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Disability and Justice: A Challenging Conversation

#Chicago youth w/#disabilities are incarcerated at 3x the rate of youth w/out. At #OnTheTable2018, @ADA25AdvLeaders explored criminalization of disability + intersections of justice, bias, race, gender + trauma Tweet This

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ADA 25 Advancing Leadership and the Disabilities Fund participated in On the Table to initiate dialogue about tackling our region’s greatest challenges. To be successful, the disability community must be included. We aim to expand understanding and ensure that disability is recognized and taken into account at all our region’s tables.

Through #OnTheTable2018, Jackie Burgess-Bishop, Disabilities Fund Advisory Board member and regional director, ambulatory services for the Cook County Health and Hospital Systems, hosted a conversation on the criminalization of disability in our justice system and what we can do to address it.

 

Why is it that our youth with disabilities are incarcerated at three times the rate of those without disabilities?

“Often the political will to protect the disability community is not there, because there are incentives to criminalizing behaviors associated with mental illness and other types of disability,” said Crystal Jackson, a program officer with Get IN Chicago, which identifies, funds and evaluates evidence-based programs that reduce violence for individuals and communities most affected by poverty.

Almost half of Chicago’s disability population is comprised of people of color. Additionally, the poverty rate is twice as high for people with disabilities compared to people without disabilities. The trauma caused by stigma and lived experience via social identity (i.e. race and gender) affects the disability community too.

Almost half of Chicago’s disability population is comprised of people of color. Additionally, the poverty rate is twice as high for people with disabilities compared to people without disabilities.

Table participants noted this intersection and how the overuse of seclusion and restraint exacerbates trauma and contributes to the criminalization of disability.

“Once you’re labeled a criminal, it becomes less likely that connections to supportive resources that promote positive outcomes will be made. Criminalization also makes it more difficult for people to participate in political processes that bring about substantive changes,” continued Jackson.

As with most forms of discrimination, the importance of training—school personnel, law enforcement officers and the community at large—to interrupt and reset unconscious bias, and formulate better communication responses, was deemed essential.

What’s clearly preferred is the desire for intervention before legal involvement. “I’d love to establish community trainings on mental health issues and resources, and in the meantime, I’m always watching and ready to legally challenge what is wrong,” said ADA 25 Advancing Leadership fellow Joyce Otuwa, an attorney at Equip for Equality who is researching ways to offer community trainings that help parents and students with disabilities recognize, advocate for, and protect their civil rights.

“I’d love to establish community trainings on mental health issues and resources—and in the meantime, I’m always watching and ready to legally challenge what is wrong.”

In addition to trainings, community mentorship helps. The Access Living Disability Justice Mentoring Collective is a good example, and Angel Miles, another Advancing Leadership fellow who is a post-doctoral research associate at UIC, advocated for even more targeted connections that increase the number of successful people with disabilities who serve as mentors to other people with disabilities.

The most important thing to take into account is that these system-level issues require all of us to pitch in and make a conscious change. Whether it be through training, grant making, expanding collaboration with law enforcement and the justice system, identifying and engaging different clinical and community models for treatment and support, research or mentoring, we cannot let our community continue to be criminalized and institutionalized. In the spirit of the ADA, we must do better.

 

The Disabilities Fund’s Inform and Act factsheet presents critical data about disability throughout the Chicago region. How can you implement a #DisabilityLens in your work and improve outcomes? Tweet @ADA25AdvLeaders and share your plans.