The U.S. Justice System Has an Autism Problem

Kate Hooven had a hypothetical question for her son, Ryan. How would he react if he was in court and a judge warned him that if he kept getting in trouble, he would wind up deeper in the "system"? Ryan started laughing. As a teenager on the autism spectrum, the only "system" he understood was that of his Wii gaming system and there was no possible way to fit deeper into that. He said he would have laughed at the judge.It was an innocent misunderstanding due to Ryan's tendencies for processing language literally. But Hooven, a justice system consultant at the ASERT Collaborative Eastern Region, a partnership of service providers, universities and autism research centers, said such miscommunications are common for autistic people and can cause them problems when dealing with law enforcement and the courts, paving the way for a lifetime of flitting in and out of the prison system."My son is super high functioning but he struggles socially," she said. "It's these kids and these types of adults who often become victims and end up in the system because they're not understood. The system is just not currently prepared to handle them."According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of 68 — or roughly 1.2 million — people under the age of 21 in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism. While there are no reliable figures of how many autistic people are incarcerated, a 2015 report by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 2 in 10 prisoners and 3 in 10 jail inmates reported having a cognitive disability. With more than 2.3 million people imprisoned in the U.S., it's fair to conclude that thousands of diagnosed and undiagnosed autistic people are behind bars with little to no support.The U.S. justice system is sadly outdated in its handling of autism and cognitive disabilities, in general. Without the proper training, handling people with these disabilities can be extremely taxing on the police, justice and prison systems. And the impact on some of our most vulnerable citizens is chilling.  Continue reading...

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