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Criminal Justice

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[Note:  A comprehensive list of resources by "issue area" is available for staff of all P&A Agencies by clicking on the "TASC" link on the home page of this website, and then selecting "Issue Areas" from the list along the left margin.]

Increasingly, large numbers of persons with mental illness, cognitive disabilities and/or physical disabilities are coming into contact with the adult correctional system. It is estimated that as many as 50 percent of prisoners have a mental illness or other type of disability. Jails and prisons have become the "new asylums" -- a costly response to mental health care.

From arrest through every phase of the criminal justice system, persons with disabilities encounter a system not designed to handle large numbers of persons with disabilities. Lack of access to community mental health treatment and other public services often results in people with disabilities being arrested and booked in jails where adequate treatment is unlikely. When competency is an issue, delays in transporting such individuals for treatment are commonplace. Those who are convicted and confined in penal facilities tend to serve longer sentences than others convicted of similar crimes, and prison conditions are harsher due to their disabilities.

Persons with disabilities often encounter an absence of justice in a system not designed to handle a large number of persons with disabilities. P&A systems are actively involved in advocacy on behalf of these individuals to protect their rights. NDRN staff maintains a Criminal Justice listserv, and provides training and technical assistance, to facilitate sharing of information relating to the full range of advocacy, legal and policy issues affecting persons with disabilities vulnerable to becoming involved in the criminal justice system, including:

  • Prevention strategies to divert individuals with disabilities from being arrested and charged with criminal offenses;
  • Consulting with defense attorneys and court personnel to promote diversion and to protect rights when competency is an issue;
  • Consulting with regard to individual justice planning and alternatives to incarceration for those conviction of crimes;
  • Gaining access to correctional facilities, persons confined in them and their records to protect the rights of prisoners with disabilities, including their ADA, IDEA and Rehabilitation Act rights;
  • Monitoring and advocacy for effective screening, assessment and access to mental health services in correctional facilities;
  • Discharge planning; parole; and aftercare services & benefits;
  • Collaboration strategies to promote model programs and best practices; and
  • Litigation strategies, including model pleadings.

Prison Rape Eliminate Act of 2003 (PREA)


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