Justice Department Issues Guidance To Reduce Discrimination and Mistreatment of Individuals With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in the Criminal Justice System

In a guidance document issued in January 2017, the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, is setting forth the responsibilities of local and state authorities within the criminal justice system to treat individuals with mental health, intellectual and developmental disabilities fairly.  As the guidance document states, “Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals with mental health disabilities and intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) from discrimination within the criminal justice system.  Pursuant to the ADA, state and local government criminal justice entities—including police, courts, prosecutors, public defense attorneys, jails, juvenile justice, and corrections agencies—must ensure that people with mental health disabilities or I/DD are treated equally in the criminal justice system and afford them equal opportunity to benefit from safe, inclusive communities.  Nondiscrimination requirements, such as providing reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures and taking appropriate steps to communicate effectively with people with disabilities, also support the goals of ensuring public safety, promoting public welfare, and avoiding unnecessary criminal justice involvement for people with disabilities.”

With the guidance, the Justice Department is outlining those ADA obligations and encouraging law enforcement and other relevant entities to review their policies and procedures. The guidance document highlights opportunities to increase ADA compliance and positive community outcomes through improved policies, effective training, use of data, resource allocation, and collaboration between criminal justice entities and disability service systems.  The Department of Justice hopes this technical assistance will promote the safety and welfare of both individuals with disabilities and criminal justice personnel.

The guidance document states that the criminal justice system must take steps to make sure that communication with individuals who have developmental disabilities is as effective as with those who are typically developing. This could include allowing the use of assistive technology or using more simplified language and patience. The guidance document states that  “reasonable modifications” to regular procedures might be necessary to prevent discrimination. For example, if a person does not pose a significant safety threat, it may be pr”, January 2017udent to allow “time and space to calm the situation,” the Justice Department said.

The federal agency indicated that training law enforcement on recognizing and interacting with individuals who have developmental disabilities as well as collaborations with disability service providers can also help ensure compliance with the ADA.

The guidance document includes listings and links to resources to assist training and better ADA compliance.

Sources for the article: US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division Guidance “Examples and Resources to Support Criminal Justice Entities in Compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act;Justice Department Pushes Law Enforcement On ADA Compliance by Michelle Diament , Disability Scoop, January 17, 2017