People with Disabilities:
This story is close to my heart because for over 35 years of my life I have worked with people that have disabilities. I work with people that Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Behavioral Health Diagnosis. There are people with these diagnosis sitting in prison today.These individuals do not have the understanding of what they have done, have a lot of aggression at times and have a extremely high pain tolerance. The problem with this is that they do not belong there nor do they understand why they are there. I think that there should be an advocate at hearings at all times for individuals with disabilities and mental health diagnosis, then maybe they will get a fair hearing and not have to go prison at all.
A lot of people with disabilities have behaviors. These behaviors consist of hitting, kicking, hair pulling, and spitting. Now, we all know that if you do any one these things to a police office they will send you to jail. However, they do not. When a police officer will read the Miranda Rights and one of the rights is ” to Remain Silent”, people with disabilities do not understand how to remain silent. Often times these individuals have echolalia, which means they will repeat what they have heard. It is an assault to hit, kick or spit on a police officer, which most people know. However, people with disabilities do not know nor do they understand. Therefore, when they do these things they get arrested and go to jail/ prison.
A lot of times these individuals are their own legal guardians and an adult. If by chance they have a legal guardian, that legal guardian isn’t always notified. No one tells them they that they have the right to have an advocate. So, when they go before the judge, they say that they have been told to say by the attorney representing them, they do not understand what it gong and then they go to prison. For the ones who can’t communicate verbally or read they have them sign a deal or judgment. The sentence is the same for these individuals as anyone else.
Prison is a scary place for anyone. When you have disabilities like Autism and your senses are heightened, prison can be a nightmare. Prison can increase disability risk by high levels of fear,stress, social isolation, violence exposure and abuse by other prisoners. Individuals with behavioral health diagnosis will not sleep for days, they will hear and see things that are not there. There is also the abuse and neglect from the guards. Guards have not been trained to deal with people with disabilities.
Easy to control:
Other prisoners take advantage of people with disabilities. They abuse them physically, emotionally and sexually. The other prisoners exploit them for money, use them to hide cell phones, drugs, hold onto prison made weapons, ask them to hurt someone and do what they are told to do. The individuals are ridiculed, made fun of and made to do things that they do not understand. Individuals with disabilities do not always understand right and wrong. They don’t understand social cues, fear, threats, and the list goes on. Most of the time by the time that they are an adult they have lost trust in other adults so they don’t believe what other adults say when they give their word.
Not enough training:
Sometimes, individuals with disabilities have spent weeks in their cells before they have been allowed out to take a shower, because the guards have been afraid them. At times, these individuals have been strapped to a table lying in a supine position with no clothes on but a paper wrap to cover their private areas because guards do not how to work with them. When they spit, the guard places a spit mask over their face, which I can imagine is a little frightening to the individuals. Guards are not prepared for the long hours of aggression that these individuals can display. The aggression can happen for a number of reasons from there is to much noise to they are hungry or the clothes they are wearing being itchy.
The psychiatrist in prisons only prescribe one or two medications for everyone that they see. In these cases it is not “ONE SIZE FITS ALL” when it come to medication. Individuals with disabilities and behavioral health diagnosis have many medications. Sometimes, they try many medications until they get the right “cocktail” and they are on those medications for years. A lot of times they do not prescribe sleeping medications, which doesn’t help when these individuals haven’t slept in days. Add that to being very irritable, very aggressive, very strong, high pain tolerance and it can be a disaster.
A better option might be outside services for some of these individuals. An evaluation needs to be done while they are in jail or detention centers before they see a judge. And for the ones who are in prison, there needs to be so training for all staff, administrative staff and medical staff. And most importantly the medical people, they need to stop using this “ONE SIZE FITS ALL” mentality for medications because it doesn’t work and it can make people worse not better.