Interactions between law enforcement and criminal legal systems with people with disabilities are occurring more frequently, highlighting the inaccessible and inequitable nature of the criminal legal system for people with disabilities. The overreliance on policing, coupled with the underinvestment in ​health care and housing services, particularly harms Black people and communities of color.​ A lack of understanding of many disability-related behaviors and the law enforcement response to these behaviors often results in deadly and tragic consequences for people with disabilities. ​

People with disabilities encounter the criminal legal system as victims, witnesses, and suspects/defendants. Statistics clearly indicate that more individuals with disabilities are entering juvenile justice facilities, jails, and prisons at higher rates than their peers without disabilities. Many are placed in such settings wrongfully, and black and brown individuals with disabilities experience this at an even higher rate. They are also entering the criminal legal system due to failures in the educational and social service systems when early and accurate identifications of IDD are not made and essential services and supports are not provided, which can result in criminal justice involvement later in life. This issue has become more public as the press has documented numerous disturbing but typical incidents.

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Criminal Justice Priorities for the 118th Congress
  • Decrease interactions between people with IDD and law enforcement;​​
  • ​​​Prioritize the development of a civilian crisis response system with the ability to service mental/behavioral health calls on par with the 911 emergency response system;​​
  • ​​Promote​ accountability in federal funding to support ​best practices for successful law enforcement interaction with people with disabilities​;​​
  • ​​​Support mandatory and nationwide​ training on behaviors such as wandering, different communication styles, and stressful reactions to physical prompts and restraints or environmental stimulation​;​​​​
  • ​​​Promote mandatory reporting of use of force incidents, including identifying statistics on race/ethnicity/language and people with disabilities, people experiencing a behavioral/mental health crisis, and statistics covering the deployment of mental health/civilian led teams;​​
  • ​​Provide appropriate crime victim, witness, and suspect/defendant assistance and accommodations to people with IDD;​
  • ​​Ensure reasonable accommodation in all stages of criminal proceedings to assist individuals with IDD in understanding their rights, understanding the charge(s), and appropriately participating in the proceedings and their defense;​
  • ​​Ensure that competency standards and findings reflect contemporary clinical practices and do not have the impact of indefinitely detaining individuals with disabilities with no resolution;​
  • ​​Prevent discrimination on the basis of disability by criminal legal systems against victims, witnesses, and those accused of crimes;​
  • ​​Promote best practice alternatives to incarceration, including diversion, for people with IDD;​
  • ​​Ensure appropriate special educational services for incarcerated youth with disabilities;​
  • ​​Ensure that health care and other interventions are accessible and available to individuals with disabilities who are in criminal legal systems; ​​​
  • ​​​Support the prohibition on the use of solitary confinement;​​
  • Ensure “re-entry” programs include accommodations for successful transition from criminal legal systems to the community such as training and reference materials related to conditions of probation and parole; and​
  • ​​Incentivize court systems to assess and address functions, procedures, and rules that more harshly impact people with IDD, which inhibit exercise of their civil or constitutional rights, or which unnecessarily delay return to society.​
  • ​​Ensure enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when it comes to arrests and detention for individuals with disabilities;​
  • ​​Ensure that the Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces due process rights throughout criminal legal systems, including when individuals are placed in alternative treatment programs;​
  • ​​Ensure inexpensive and timely access by families, providers, and states to federal criminal background checks for anyone employed in the disability service system;​
  • ​​Prosecute individuals who commit, and entities that are party to, physical, psychological, or sexual abuse, mistreatment, or neglect of children or adults with disabilities;​
  • ​​Ensure that the rights of people with IDD are protected during all interactions with law enforcement; and​
  • ​​Support full implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards and ensure that these practices apply to individuals with IDD who are incarcerated, who are more likely to experience abuse within correctional settings.​
  • ​​Support the creation of a system that collects valid, reliable, national data on the number of people with disabilities, disaggregated by type of disability, currently within criminal legal systems; and​
  • ​​Collect valid, reliable, national data relating to crimes involving individuals with disabilities, disaggregated by type of disability, as witnesses, suspects, or victims, including data on those accused of crimes in new and within existing data sets and reporting systems.​
  • ​​Require training for teachers, other school professionals, and community providers so that they have an understanding of the criminal legal system;​
  • ​Mandate ongoing evidence-based training of all personnel in criminal legal systems (e.g., law enforcement, judges, public defenders, prosecuting attorneys, and victim advocates) about disability rights and issues unique to people with IDD, including identification of disability, effective communication, and de-escalation strategies (including in education settings) to avoid unnecessary involvement in criminal legal systems;​
  • ​​Provide training to all personnel in the criminal legal system about due process protections, effective communication and include reliable, culturally competent assessments for determination of need and to identify needed services and supports; ​
  • ​​Provide training to individuals with IDD, especially youth, about personal safety, crime prevention, reporting, and what to do if they are involved in a crime as a witness, suspect, or victim.​