, and is the first-of-its-kind national clearinghouse for information and training on the topic of people with I/DD as victims, witnesses, suspects and incarcerated persons. The Arc’s work to elevate these issues led to the opportunity to attend and present at the 2017 International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) national convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While at the conference, staff, including CEO of The Arc Peter Berns, participated in the initial “Enhancing the Response to Hate Crimes” Advisory Committee meeting co-hosted by IACP and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee). In attendance were law enforcement and civil rights leaders, such as The Anti-Defamation League; the Baltimore Police Department; The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and many others from across the country who met to develop an achievable action agenda to improve the criminal justice system’s response to hate crimes. According to the FBI, 1.2% of hate crime victims were targeted because of disability in 2015. Many disability advocates find this statistic misleadingly low, as individuals with I/DD frequently cite barriers to reporting crimes committed against them. In 2015, NCCJD explored these barriers and potential solutions in its white paper, Violence, Abuse and Bullying Affecting People with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities: A Call to Action for the Criminal Justice Community.

“We are proud to lead a committee of such outstanding leaders who are coming together to invest their time and effort into breaking down barriers and strengthening the relationship between law enforcement and the communities that are too often the targets of hate crimes,” said Lawyers’ Committee President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke.

Hate Crime Advisory Panel

The Arc’s NCCJD staff presented with Chief Will Johnson and Melissa Bradley with DOJ’s COPS Office on applying procedural justice to situations involving people with disabilities

At this first in a series of four meetings, members began to develop key principles for improving the response to hate crimes. The committee also discussed the many legal, economic, emotional, social, and safety issues that arise in the wake of hate incidents and hate crimes, as well as proposed recommendations on appropriate responses.

Subsequent meetings will continue to solicit input from additional law enforcement and civil rights leaders as well as community members targeted for hate crimes. The committee will use this input to craft an action agenda for community and law enforcement leaders, which will ultimately improve the safety of communities targeted by hate. The Arc is thrilled to participate in this important work, as the organization continually strives to raise awareness among law enforcement and other agencies about the high rate of victimization in the disability community (for more information about training for criminal justice professionals see www.nccjdpathwaystojustice.org). Furthermore, The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice & Disability works to ensure that any reporting efforts related to hate crimes (and other crimes) include effective outreach methods for people with I/DD who remain traditionally underserved and overlooked in today’s criminal justice system.

RE: Clemency for Ledell Lee

Dear Governor Hutchinson:

I write on behalf of The Arc of the United States (The Arc) to urge you to commute the death sentence of Ledell Lee pending a full clinical evaluation to determine whether Mr. Lee has an intellectual disability (ID). The Arc is a national non-profit organization which, for over 65 years, has sought to promote and protect the civil and human rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities through the work of its national office and over 650 state and local chapters throughout the country. Through its National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability®, The Arc seeks justice for those with ID who find themselves entangled in the criminal justice system, often without necessary accommodations or understanding of their disability.

The Arc has deep sympathy for the family and friends of the victims in this case, and we support appropriate punishment of all responsible parties. However, Mr. Lee’s history is replete with evidence indicating a potential ID diagnosis, which would bring him under the protection of the United States Supreme Court’s decisions in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), Hall v. Florida, 134 S. Ct. 1986 (2014), and the more recent decision in Moore v. Texas, No. 15–797, slip op. (U.S. Mar. 28, 2017).

In its 2002 Atkins decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the special risk of wrongful execution faced by persons with ID (formerly termed “mental retardation”) and banned the execution of persons with ID as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, noting that individuals with ID “do not act with the level of moral culpability that characterizes the most serious adult criminal conduct” and that “[n]o legitimate penological purpose is served by executing a person with intellectual disability…to impose the harshest of punishments on an intellectually disabled person violates his or her inherent dignity as a human being.” In its 2014 Hall decision, the U.S. Supreme Court further clarified its decision that people with ID not be executed in violation of the Constitution, requiring that adaptive behavior evidence, beyond IQ test scores alone, be taken into account when determining whether an individual has ID. The more recent Moore case further confirms adaptive behavior criteria as necessary in determining whether someone meets diagnostic criteria for ID, and that such criteria must comport with modern clinical and scientific understanding of ID.

The evidence presented by the neuropsychological expert in this case, Dr. Dale Watson, supports the conclusion that if Mr. Lee undergoes a full evaluation, he will likely meet the three prongs of an ID diagnosis: (1) significantly impaired intellectual functioning; (2) adaptive behavior deficits in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills; and (3) origination of the disability before the age of 18. In order to complete his analysis, Mr. Lee’s adaptive deficits and history during the developmental period (before age 18) need to be fully assessed. Individuals with ID—like everyone else—differ substantially from one another. For each person with ID there will be things he or she cannot do but also many things he or she can do. Because the mixture of skill strengths and skill deficits varies widely among persons with ID, there is no clinically accepted list of common, ordinary strengths or abilities that would preclude a diagnosis of ID. Thus, the focus in assessing an individual’s adaptive behavior must be on deficits. As recently confirmed in Moore, adaptive strengths are irrelevant to this analysis and IQ alone cannot paint a full picture of whether a person has an ID. Thus, we urge that Mr. Lee receive a full evaluation for ID to determine whether he may be eligible for the Atkins constitutional protection from the death penalty.

Given the high likelihood of ID in this case, it is troubling that the lawyers who represented Mr. Lee throughout his trial failed to properly investigate evidence of Mr. Lee’s potential ID. As a result, no evidence of Mr. Lee’s potential disability was presented to the jury during the sentencing phase of his trial. If a full evaluation confirms Mr. Lee’s suspected diagnosis of ID, then Mr. Lee’s death sentence violates current prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment as set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Atkins, Hall, and Moore.

The Arc does not seek to eliminate punishment of Mr. Lee 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. I humbly ask that you consider commutation to address the possibility of an unconstitutional miscarriage of justice in the case of Ledell Lee.

Most respectfully,

Peter V. Berns
Chief Executive Officer
The Arc of the United States

The Arc Commends Department of Justice’s Report on Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department

Washington, DC – Last week, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division released a report following an investigation into the past conduct of the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD). DOJ concluded that there is “reasonable cause to believe that BPD engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law” by engaging in unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests; using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches, and arrests of African-Americans; using excessive force; and retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally-protected expression. Among these troubling findings, The Arc noted that the treatment of individuals with disabilities by law enforcement was included in the report, which featured a full section on the use of unreasonable force against individuals with disabilities highlighting that “BPD officers repeatedly fail to make reasonable modifications necessary to avoid discrimination in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).”

Among other things, the investigation recommended that BPD offer crisis intervention training, previously offered to only new recruits, to veteran officers as well. DOJ noted that such training helps officers “identify whether an individual is in crisis or engaging in behavior related to a disability, to interact effectively with people with disabilities, to de-escalate a crisis, and to connect the individual with local resources to provide treatment or support.”

“Far too often, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are in situations with law enforcement that unnecessarily escalate because officers aren’t trained in crisis prevention or how to recognize and accommodate various disabilities. This is not only happening in Maryland, it is a serious problem nationwide. We have got to flip the script when it comes to law enforcement training so that police departments understand that recognizing and appropriately accommodating disability in the line of duty is not optional, but is a fundamental aspect of their compliance with civil rights laws, such as the ADA. The recommendations in this report should be adopted across the country, so that we can break the cycle of discrimination that many minorities, including people with disabilities, face, and make our communities safer and more just for all,” said Leigh Ann Davis, Director, Criminal Justice Initiatives, The Arc.

The report found that BPD officers “have escalated interactions that did not initially involve criminal behavior, resulting in the arrest of, or use of force against, individuals in crisis, or with mental health disabilities or I/DD, or unnecessary hospitalization of the person with mental health disabilities or I/DD.” These unnecessary hospitalizations often violate the “integration mandate” of the ADA and the landmark Olmstead decision, which require public entities to administer services, programs, and activities for people with disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate and prohibits unjustified institutionalization of people with disabilities.

“The findings in the report are disturbing. It is particularly painful reading this report on the heels of the 26th Anniversary of the ADA. The Arc Maryland stands ready to assist with necessary training to police officers to appropriately respond to people with I/DD. We urge BPD to implement specialized training and de-escalation techniques as tactics to reform the system and better serve people with disabilities, African Americans, and any other member of the community that interacts with the criminal justice system,” said Poetri Deal, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy, The Arc Maryland.

Steve Morgan, Executive Director, The Arc Baltimore, said: “The BPD is already working with us to extend the crisis intervention training, previously offered to select officers only, to the entire force. We are working together to address the recommendations, expand their knowledge, and improve community relations.”

The Arc runs the National Center for 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 (or I/DD) under one roof.

NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for information and training on the topic of people with I/DD as victims, witnesses and suspects or offenders of crime. The Center provides training and technical assistance, an online resource library, white papers, and more. The Center created Pathways to Justice,® a comprehensive training program facilitated through chapters of The Arc, which assists officers to both identify disability, and know how to respond in ways that keep all parties as safe as possible. Pathways to Justice utilizes a multi-disciplinary response that provides a foundation for a collaborative approach among community partners.

Read more about The Arc’s take on criminal justice reform and people with I/DD in our recent blog in the Huffington Post.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of more than 650 chapters across the country, including 11 in Maryland, 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 and without regard to diagnosis.

The Arc’s Statement on Overturning of Brendan Dassey’s Murder Conviction 

Washington, DC – The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, released the following statement on the news that a judge has overturned the murder conviction of Brendan Dassey:

“This must be a bittersweet ruling for Brendan Dassey and his family. Brendan’s experience has been unique, thanks to Making a Murderer. The documentary revealed to the masses just how easy it is to force a confession from people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“My hope is that those following this case will come to realize that our jails and prisons are full of Brendan Dasseys, that false confessions are much more common among those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and that there is something we can do about it to prevent future injustice.

“Police officers, investigators, attorneys, correctional officers, and others are not adequately trained to identify people who may have an intellectual disability or how to accommodate their needs, and this is especially critical during interrogations. We still have a long way to go to bend the arc of justice when it comes to fair and just treatment of people with disabilities in the criminal justice system. The Arc is committed to revealing the many forms injustice takes in their lives, and working with those in the system to fix it,” said Leigh Ann Davis, Director, Criminal Justice Initiatives.

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 injustice 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.

The Arc runs the National Center for 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 (or I/DD) under one roof.

NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for information and training on the topic of people with I/DD as victims, witnesses and suspects or offenders of crime. The Center provides training and technical assistance, an online resource library, white papers, and more. The Center created Pathways to Justice,® a comprehensive training program facilitated through chapters of The Arc, which assists officers to both identify disability, and know how to respond in ways that keep all parties as safe as possible. NCCJD is building the capacity of the criminal justice system to respond to gaps in existing services for people with disabilities, focusing on people with I/DD who remain a hidden population within the criminal justice system with little or no access to advocacy supports or services.

Read more about The Arc’s take on criminal justice reform and people with I/DD in our recent blog in the Huffington Post.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of more than 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 and without regard to diagnosis.

The Arc’s Statement on the Shooting of Unarmed Caregiver in Florida

Washington, DC – The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, released the following statement on the news that Charles Kinsey, a caregiver (commonly known as direct support professional) for people with disabilities, was shot while supporting a young man with autism:

“Earlier this week Charles Kinsey, a direct support professional for individuals with developmental disabilities, was shot in a situation that needlessly escalated. Individuals like Charles play an invaluable role in the lives of those they support. It isn’t uncommon for their clients to see them as extended family and often direct support professionals put the wellbeing of those they are supporting ahead of their own, as was the case in this situation.

“While all the details of this incident have not been released, this case highlights a growing issue in our nation – the lack of training for law enforcement on how to safely and effectively interact with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. From Ethan Saylor to Neli Latson and now Charles Kinsey, we continue to see how lack of training on supporting individuals with disabilities can pose a threat to the safety of our extended community. The fact of the matter is this incident was preventable. Collaboration between law enforcement and the disability community is the key to preventing future cases like this. We welcome the opportunity to work with law enforcement to help improve our criminal justice system and prevent future tragedy and injustice,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

“While staff are sometimes injured performing their job duties, we do not see them injured by law enforcement who so often answer our calls for assistance in our work. While we do not yet know all of the facts, it appears that Mr. Kinsey, like so many staff working with persons with disabilities would do, tried to protect the person he was charged with caring for. We hope for a full and speedy recovery for Mr. Kinsey,” said Deborah Linton, CEO, The Arc of Florida

The Arc’s National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability® was established in 2013 to address situations like this, and the critical need for effective, evidence-based training for law enforcement and others in the criminal justice system. Funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, The Center created Pathways to Justice,™ a comprehensive training program facilitated through chapters of The Arc, which assists officers to both identify disability, and know how to respond in ways that keep all parties as safe as possible. This innovative training emphasizes a shift in thinking away from “crisis intervention” alone, to “crisis prevention” which promotes a problem-solving attitude among officers and helps them to define what is truly a crisis, and what is not. Piloted in five states to date, the training is being rolled out in six additional states in 2017.

Research Is In – Recognizing Disability Leads to Better Outcomes in Criminal Justice System

Adapted for The Arc’s blog by Janet Keeler, Ph.D., Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Cleveland, Ohio

The Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities’ (CCBDD) Forensic Unit and Cleveland State University recently completed a seven-year collaborative research project focusing on the characteristics and offense patterns of 160 individuals with developmental disabilities (DD) in a large urban setting. This kind of research has never been done and conclusions are being used to inform criminal justice work in this community.

The findings are important because far too many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) are in our criminal justice system, with no recognition of their need for accommodations. People with I/DD and other disabilities often find themselves in the criminal justice system due to a lack of awareness of how to identify and meet the needs of this population when law enforcement encounters them as victims, offenders, or suspects. Too often there is little or no consideration for their diagnosis throughout the legal process, leading up to a decision in their case. The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) is working to change this reality. For resources, training, and assistance, go to http://www.thearc.org/NCCJD.

Here are 4 takeaways from the research project:

  1. Early identification of individuals with DD in the criminal justice system is incredibly important. The research demonstrates that individuals with disabilities have better dispositions (the court’s final determination of a criminal charge) and access to targeted service delivery models when disability is identified at the start of the criminal justice process. The CCBDD Forensic Unit has developed multi-system identification methods to detect individuals all across the criminal justice system. This identification includes individuals already eligible for the CCBDD services who are identified via InJail, a shared electronic database with the County Sheriff’s office that provides notification upon booking in all jails in Cuyahoga County. Individuals who are not associated with the CCBDD but could be eligible for services are identified through a questionnaire administered at booking, followed up by outreach services.
  2. Access to trained criminal justice personnel leads to more appropriate outcomes. Through disabilities specific training and one on one consultation on each case, the Forensic Unit assists the specialized mental health/developmental disabilities (MH/DD) court personnel to understand individuals’ statuses, needs and the risks they face while incarcerated. The Forensic Unit liaisons are dispatched upon identification to support those individuals with disabilities who find themselves in the Cuyahoga County Corrections Center and assist with the challenges of being incarcerated. The forensic liaison meets and assists individuals in acclimating to jail, consults with attorneys and judges, and attends all court hearings until completion of the case, with the goal of collaborating in the process in the best interest of the individual. Due to this approach, many individuals in this study were sentenced to community control, an alternative to prison that usually involves intense monitoring and sometimes confinement to the person’s home rather than jail or prison.
  3. Repeat offense rate drops for those with access to disability supports. When successful service delivery models are used for people with disabilities in the criminal justice system, recidivism (the incidence of committing another crime that leads to re-arrest, reconviction or return to prison) is most often used to determine the success or failure of individuals sentenced to probation. This research study revealed very different recidivism rates for individuals who received specialized services – 14% re-offended, versus 28% of those individuals who experienced the process without appropriate access. The two factors attributed to this difference were the personal attention and additional advocacy in the process from the Forensic Unit liaisons and the impact of the knowledge of the judges who were trained in working with defendants with disabilities.
  4. Training criminal justice professionals can make all the difference for individuals with disabilities. This research confirmed that criminal justice professionals exposed to disability-specific training results in better outcomes for individuals with disabilities. And in addition to judges, lawyers, as well as probation/parole/corrections officers, training should be provided to school personnel (School Resource Officers or SROs), police departments, treatment professionals, and victim assistance agencies staff in order to facilitate communication, collaboration, early identification, and ultimately effective service provision for people with disabilities.

This groundbreaking research has led to many more questions to explore for the research team. The NCCJD staff would like to explore ways to gather data nationally on the number of people with I/DD who are in prison. We also need further research on what comprises effective training on disability issues for criminal justice professionals. What exactly made THIS training effective in reducing recidivism? It begs the question – what is more important, the “personal attention” or the training?

For a more in-depth look at a sub-topic in criminal justice and I/DD, join NCCJD on July 30th from 1:30-3:30 for their white paper release and accompanying webinar, “Sex Offenders with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: Problems and Solutions from Around the Nation.” Register here: http://www.thearc.org/nccjd/training/webinars.

GTO Cadets: A Law Enforcement Internship Program for Young Adults with Disabilities

NCCJD Promising Program Spotlight

GTO Cadets

Chief Chris Perkins, Tyler Caldwell, Cody Light, Joshua Leonard, Officer Travis Akins, Nicholas Medovich

By Officer Travis Akins

On November 10, 2014, the Roanoke Police Department held a press conference to officially launch GTO CADETS—“Grow Through Opportunity.” The GTO CADETS program allows young adults with disabilities to intern within the department. Cadets grow their professional skills and round out their resumes, and simultaneously provide law enforcement officers with coworkers with disabilities.

Officer Travis Akins worked closely with Chief Perkins to incorporate GTO CADETS into department life, establishing an internal policy and volunteer application process. The inaugural class included three young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders and one with Down syndrome. A professional job coach, contracted through the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), is on site Monday through Friday to ensure GTO CADETS get the most out of their time with the department.

What exactly are GTO CADETS doing with their day?
After being outfitted with custom-designed GTO CADET uniforms—including badges—cadets complete tasks such as filing documents, shredding papers, copying and folding safety brochures, and providing department tours. Working up to 12 hours a week, each cadet receives assignments that play to their strengths. For example, one young man with autism disseminates daily assigned patrol vehicle keys to officers beginning their shifts. The position—which did not exist before the program—requires officers and detectives to sign for their patrol keys, ultimately both enhancing accountability and forcing interaction between officers and cadets.

GTO CADETS are also provided high community exposure. They assist the department with crime prevention presentations; role playing, co-training and molding the minds of young recruits in the police academy; acting as “McGruff the Crime Dog” for Senior Centers and elementary schools; changing Project Lifesaver transmitter batteries and bands on individuals with cognitive impairments who may wander; and riding in police vehicles in Christmas Parades and other popular events—in short, they act as a new face of law enforcement. Recently, a GTO CADET with Down syndrome co-presented with the Police Chief at a Bar Association luncheon. The cadet was responsible for the portion of the presentation focusing on the GTO CADET initiative.

Finally, each GTO CADET shift ends with 30 minutes of cardiovascular training in the department’s fitness facility.

GTO Cadets

Joshua Leonard and Tyler Caldwell

Testimonials
Officers in the department have noticed preconceived perceptions morphing into positive interactions, empathy, and camaraderie. Police personnel expect to see the GTO CADETS around the building and look forward to daily interactions—many employees see the GTO CADETS as the highlight of their week! The Department is now totally committed to an inclusive work place, and increasing job, life, and social skills for young adults with disabilities.

Officer Travis Akins, a contributing author for this blog, says, “As a sworn law enforcement officer in the Commonwealth of Virginia, I firmly believe our criminal justice system desperately needs to develop creative programs nationwide, specific to individuals with disabilities. All human beings, regardless of their unique challenges, deserve a fair and equitable opportunity to enhance their own quality of life. Every person fully deserves the opportunity to be active, engaged, informed, and included, regardless of ability. Recognizing such, our department created a truly innovative program specific to individuals with disabilities!”

For assistance implementing the GTO CADETS program, e-mail Officer Travis Akins at GTOcadets@gmail.com or call at (540) 632-7326. Follow and Like GTO CADETS on Facebook.

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.

How Oprah’s Story and Show Helped One Sexual Abuse Survivor with Down syndrome Beat the Odds

It started with one jarring phone call

“Conny, it’s Tammy. I think Jenny has been molested.” The grave tone of my sister Tammy’s voice told me that there was no doubt it was true.

How could anyone have hurt our precious, precious sister? Our sister, Jenny, has Down syndrome and an accompanying intellectual disability. Jenny is a person who would not hurt a fly, whose kindness and sensitivity are legend in the family; a person who could not stay in a room with a crying baby because it so upset her that she started crying too. A person with empathetic response to the world around her and a limited understanding of the evils of human nature, and a person whose disability influences her trusting nature.

My sister, Tammy, was home from college and doing what she always did when home, enjoying hang time with her big sister Jen. This often meant watching some of Jen’s favorite TV shows. Jen has a set schedule of shows she loves to watch so much that you look forward to the treat of watching them with her. Jenny’s usual routine is to return home from her supported day work program (currently she works as a candy striper at a hospital) and watch TV. On this particular day, like legions of other Americans, it was the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Tammy and Jen were about to catch one of Oprah’s most talked about shows. It ran on April 26, 2002, and was called “The Secret World of Child Molestation.” Oprah, a victim of child molestation herself, had a record of discussing the issue—even back when it was still largely taboo to discuss such matters in public. Even by 2002, when the topic had become more commonly discussed, this show still caused a stir because it presented a “deep dive” portrait on how often molesters are known and trusted members of your own family or community. The episode aired roughly concurrent to the still unfolding horror of the Catholic Church’s child molestation scandal in which known child abusing priests were left in parishes or moved from parish to parish, leaving epic numbers of devastated children in their wake.

Tammy found the show unsettling but was shaken to the core when Jen almost casually commented after then show, “Well that happened to me. But I’m over it now.” . . .

For the resolution to the Mayer family’s powerful story, view the whole piece here.


If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or victimization:

  • Report to your local authorities or call The National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. Often, people with communication limitations will need support when calling the hotline.
  • Once any emergency situations have been handled, contact The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) for more information about this issue, assistance when pressing charges, and to learn how you as a crime victims can “beat the odds” in your journey from crime victim to survivor. Submit a request online.

To get involved and end abuse, sign The Arc’s pledge and help raise awareness with #RallyTogether.

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.