Improving Outcomes for People in Contact with the Criminal Justice System Who Have Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities

Improving Outcomes for People in Contact with the Criminal Justice System Who Have Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities

When people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) encounter or are involved in the criminal justice system, they often experience a system that is unable to address their unique needs and face misconceptions about their abilities. However, there are ways to help improve outcomes for people with IDD and reduce their chances of re-encountering the criminal justice system. This brief offers important steps that criminal justice administrators can take to better identify and respond to the needs of people with IDD. Photo credit: Photo by Christina Morillo

Jazmone Wilkerson, Felicia Lopez-Wright, and Leigh Ann Davis | April 2022 | The Council of State Governments Justice Center

Improving Outcomes for People in Contact with the Criminal Justice System Who Have Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities

Historically, people with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD)—such as Down syndrome or autism spectrum disorder1—have been both under and poorly served2 in their communities. Jurisdictions often lack programs tailored to address the unique needs of people with IDD, as well as care providers who are trained to provide treatment. Similarly, when people with IDD encounter or are involved in the criminal justice system, they often experience a system that is unable to address their unique needs3 and face misconceptions about their abilities.

However, there are ways to help improve outcomes for people with IDD and reduce their chances of re-encountering the criminal justice system. This brief offers important steps that criminal justice administrators can take to better identify and respond to the needs of people with IDD.

1. Train all staff to identify people who have IDD.

Being able to quickly identify people who have IDD is not only imperative in providing appropriate supportive services, but it also aids in their ability to access the legal system and understand the judicial process. Additionally, this identification is a necessary part of complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects individuals with IDD from discrimination within the criminal justice system, in addition to other provisions.4 Therefore, professionals across the criminal justice system, from dispatch to reentry, should regularly receive training on ways to identify if someone has an IDD, how to meet ADA compliance measures, and any updated policies.

For example, officers and other first responders who make initial contact should be trained to properly ask questions that can help them identify if a person has an IDD. Potential questions can include the following:
• Do you get any money from the government or social services, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Medicaid?
• Have you ever attended special education classes?
• What is something you are good at? What is something you need help with or struggle doing?
• You may need to fill out some forms today. Do you need help with this? How can I help you? Is there any other assistance you need?
• When you need to make decisions, does anyone help you, such as a legal guardian? Is there someone I should call to
help you right now?5

Staff should also be trained to observe whether the person is having difficulty understanding, responding, or communicating while answering any of these questions and if they need more time to respond. One way to confirm understanding is by asking individuals to repeat what is being said in their own words.

2. Create policies for engaging with and responding to people with IDD.

When criminal justice system staff encounter a person who may have an IDD, they should have policies in place that inform proper interaction. IDD policies should include: (1) language on de-escalation;6 (2) information about use of person-centered and inclusive language;7 and (3) guidance on appropriately accommodating, interacting, and communicating with people with IDD. For example, policies should indicate that screenings do not occur in open areas, which can often be loud and distracting for people with IDD and could make it more challenging for them to answer questions. Open area screenings also risk public disclosure of a disability, which can lead to increased stigmatization and risk of victimization. Criminal justice administrators should ensure these policies are regularly updated and informed by program evaluation and disseminated to all staff in a clear manner.

3. Develop collaborations with advocates, experts on IDD, and people with lived experience in the criminal justice system.

Criminal justice administrators cannot effectively respond to the needs of people with IDD alone, so it is important to build and maintain cross systems collaborations that dismantle silos. Partnering with stakeholders, comprised of individuals from the IDD community, can help criminal justice administrators better understand the needs of people with IDD and increase their access to services. One way to establish these partnerships is by collaborating with a local chapter of The Arc—the largest community-based organization in the U.S. advocating with and for people with IDD—to create or join a Disability Response Team. Criminal justice administrators can also establish referral agreements with local programs and service providers.

4. Conduct more research on the needs of people with IDD.

Criminal justice administrators should invest in more research on the needs of people with IDD in the criminal justice system. Currently, research on the subject is limited. Not only would this help administrators create and enhance programs that address the unique needs for people with IDD, but research also could lead to more funding for sustainable programs to help improve outcomes for this population.

IDD Screening Tools

If responses and/or observations to initial questions suggest that the person may have a disability, then staff trained on IDD should conduct a further screen.8 Below are three validated IDD screening tools:

Hayes Ability Screening Index-Nonverbal
This index is a brief, individually administered screening tool used to identify people who may have intellectual disabilities whether they are victims, witnesses, or suspected of committing a crime. It can be administered by non-mental health professionals within 5-10 minutes and includes both self-report questions and performance-based tasks.

Learning Disability Screening Questionnaire
This questionnaire is a brief screening tool used to identify people over the age of 16 who may have intellectual disabilities. It can be completed directly by the person being screened or by another person who knows the individual well. It has been used in both clinical and criminal justice settings, including in probation, prison, and police departments.9

Rapid Assessment of Potential Intellectual Disability (RAPID)
This screening tool provides a simple and easy measurement to identify people who may have intellectual disabilities so that they may be referred for further assessment to confirm the diagnosis. It includes a total of 15 questions which are asked in a structured interview and takes about 3-5 minutes to administer.

Endnotes

1. “About Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and National Institutes of Health, accessed March 22, 2022, https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/idds/conditioninfo. 2. “Dehumanization, Discrimination, and Segregation,” Disability Justice, accessed March 22, 2022, https://disabilityjustice.org/justice-denied/dehumanization-discrimination-and-segregation/. 3. Leigh Ann Davis, People with Intellectual Disabilities in the Criminal Justice Systems: Victims and Suspects (Washington, DC: The Arc, 2009), https://thearc.org/wp-content/uploads/forchapters/Criminal%20Justice%20System.pdf. 4. “Examples and Resources to Support Criminal Justice Entities in Compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, accessed March 29, 2022, https://www.ada.gov/cjta.html. 5. “IDD Screening,” Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, accessed March 22, 2022, https://www.camh.ca/en/professionals/treating-conditions-and-disorders/intellectual-and-developmental-disabilities/idd—screening. 6. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has a policy on interacting with people with IDD. See “Interactions with Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities,” IACP, accessed March 22, 2022, https://www.theiacp.org/resources/policy-center-resource/intellectual-and-developmental-disabilities. 7. Amy C. Watson, Michael T. Compton, and Leah G. Pope, Crisis Response Services for People with Mental Illnesses or Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: A Review of the Literature on Police-based and Other First Response Models (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2019), https://www.vera.org/downloads/publications/crisis-response-services-for-people-with-mental-illnesses-or-intellectual-and-developmental-disabilities.pdf. 8. Please note that a screening is not an assessment. A full assessment is needed to determine an official diagnosis of IDD. 9. AL Murray, T Booth, and K McKenzie, “An Analysis of Differential Item Functioning by Gender in the Learning Disability Screening Questionnaire (LDSQ),” Research in Developmental Disabilities 39 (2015): 76–82, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2014.12.006

Dig Deeper

The Council of State Governments Justice Center offers free in-depth subject matter expertise and can connect you to programs and agencies that have established screening and other policies to improve outcomes of people with IDD. Visit the Center for Justice and Mental Health Partnerships to learn more.

 

Additional Resources

The Police-Mental Health Collaboration toolkit provides resources for law enforcement agencies to partner with service providers, advocates, and individuals with mental health disabilities or IDD.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) is supporting the development of “Crisis Response and Intervention Training,” which trains police officers on IDD-specific response considerations and community resources.

Project Credits

Writing: Jazmone Wilkerson and Felicia Lopez-Wright, CSG Justice Center and Leigh Ann Davis, The Arc

Research: Jazmone Wilkerson and Felicia Lopez-Wright, CSG Justice Center and Leigh Ann Davis, The Arc

Advising: Demetrius Thomas, CSG Justice Center

Editing: Darby Baham, CSG Justice Center

Design: Michael Bierman

Public Affairs: Ruvi Lopez, CSG Justice Center

Web Development: Catherine Allary

 

 

 

This project was supported by Grant No. 2019-MO-BX-K001 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

About the authors


Image for:
Jazmone Wilkerson
Project Manager, Behavioral Health
Dr. Jazmone Wilkerson provides project support and technical assistance (TA) for the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program. Previously, Jazmone worked as adjunct faculty at Antioch University in its Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) Program and as a legislative assistant
...
for the DC Council Committee of the Judiciary. Jazmone has advocated and provided TA on a range of issues, including the school-to-prison pipeline, educational equity, and behavioral health. Jazmone earned a BA/BS from Purdue University, a JD from the University of the District of Columbia, an MA in CMHC from Argosy University, and a PhD in counselor education and supervision from Lindsey Wilson College.
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  • Felicia Lopez Wright
    Felicia Lopez Wright
    Senior Policy Analyst, Behavioral Health
    Felicia Lopez Wright provides behavioral health technical assistance to Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program grantees with projects focused on implementing or enhancing diversion, pretrial, juvenile justice, mental health courts, jails, and/or reentry programming. Additionally, she contributes to various behavioral
    ...
    health-criminal justice projects, such as gender-responsive services for justice-involved women and crisis system enhancements. Felicia is a licensed clinical social worker with over a decade of combined experience providing mental health therapy to demographically diverse populations in various care settings, special education case management in a public school district, and short-term counseling at a community court program. She earned a BA in psychology from The College of New Jersey and an MSW from Rutgers University.
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  • Image for:
    Leigh Ann Davis
    Leigh Ann Davis is senior director of Criminal Justice Initiatives at The Arc of the United States and directs The Arc's National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD). With 26 years of experience working at the intersection of intellectual
    ...
    and developmental disability (IDD) and criminal justice, her mission is to build stronger lines of open communication and understanding between these two worlds. She worked with The Arc to secure funding to create NCCJD®, the first national center in the U.S. to focus on addressing both victim and defendant issues involving people with IDD and oversaw the development of NCCJD’s training program: Pathways to Justice®. Ms. Davis holds a Master of Science in Social Work and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Texas at Arlington.
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