Arc and Criminal Justice and Individuals with Disabilities
This letter was sent to Governor Rauner on this very important issue.
Dear Governor Rauner,
The Arc of Illinois is proposing legislation to establish a task force to study
and make recommendations as to how persons with disabilities should be
appropriately treated in the criminal justice system. We believe this would also be
an appropriate topic for the Governor’s new Criminal Justice Reform Project to
Over the past year we have received a number complaints from parents of individuals
with developmental and intellectual disabilities from different counties regarding their
treatment by police, in detention, and in court. We have heard of similar complaints
from other agencies serving persons with disabilities and from attorneys and
advocates representing persons with disabilities and their families.
For example, a few months ago, an Illinois family contacted the Arc looking for
assistance. Their son, Jack, who has intellectual and developmental
disabilities, had been charged with felony assault at the suburban Chicago
group home he had recently moved to in a collar county. After a verbal
altercation between Jack and another resident, a third resident called the police. Jack
was arrested and, in the process, struck a police officer who grabbed him by the
hoodie from behind as he attempted to exit the situation. While they had Jack on the
ground trying to handcuff him. The officer threatened to use a Taser gun on him if he
did not cooperate.
Jack spent 24 hours in jail without support or access to his medication. His
parents called and spoke to the supervisor of the county Adult Detention Center to
inform them of Jack’s needs. Jack’s parents were told that their son should be able to
tell the nurse himself about his needs and pharmacy information.
Jack lacked the ability to do that because of his disability, leaving him at risk and
without access to his medications. Jack was read his Miranda rights without
assistance which he did not understand due to his disability. His parents were never
called while he was jailed.
Jack was assigned a public defender the day he went to bond court. The judge initially
ordered a high bond for Jack because he struck a police officer.
However, the public defender argued for low or no bail because of Jack’s
disability. The judge reduced the bond from $30,000 to $10,000 after asking
Jack’s parents if they could afford the $1,000 on a $10,000 bond. Jack was out on
bond when, as part of the legal process, his competency was evaluated and he was
found unfit to stand trial. The state attorney refused to dismiss charges and the public
defender was forced to send Jack for a sanity
evaluation-which was completed by the same state appointed psychologist that earlier
saw him for competency. Jack was found not sane at the time of the incident.
These sets of circumstances are all too common for people with disabilities,
especially persons with intellectual, developmental and sensory disabilities. Thankfully,
Jack was fortunate that he had a public defender that
insisted upon competency and sanity evaluations, that and Jack’s
parents contacted The Arc of Illinois Life Span Program looking
Working together with family members, Jack’s service providers and The Arc of Illinois
Life Span Program, advocates were able to put together a personalized justice plan
for Jack. The plan outlined resources and possible alternatives for assisting Jack in
the community. The plan was supported by the Director of Illinois Department of
Human Services, Division of Developmental Disabilities. The report was submitted to
Jack’s public defender, who was able to get the case dismissed after he demonstrated
that Jack had appropriate services in the community and that there were additional
supports being made available as needed. Jack was arrested in mid-March of 2014
and the case was finally dismissed in mid-October, 2014.
Individuals with disabilities who are involved in the criminal justice system are often
unable to communicate effectively with police officers, jail personnel, public defenders,
prosecutors and judges. They are often on medications that they are denied while in
detention. They are often denied access to their family members and service
providers who best understand their needs. Unlike Jack, they often do not have a
public defender who is interested in understanding their disabilities and needs.
The Arc of Illinois welcomes an opportunity to work with the Governor and the General
Assembly and other officials to address these problems while protecting the public
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423