John Gotchall, M.D.
The Arc of Benton County, Board Director
Developmental disabilities (DD), including intellectual disabilities, have been relegated to a blind spot in Oregon’s justice system. Oregon statistics are not available, but the national statistics are staggering. Zablotsky (2019) showed the prevalence of DD in the United States was more than 17% and rising; that extrapolates to over 700,000 vulnerable Oregonians, most of whom live independently or with their families. DD is often characterized by communication and executive function impairments which are no match against manipulative persons, false friends, bullying or the complexities of the justice system. Thus, people living with DD are more frequently victims of all categories of person and property crimes. Shapiro (2018) reported they are sexually assaulted seven (7) times more frequently than those without disabilities, with prevalence rates up to 70%.
Those experiencing DD are also arrested approximately six (6) times and incarcerated four (4) times more frequently than those without disabilities. Anno (2001, page 214) estimated up to 38% of incarcerated adults have an intellectual disability; adding other neurocognitive disabilities may bring that prevalence rate closer to 50%. People experiencing DD are not more criminal than those without disabilities; however, they are more vulnerable to adverse credibility, false confessions, ineffective counsel and misrepresentation of disability characteristics. We believe more innocent Oregonians experiencing DD are convicted and incarcerated than their non-disabled neighbors. The consequences of victimization, arrests, convictions and incarcerations are disproportionately injurious to this group.
We find the justice system’s blind spot is related in part to government grouping DD with severe mental illness. This is a misrepresentation of disability characteristics. DD is not a mental illness; DD is a disability with readily available but underutilized accommodations. Crisis Intervention Teams (CITs) are highly effective programs for law enforcement officers intervening in severe mental health crises. However, the CIT’s narrow focus on mental health crisis interventions is unable to meet the awareness and accommodation needs of people with developmental and other disabilities. Finally, we find justice professionals are as vulnerable to implicit biases as any other sector—biases which further relegate people living with DD to that CJS blind spot. People living with DD are not more criminal than non-disabled people, but they have been burdened with biased myths of increased criminality throughout history. Those myths have their roots in social Darwinism and the eugenics movements. Even today, they contaminate disciplinary interviews, credibility assessments, investigations, risk assessments, plea negotiations, sentencing and public policy (Lindsay 2018). Justice professionals need better information at every intercept throughout the criminal justice system.
This OCBHJI Toolkit provides concerned justice professionals with resources for DD awareness, guidance and technical assistance designed to turn a DD blind spot into a bright spot.
Anno J (2001). Correctional health care: Guidelines for the management of an adequate delivery system. National Cmssn on Correctional Health Care. Retrieved https://www.ncchc.org/filebin/Publications/CHC-Guidelines.pdf.
Lindsay WR, & Taylor JL (2018). The Wiley handbook on offenders with intellectual and developmental disabilities: Research, training, and practice. John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Retrieved https://books.google.com/books?id=u6loDwAAQBAJ.
Shapiro, J. (2018, Jan. 8). The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About. NPR. Jan 8, 2018. Retrieved https://www.npr.org/2018/01/08/570224090/the-sexual-assault-epidemic-no-one-talks-about.
Zablotsky B, Black LI, Maenner LA, Schieve LA, Danielson ML, Bitsko RH … & Boyle CA (2019). Prevalence and trends of developmental disabilities among children in the United States. Pediatrics, 144(4) e20190811; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-0811.