Mid-Atlantic ADA Center: more disability accommodations needed in criminal justice system


DELMARVA – Tuesday, the Mid-Atlantic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Center connected with those in the criminal justice system. The message: emphasizing the importance of understanding the best practices when it comes to individuals with disabilities.

Emerging Issues in Criminal Justice System.

Director the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center, Ann Deschamps, says Tuesday’s sessions addressed accommodations for those with disabilities, who are navigating the criminal justice system. That includes making sure correctional centers and courts are ADA compliant, says Deschamps.

“As many as 30%, and likely higher, of the inmate population has some disability or another. The law says you provide accommodations for inmates with disabilities,” said Deschamps.

Another topic: bolstering collaboration between law enforcement officers and behavioral health workers. Deschamps says programs doing just that in Virginia were showcased at the forum.

“The behavioral health system is working and collaborating with the police system to respond to community issues that might involve a person who might have a serious mental illness, who might have intellectual or developmental disabilities, et cetera,” said Deschamps. “We have come a long way in this field, and there are a lot of law enforcement agencies around the country who are training their first responders to understand the breadth of disability.”

Deschamps says this effort is especially important when considering that not every disability is visible. Nearly one in five Americans live with a disability, and Deschamps says many are dealing with more than one at once.

“This might be a back issue, a mental health issue, epilepsy, autism, multiple sclerosis. There is a myriad of disabilities, a lot of which are not obvious, and not apparent,” said Deschamps. “[There’s] lots of education going on about non-apparent disabilities, and the way that the disability can affect the person’s behavior, especially when they’re in trauma or in crisis. Usually, when the police are involved, it’s a situation where there’s trauma or crisis.”

Addiction Recovery While Incarcerated

Deschamps says the Center is also urging those in the criminal justice system to adhere with best practices in addiction recovery. Some in recovery do so by taking part in medication-assisted treatment, and it is scientifically proven to help.

However, Deschamps says not everyone recovering from addiction behind bars has access to that kind of treatment.

“The Department of Justice has stated that people with opioid use disorder are entitled to receive their medicine. You wouldn’t take a person with diabetes, their insulin away from them,” said Deschamps. “The question is: How do you effectively implement medication-assisted treatment for people with opioid use disorder? Of course, the corrections officials are very concerned about the medication being diverted, and misused. And, there’s so much stigma associated with opioid use disorder that people are still making erroneous assumptions about who they are, and what recovery looks like.”

Don’t Hesitate to Ask

Tuesday’s forum was only a snapshot of the work that the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center does to improve the lives of those living with disabilities. They also provide training and technical assistance on the ADA, as well as information and guidance.

“We are funded by the federal government to do that. When the law passed in 1990, the government acknowledged it’s going to take some help to effectively implement the law,” said Deschamps.

Deschamps says most of the forum participants were members of law enforcement or corrections, themselves. Adding, in some cases, those folks are the only ones in their department working with ADA compliance. That’s why Deschamps urges those who need guidance to reach out to the Center, and other partner organizations. You can reach the Center by clicking here, or calling 800-949-4232.

“Each of these programs are willing to talk to anybody around the country to tell them how they’re implementing it. We can learn from each other,” said Deschamps.

Categories: Crime, Delaware, Health, Local News, Maryland, Virginia