Over the past five years, America has fallen in love with the idea of mass incarceration. The country’s prison population has skyrocketed since the war on drugs began, and one of the main reasons for the recent decline is COVID-19.
We lock up more citizens than any other developed country on Earth, and we spend over $80 billion a year doing it. When people are behind bars, they are not prepared for their eventual release, which contributes to a recidivism rate of over 60%.
America’s criminal justice system affects every community across the country, and those hit especially hard include communities of color, residents of high-poverty neighborhoods, and members of the LGBTQ community.
What is not often recognized is the impact of our failing criminal justice system on Americans with disabilities. All of this leads me to the topic of my blog today: Can people with disabilities go to jail?
In this blog post, I’ll cover the following topics:
- Disability and the Criminal Justice System
- Can people in wheelchairs go to jail?
- Can mentally handicapped people go to jail?
Disability and the Criminal Justice System
As the prison population has continued to increase over the past five decades, many state psychiatric and other institutional facilities serving people with disabilities have closed. This shift, often referred to as “deinstitutionalization,” caused the number of Americans in these institutions to decline from about 560,000 in 1955 to about 70,000 in 1994.
While this decline might seem like a good thing, closing these facilities has not come with the investment needed to provide alternatives, especially for those with mental illness.
The result, according to the Center for American Progress, is that people with disabilities are no longer living together in large numbers in one institution, but are being drawn into the criminal justice system. Often, it can be an infraction as small as sleeping on the sidewalk.
The number of people living with mental illness in US prisons and detention centers is three times higher Those in state mental institutions.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, people in prison are almost three times as likely to report having a disability as people in the free world, and those in prison are more than four times as likely.
Cognitive impairments — such as Down syndrome, autism, dementia, intellectual disability, and learning disabilities — were the most commonly reported. According to the Bureau of Justice, one in five prison inmates suffers from a serious mental illness.
Can people in wheelchairs go to jail?
In addition to those with mental health issues, prisons also house inmates who are confined to wheelchairs. Many terminally or chronically ill people are placed in prison hospitals, where they have access to better medical care than regular prisons.
Prisoners in wheelchairs do not receive any special treatment. However, in the prison I’m in, a person in a wheelchair is assigned a “pusher”, which is an inmate who pushes the wheelchair inmate to their medical appointments, the canteen and wherever they need to go go.
I can’t say if all the facilities are ADA compliant (I’m assuming they are not). However, I do know that prisoners in wheelchairs are assigned lower bunks and they have access to special toilet and shower facilities.
Prisoners who are unable to take care of themselves can get help from staff with things like showering, dressing, taking medication, going to the commissary and using the library.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, recent court cases “reveal serious violations of the rights of prisoners with physical disabilities. March 2015, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department filed a lawsuit Proposed by the ACLU of Southern California to agree to provide mobility devices and physical therapy for inmates with reduced mobility Horrible incidents of neglect and abuse“
Neglect is only part of the story. Prisoners with physical disabilities are also often at risk of being placed in solitary confinement due to logistics rather than punishment.
Can mentally handicapped people go to jail?
As I mentioned before, mentally handicapped people can go to jail. And it is increasingly more common for people with mental problems to end up in prison than in hospitals where they can receive treatment.
in a Study in 1999 Professor Joan Petersilia of the California Center for Policy Research concluded: “If a culture is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable members, the treatment of people with cognitive disabilities in our criminal justice system It reveals the fundamentals of American justice.”
A Bureau of Justice Statistics report It was also revealed that 30% of prison inmates reported cognitive impairment. This is a huge leap from the general public, where less than 5 percent self-report cognitive impairment.
One of the theories as to why people with cognitive disabilities are locked up at a higher rate is that people with low IQs and other developmental disabilities may arouse suspicion because they lack the necessary social cues for other adults to understand. This could lead to an inappropriate response from law enforcement.
Do you think people with disabilities should be incarcerated? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Disabled Behind Bars Prisoners with disabilities are forgotten and neglected in America Our Weakest Members: Developmentally Disabled People in the Criminal Justice System