Letter

By Santiago, Juan M. | Behavioral Healthcare Executive, February 2007 | Go to article overview

Letter


Santiago, Juan M., Behavioral Healthcare Executive


Justice for people with disabilities

Dear Mr. Edwards,

I am responding to your December 2006 editorial "Bench Strength," concerning individuals with mental illness needing more support from state and federal legislators to ensure that they receive the appropriate care and humane conditions they deserve. You emphasized that judges should he allowed to play a more active role in solutions that will ensure that justice and human rights are maintained.

I absolutely agree with your views. There should he more active advocacy for equal justice. For years, the Developmentally Disabled Offenders Program has attempted to educate the legal system, social service providers, and law enforcement personnel about the importance of equal justice. While our program primarily serves individuals with developmental disabilities, our consumers very often have a mental illness as well.

Statistics have shown that mental retardation occurs in 3% of the general population. Yet studies estimate that approximately 4 to 9% of the offender population has mental retardation. There are many reasons for this troubling trend. There are distinct disadvantages faced by offenders with mental retardation at each stage of the criminal justice process. Because of their lack of knowledge regarding fundamental issues about persons with developmental disabilities. police and other law enforcement personnel very rarely recognize it a person has developmental disabilities, especially mental retardation.

Defendants with mental retardation often have poor judgment and do not fully understand the significance or the consequences of their actions. In an effort to be socially accepted, they may unknowingly involve themselves in criminal behavior. Moreover, because of their heightened suggestibility, they are more easily led into criminal activity in an effort to "fit in" or "be part of the crowd."

The Developmentally Disabled Offenders Program develops alternatives to incarceration for consideration by the court for defendants with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities. We intervene at each stage of the criminal justice process to help overcome disadvantages faced by the developmentally disabled population. We create successful alternatives to incarceration called Personalized Justice Plans (PJPs), which identify community supports that emphasize the use of the least restrictive community-based alternatives, while holding individuals accountable tor their behavior. …

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