Washington, DC – Last week, both chambers of Congress passed a bill focusing on criminal justice reform, which President Trump signed into law. The legislation shortens sentences and supports job training and other programs for some prisoners with disabilities.
“We are pleased that Congress has chosen to begin comprehensive reform of our criminal justice system. While this is a step in the right direction, our hope is that future legislation provides support for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) involved in all phases of our criminal justice system, whether as victims, witnesses, suspects, defendants, or prisoners.
“This legislation funds training on de-escalation techniques for federal prison staff; this is particularly important for individuals with IDD who are incarcerated. It is essential that future legislation supports training for law enforcement through all branches of government on recognizing and supporting the needs of individuals with disabilities. This training can ensure that an individual’s rights aren’t compromised and that they are provided the appropriate accommodations ensuring they are treated justly and don’t experience conditions that can be detrimental to their physical or mental health.
“The bipartisan support of this legislation is heartening, and we are grateful to Members of Congress for their work on this important issue. The Arc plans to be at the table as further criminal justice reform is discussed in the 116th Congress to ensure the interests of people with disabilities are included in future legislation,” said Peter V. Berns, CEO of The Arc.
While people with IDD comprise 2 to 3% of the general population, they represent 4 to 10% of the prison population. Earlier this year, 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 IDD involved in the criminal justice system.
Established in 2013, NCCJD is the only national center of its kind serving as a bridge between the IDD and criminal justice communities that focuses on both victim and suspect/defendant/prisoner 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 program facilitated through chapters of The Arc that helps criminal justice professionals understand their legal obligations toward people with disabilities. 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 IDD, who often remain a hidden population within the criminal justice system, with little or no access to advocacy supports or services.