Criminal Legal Systems and the Disability Community: An Overview
2. Historical Overview
3. Prevalence of Disability in the Criminal Legal System
The interplay of disability with race, poverty, sexual orientation, and gender identity further complicates the link between disability and the criminal justice system. There is a disproportionate incidence of intellectual and developmental disabilities among low-income racial and ethnic minority populations, which have higher rates of police involvement in their neighborhoods than higher-income neighborhoods. In 2015, black men between the ages 15 and 34 were nine times more likely than Americans of other races to be killed by police officers. And a 2014 report found that 73 percent of LGBT people and people living with HIV had had in-person contact with the police in the past five years. Of those individuals, 40 percent reported verbal, physical, or sexual assault or hostility from officers.(p. 6)
4. Challenges Disabled People Face in the Criminal Legal System
4.1. Policing and Law Enforcement
4.2. Court Systems
4.3. Prisons and Jails
5. Recommendations for Social Work Centered in Disability Justice
Institutional Review Board Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Throughout this paper we use the terms “criminal legal system” and “carceral system” rather than “criminal justice system” to describe policing, prosecution, courts, and corrections in the United States. This is more than just an issue of semantics or political correctness. Language is inherently political, and it shapes how people think. The phrase “criminal justice” reifies taken-for-granted assumptions that justice can be found through punishment and confinement. Furthermore, as activists and scholars have shown, contemporary carceral systems are a product of racialized and ableist historical processes and do not deliver justice but rather perpetuate injustice for the most marginalized among us.
While at times we shift between person-first and identity-first language, we primarily utilize identity-first language to refer to disabled people as a group or class.
According to Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, in Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture (Padden and Humphries 1988): “We use the lowercase deaf when referring to the audiological condition of not hearing, and the uppercase Deaf when referring to a particular group of deaf people who share a language—American Sign Language (ASL)—and a culture. The members of this group have inherited their sign language, use it as a primary means of communication among themselves, and hold a set of beliefs about themselves and their connection to the larger society. We distinguish them from, for example, those who find themselves losing their hearing because of illness, trauma or age; although these people share the condition of not hearing, they do not have access to the knowledge, beliefs, and practices that make up the culture of Deaf people”.
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Leotti, S.M.; Slayter, E. Criminal Legal Systems and the Disability Community: An Overview. Soc. Sci. 2022, 11, 255. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11060255
Leotti SM, Slayter E. Criminal Legal Systems and the Disability Community: An Overview. Social Sciences. 2022; 11(6):255. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11060255Chicago/Turabian Style
Leotti, Sandra M., and Elspeth Slayter. 2022. "Criminal Legal Systems and the Disability Community: An Overview" Social Sciences 11, no. 6: 255. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11060255