Statement from Brian Kammer, Attorney for Warren Hill

“Today Georgia set an execution date for a man who has had intellectual disability since childhood, and whose execution would be unconstitutional. Twice the lower court found Warren Hill to have intellectual disability by the preponderance of the evidence, a widely-used and appropriate standard. All of the states’ experts have agreed, and in fact no expert who has ever examined Mr. Hill disputes that he has intellectual disability. Many prominent leaders in the field of intellectual disability agree that Mr. Hill should not face execution because he is a person with lifelong intellectual disability. The only reason that he is now at risk of execution is that Georgia’s standard – requiring capital defendants to prove they have intellectual disability ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ – is not science-based and inherently denies people like Mr. Hill from receiving the protection which the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote in Hall v. Florida, ‘Persons facing that most severe sanction must have a fair opportunity to show that the Constitution prohibits their execution.’  Georgia’s standard does not allow that ‘fair opportunity.’ It is unfathomable that Georgia is planning the execution of a man with intellectual disability, who is constitutionally protected from execution.”

-Brian Kammer, attorney for Warren Hill

-January 16, 2015

The execution order can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/1AoNSaR

House Rules for 114th Congress Set Up Attack on Social Security and SSDI

This week, the House of Representatives adopted its rules of procedure for the 114th Congress (H. Res. 5). Stunningly, buried in this usually dry, non-controversial measure was an attack on Social Security that will put at risk Congress’s ability to prevent a 20% cut in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits in 2016.

The provision, inserted by Representatives Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Tom Reed (R-NY) and approved by a vote of 234 to 168, sets up procedural hurdles to House consideration of a needed, routine replenishment of Social Security’s disability fund. Shockingly, these major changes were never considered in hearings or open to input from constituents. While these rules only affect the House – not the Senate – they set a dangerous tone for how the 114th Congress may deal with Social Security and SSDI.

Here are three facts about this week’s House action that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends need to know:

  1. Congress needs to act by 2016 to prevent 20% across-the-board cuts in SSDI benefits.

Congress from time to time needs to adjust Social Security’s finances to account for population and economic shifts. The need to replenish the DI fund in 2016 to account for current trends, such as an older workforce now in its disability-prone years, has been expected for several decades. Without Congressional action, in 2016 the DI fund’s reserves will be depleted, leaving only incoming payroll contributions to pay for benefits. As a result, unless Congress acts, SSDI beneficiaries will face benefit cuts of 20% at the end of 2016.

  1. “Reallocation” is the common-sense, traditional solution.

Over the last 5 decades, Congress has repeatedly, on a bipartisan basis, used a simple, common-sense solution to address shortfalls in either of Social Security’s two funds (the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance or OASI fund, and the Disability Insurance or DI fund). A temporary shift to direct more Social Security revenues to the DI fund – called “reallocation” — will extend the solvency of the DI fund for almost two decades. Congress has made similar shifts 11 times in the past, about equally increasing the percentage going into one fund or the other. Reallocation does not require any new taxes. Additionally, the solvency of the overall Social Security system stays the same, with the combined funds remaining fully solvent through 2033.

  1. The House action creates roadblocks to strengthening Social Security, include SSDI.

The House rules of procedure govern how the House operates. The provision adopted in the House rules for the 114th Congress bars the House from reallocating to the DI fund. Procedurally, the House can in the future vote to waive this requirement – meaning that a reallocation could move forward, but only if the rule is waived. But the insertion of this provision into the House rules will create serious roadblocks to reallocation – and to Congress’s ability to keep Social Security’s promise to the more than 165 million hardworking Americans who contribute to Social Security and the nearly 11 million Americans who currently receive SSDI.

Want to learn more? Here are a few articles on the House action, from:

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.

Justice Can Seem Insurmountable – New Pathways to Justice™ Introduction Video Aims to Help People with I/DD Navigate Daunting System

Too many times people with disabilities come into contact with the criminal justice system and the outcome is anything but just.”

The opening words of a new video created by The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD), the Pathways to Justice Introduction Video, powerfully highlight the broad lack of justice for people with disabilities within America’s criminal justice system. This four and a half minute video introduces the Pathways to Justice Model, and integral part of the Pathways to Justice training program being piloted by five chapters of The Arc. The Pathways to Justice Training Curriculum helps build the capacity of the criminal justice system to effectively identify, serve, and protect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), many of whom have “mild” disabilities that often go unnoticed among criminal justice professionals without appropriate training. The video points out why communities should seek additional training for criminal justice professionals.

Navigating the criminal justice system, as a suspect, offender, witness, or victim, is daunting for anyone. For people with I/DD and their families, there can be insurmountable obstacles to obtaining justice. The new Pathways to Justice Introduction Video highlights specific cracks in the criminal justice system through the telling of real life stories by people with disabilities and by their family members.

Take James’ story. James Meadours is a powerful self-advocate with intellectual disabilities who experienced multiple victimizations throughout his life—without anyone every knowing. As an adult, James was raped in his own apartment. He found the courage to reach out for help, leading to the successful prosecution of his attacker and the revelation that there had been multiple victimizations throughout James’ life. While this story ended positively with the attacker held accountable for the crime and James empowering others with his self-advocacy, society overall must do a better job creating safer lives in the community for people with disabilities. Research supports the fact that multiple victimizations are quite common among people with disabilities—this is unacceptable. James did not have to suffer in silence alone for so many years, we as a society can do better.

Using the Pathways to Justice Model, NCCJD aims to build collaborative relationships within the criminal justice and disability professions, creating solutions to identify, prevent, and stop injustices faced by people with disabilities. The Pathways to Justice Introduction Video debuted at The Arc’s National Convention in New Orleans with positive reviews, and was played at The Arc of North Carolina’s State Convention the following week. Chapters have already begun requesting copies to take to local law enforcement and criminal justice professionals as a way to effectively demonstrate the need for quality training on disability issues.

NCCJD wants you to help bridge gaps in your community’s criminal justice system. If we’re truly going to stop injustice in our nation’s criminal justice system against people with disabilities, we must take action. Get involved by:

  • Sharing the video: Use the conversation guide and the Pathways to Justice Model to begin a collaborative effort in your community. Let others in your state or community know about NCCJD as a reliable and trusted resource funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, and use the video to educate the criminal justice community about the need for effective training on disability issues.
  • Using NCCJD as a resource: NCCJD provides technical assistance and information & referral regarding a broad range of criminal justice issues. If you have a question involving the criminal justice system and someone with a disability use our online form.
  • Putting your state’s resources on the map: If there is a great resource in your area that we should know about, tell us! Visit the state map site to learn more: http://www.thearc.org/NCCJD/resources/by-state

While obtaining justice seems insurmountable at times, the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability is committed to working with parents, professionals, self-advocates, and other advocates to create pathways to justice for all people with disabilities.