We need a new court system for people with intellectual disabilities who get into trouble

By Tine Hansen-Turton, Lori Plunkett, Liz Hayden and Scott Spreat: For Complete Post, Click Here…

Woods Community at Brian’s House is a Chester County-based group home provider for people with intellectual disability and autism. One of our residents is a soft-spoken 25-year-old, diagnosed with intellectual disability and a genetic disorder called Prader Willi Syndrome which can mean life-threatening obesity due to a lack of normal hunger cues. This young man also has impulse control and oppositional defiance disorders and can be quick to anger. And like others with his challenges, he requires 24/7 direct care.

Until the advent of the pandemic, he was working in the community and taking karate classes three times a week, which he loved. Usually his occasional angry outbursts can be de-escalated. But one day in April, something triggered him. He threatened a staff member with a knife, and refused efforts to calm him.

We called 911, and police officers were able to convince him to drop the knife and took him to a hospital emergency room. After a psychiatric evaluation he was sent to a specialty hospital for treatment.

Sadly, people with intellectual disabilities are overrepresented among the prison population in the United States. Recent estimates suggest that there may be seven times as many people with intellectual disabilities in jails and prisons than would be expected from their representation among the general population.

There are many reasons for this situation. Limited cognitive skills can make it hard to understand and resist dangerous situations. For similar reasons, people with intellectual disability are at higher risk of becoming victims themselves. Some behaviors are often misunderstood by the general public and result in calls to law enforcement. From there, the impact can extend well beyond the massive trauma of an arrest, trial and time spent in jail. Once a person has been convicted of a crime, access to benefits may be affected, including housing, Social Security, health insurance, and employment.

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