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Overcriminalization of People with Disabilities Must Be Addressed in Criminal Justice Reform

  • Published: 2016-07-19 : Center for American Progress (americanprogress.org).
  • Synopsis: Report puts disability issues in perspective within criminal justice reform, highlighting steps to combat inappropriate and unjust incarceration and criminalization of people with disabilities, and ensure appropriate and humane treatment of people with disabilities throughout the justice system.

Main Document

Quote: "Following a long history of disinvestment in community-based care for mental health and disability, the United States has traded one form of mass institutionalization for another, with jails and prisons now serving as social service providers of last resort, said Vallas."

As bipartisan momentum around criminal justice reform continues to grow in Congress and across the United States, at least one group has been largely absent from the conversation, despite being dramatically over-represented in the nation's prisons and jails today: Americans with disabilities.

The Center for American Progress has released a report that puts disability issues in perspective within the current criminal justice reform landscape, highlighting specific steps policymakers can take to combat inappropriate and unjust incarceration and criminalization of people with disabilities, as well as steps to ensure appropriate and humane treatment of people with disabilities throughout the justice system, from police practices to courts, conditions in jails and prisons, and reentry. Rebecca Vallas, Managing Director of the Poverty to Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress and author of the report, will be discussing this report at a White House Forum focusing on this very topic.

"Following a long history of disinvestment in community-based care for mental health and disability, the United States has traded one form of mass institutionalization for another, with jails and prisons now serving as social service providers of last resort," said Vallas. "Ending the mass incarceration of people with disabilities will require meaningful investment in the nation's social service and mental health treatment infrastructure to ensure availability and funding for community-based alternatives, so that jails and prisons are no longer forced to serve as social service providers of last resort. But bringing about this change will also require including disability as a key part of the bipartisan conversation on criminal justice reform taking place in Congress, as well as in states and cities across the United States."

This year marks the 17th year since the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Olmstead v. LC that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities in institutional settings is unlawful discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, which celebrates its 26th anniversary on July 25th. Yet while bipartisan momentum around criminal justice reform continues to grow in Washington and in states and cities across the United States—and in the wake of the past week's horrific events and the again-renewed urgency around the need for police reform - the intersection of criminal justice and disability is all too rarely discussed.

These are some of the themes explored in CAP's new report:

Full report: www.americanprogress.org/issues/criminal-justice/report/2016/07/18/141447/disabled-behind-bars/

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