I have become aware, over the past 12 years I have been involved in autism training for first responders, of a significant knowledge deficiency in the area of developmental disabilities/autism (DD/ASD) at nearly every level of the criminal justice system. It has become clear that almost no prosecutors, defense attorneys, Judges, victim advocates, probation officers and other professionals involved in the criminal justice process, have had any meaningful training on the specific challenges and needs of this population. In addition, it has become clear that there is little to no collaboration between first responders, school systems, case management agencies and families with respect to ensuring safe and just outcomes for persons on the autism spectrum. The end result has been that persons with developmental disabilities and on the Autism spectrum are being prosecuted and sentenced in courts where there is little or no consideration for their disability. Even more troubling, many persons with DD/ASD who have been victims of crime, have not seen their perpetrators brought to justice because of this lack of training. Cases of injustices to this population is happening more and more. I get regular phone calls from very distraught parents.
My ultimate goal is to set up a Developmental Disability/ASD Response Team (DART) in every community by training professionals at ALL LEVELS of the criminal justice system, to ensure that cases are handled at each and every stage by personnel educated on the specific needs and challenges of suspects, witnesses and victims affected by DD/ASD. This would mean that each person would receive fair, just and compassionate treatment in these difficult situations. I recently learned that all judges in Pennsylvania have been required to have training on autism. That is such a positive step in the right direction! I hope to one day put in for a grant to get some DART teams up & running in Maine. Then, I would like to take the concept nationwide. You can read more about DART on our website.
I recently was contacted by the Autism Society of Oregon to participate in a radio program/panel discussion of professionals who are very concerned about this very topic. It will be a live radio panel discussion with the "Prison Pipeline" airing this summer. The Prison Pipeline is a radio program dedicated to educating the public about the Oregon criminal justice system, addressing the root causes of crime, and challenge the status quo. It's so wonderful to hear there are others wanting to change these current injustices with this vulnerable population!