Friday, September 25, 2009

Indiana lawmakers learn about intellectual disabilities and the justice system

From The AP:

INDIANAPOLIS - A group of lawmakers, judges and others are trying to determine how to better serve intellectually disabled people in Indiana's criminal justice system, but came up with no easy answers Sept. 24.

"There is no great fix," Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defenders Council, told the Sentencing Policy Study Committee.

Intellectual disability is characterized both by a low IQ score and by limitations in the ability to function in areas of daily life, such as communication, self-care and getting along in social situations.

An advocacy group for the intellectually disabled, The ARC of Indiana, told the study committee that such people face numerous problems throughout the justice system, from the time they are arrested to court appearances to prison. They say they are often misunderstood and are more likely to become victims in prison.

"Persons with intellectual disabilities have little long-term perspective and little ability to think in a casual way to understand the consequences of their actions," said Kim Dodson, ARC's associate executive director. "Some people with disabilities are unable to process danger itself which again makes them good victims of crime."

Dodson said studies have shown that about 2 percent of the general population have such disabilities, but 5 percent to 10 percent of prison inmates have them.

She said criminal justice processing, from arrest through sentencing, usually proceeds without officials becoming aware of the person's disability. Once incarcerated, their disability is often cruelly abused or victimized, she said.

Dodson said her organization believes people with intellectual disabilities who commit crimes should be held accountable, but they should receive support services to ensure their experience with the justice system is fair and equitable.

Police recruits from the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy must take six hours of training on identifying and dealing with the intellectually disabled. But Landis suggested that more training be required of not only police, but prosecutors, judges and public defenders.

Steve Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said there should be alternative placements for some intellectually disabled people in the criminal justice system.

"It's (a question of) what alternatives can be provided. We know some don't belong in prison," Johnson said.

Republican Sen. Brent Steele of Bedford, chairman of the interim committee, said the panel needs to propose solutions to some of the problems before their work is done in late October. The committee could recommend some changes in the law to the General Assembly when it convenes in January.

"This is one of the things I really want accomplished," Steele said. "Don't go home and put this to bed."