The Arc Maryland Responds to Governor’s Executive Order to Establish Commission

Governor O’Malley Forms New Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

ANNAPOLIS, Md.The Arc Maryland responds to Governor O’Malley’s Executive Order to establish the Maryland Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The Executive Order was created as a response to the tragic death of Frederick County resident Ethan Saylor, who had Down syndrome, in an effort to improve the training of law enforcement, paramedics and other first responders to better respond to people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.

In a press statement issued on February 21 (http://arcblog.wpengine.com/2013/02/21/the-arc-responds-to-the…), The Arc Maryland responded to the tragic death of Robert Ethan Saylor: “Sadly, this tragedy could have been prevented…with proper training these officers would have realized there was a better way to work with Robert, as opposed to simply using force – an extreme and unnecessary reaction. This is a moment for us not only to mourn, but we must also learn from this tragedy and encourage proper training in our police departments,” said Kate Fialkowski, Executive Director, The Arc Maryland.

Individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (includes children, youth and adults with disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome) represent 3% of the population living in our communities as valuable contributing citizens. Individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) are disproportionately victimized and disproportionately suspected of criminal activity—7 times more likely to come in contact with law enforcement than the general population. Individuals with I/DD often have co-occurring medical conditions such as neurological, cardiac, or respiratory conditions that make them more vulnerable in stress situations. The use of prone restraints – which is associated with increased risk of asphyxia and aspiration – can result in fatality. (National Review of Restraint Related Deaths of Children and Adults with Disabilities: The Lethal Consequences of Restraint, 2011).

Carol Fried, President of The Arc Maryland said: “It’s our collective responsibility as a community to understand the unique gifts of our fellow community members, but also to ensure that our protective service systems are savvy in ensuring safe treatment of a vulnerable population.”

A comprehensive approach is necessary and The Arc Maryland applauds Governor O’Malley for establishing this Commission. It is critical that our state develops policies and practices for law enforcement and first responders, that there should be a coordinated and comprehensive strategy for response, and all first responders should have appropriate training to effectively respond to individuals with I/DD in a variety of public safety situations.

In its continuing efforts to build awareness and improve community inclusion, The Arc Maryland is scheduled to conduct an introductory training entitled “Law Enforcement Response to Developmental Disabilities” at the Governor’s Fall Criminal Justice Conference on October 10, 2013. In an “Ask Me” format, individuals with developmental disabilities will lead this training.  “The Arc has a long history of criminal justice and first responder training on a national level. We’re happy to contribute our extensive experience in any way that can benefit the state and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families,” said Ms. Fialkowski.

The Arc Launches New National Resource Center on Justice and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Office of Justice Programs SealWashington, DC – The Arc is pleased to announce it has been awarded a two-year grant for $400,000 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to develop a national center on justice and intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  This is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  According to the National Crime Victim Survey of 2010, the victimization rate is twice as high for individuals with disabilities as compared to those without disabilities.  And we don’t have to look far for examples where law enforcement and people with I/DD could have benefited from this kind of work, including the tragic death of Robert Ethan Saylor in Frederick, Maryland, who died earlier this year after three off-duty deputies attempted to remove him from a movie theater over a misunderstanding over a ticket.

The goal of this project is to create a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for 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 – both as victims and offenders.

“When individuals with I/DD become involved in the criminal justice system as suspects or victims, they often face miscommunication, fear, confusion and prejudice. This new center will play a critical role in improving first response and communication between people with I/DD and the justice system.  No similar center on this topic exists, nor are there sufficient resources to address the gap in expertise in the field, and so this effort is long overdue,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The Arc will work closely with several other national partners within the criminal justice, legal and victim advocacy communities to research, analyze and replicate evidence-based solutions to the problems of injustice and victimization that have gone on for far too long within the I/DD community.  For example, people with I/DD are often unable to report crimes or are not seen as credible witnesses. They are also vulnerable to becoming perpetrators of crime, including sex offenses, and used by other criminals to assist in law-breaking activities. And with many forms of mild I/DD not being easily identifiable, justice personnel may not recognize that someone has a disability or know how to work effectively with the individual. Although organized training is available for criminal justice professionals on mental illness, few resources on I/DD exist. Many law enforcement and other justice professionals do not know the difference between mental illness and I/DD and often think they are synonymous.

“When our chapters work with their local law enforcement agencies, they hear time and time again that training is provided for mental health issues, yet that doesn’t encompass millions of people with I/DD living in our communities.  Through this grant, The Arc’s center will become a national focal point for the collection and dissemination of resources and serve as a bridge between the justice and disability communities,” said Berns.

The center will consist of a resource library, directories of expert witnesses, attorneys, forensic interviewers, and victim advocates, a database of relevant state laws, and hands-on technical assistance and training.  Additionally, The Arc will create a Justice and I/DD Certification program using training curriculum authored by Leigh Ann Davis, M.S.S.W., M.P.A., and hold five trainings around the country and web-based trainings.

Report Highlights Severe Abuse of People with Disabilities Abroad

The International Task Force of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) today released a report that highlights examples of the severe abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities around the World.  The report, Neglected and Abused Abroad: A Look at the Severe Mistreatment of Individuals with Disabilities Around the World and How the U.S. Can Help, highlights just a few examples of the horrible treatment, abuse, and discrimination faced by individuals with a variety of disabilities in other countries. 

Some examples of abuse include:

  • In Ghana, people with intellectual and mental health disabilities suffer severe abuse in psychiatric institutions and “healing centers.”  Thousands of people are forced to live in these institutions, often against their will and with little possibility of challenging their confinement;
  • In Kenya, a 10-year old girl who is deaf was raped but faces barriers in the justice system because of her disability;
  • In Mexico, children with intellectual disabilities were  abandoned at a private facility without any documentation on their diagnosis or even their names;
  • Children in Paraguay were found in cells with walls smeared with excrement and reeking of urine; and
  • In Russia, people with physical disabilities are prisoners in their own homes because of the widespread physical inaccessibility of Russian cities.

“Our country has an obligation to share our knowledge of how to ensure  children and adults with disabilities live as full citizens, with dignity and independence,” said CCD Chair, Katy Neas of Easter Seals.  “It is imperative that the United States show our leadership by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this fall.”

The full report is available at: http://www.c-c-d.org/fichiers/CCD_Inter_TF-Neglected_and_Abused_Abroad.pdf

The CCD International Task Force calls on the United States Senate to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the CRPD.  Through ratification of this important treaty, the United States will be in a much better position under international law to influence, train, assist, and if necessary use diplomatic pressure to work towards the equal rights and treatment of individuals with disabilities across the world – rights which have existed in the United States for years.

CCD is a coalition of over 100 national consumer, advocacy, provider and professional organizations working together to advocate for national public policy that ensures the self-determination, independence, empowerment, integration and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society.  For years, the coalition and its members have been calling on the U.S. to ratify the CRPD protecting the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.  CCD calls on the entire U.S. Senate to quickly provide its advice and consent to the treaty and restore the United States to a global leadership position on disability and human rights. 

The Arc Applauds Stay of Execution of Warren Hill, Vows to Continue Legal Advocacy Efforts

Washington, DC – This evening, the state of Georgia was scheduled to execute Warren Hill, a man who experts unanimously determined has an intellectual disability, which should have ruled out the death penalty per a 2002 Supreme Court ruling, Atkins v. Virginia.  But this afternoon, a Fulton County, Georgia judge stayed the execution and scheduled a hearing for this Thursday to hear the defense team’s challenge of the constitutionality of a new state law that shields the identities of the lethal injection drug’s manufacturer and physician who prescribes it.

“Today, Georgia came too close to ignoring experts and crossing the line drawn by a more than decade-old Supreme Court ruling protecting people with intellectual disability in our justice system.  While we breathe a sigh of relief for now, this battle is far from over for Mr. Hill and many more people with disabilities who may be at risk of unjust punishment.  This stay of execution was granted on another state legal matter in the case, not Mr. Hill’s disability.  The Arc is committed to fighting for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and we will continue our legal advocacy work to make sure that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on this issue is followed in jurisdictions across the country,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Hill’s legal team had also appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to step in to stop the execution on the grounds of the Atkins v. Virginia decision, while simultaneously pursuing the state law issue.  The U.S. Supreme Court has not responded to this request yet.

The Arc, the nation’s largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), has been involved in this case filing an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in earlier proceedings, and supporting Hill’s defense team through letters to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and the District Attorney urging his sentence be commuted to life without parole. In this most recent effort, The Arc called for the Supreme Court to step in and issue a stay to prevent the state of Georgia from executing Hill.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with intellectual disability (ID) is unconstitutional.  But in Georgia, ID must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” by the defendant, the strictest standard in the country.

Supreme Court Must Act to Save Georgia Man with Disability from Imminent Execution

Washington, DC – With just a few days before the scheduled execution of Warren Hill in Georgia, The Arc calls for the Supreme Court to step in and issue a stay to prevent the state of Georgia from executing Hill who experts have unanimously determined has an intellectual disability.

“Warren Hill is nearly out of time, and the Supreme Court has an obligation to act before his life is taken away from him unjustly.  The facts speak for themselves – experts have unanimously agreed that he has an intellectual disability, and the Supreme Court has ruled that people with intellectual disability cannot be executed.  There is no room for interpretation – the Supreme Court must act,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in the Atkins v. Virginia case that executing inmates with intellectual disability (ID) is unconstitutional.  But in Georgia, ID must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” one of the strictest standards in the country.  The Arc participated in an amicus brief before the Supreme Court in earlier proceedings in this case, and supported Hill’s defense team through letters to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and the District Attorney urging his sentence be commuted to life without parole.

“The entire disability community will be watching for the Supreme Court to issue a stay in this case.  It’s the right thing to do, and it upholds the Court’s previous ruling that executing a person with an intellectual disability is unconstitutional,” said Berns.