Individuals with disabilities are overrepresented in the prison population. The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that in 2011-2012, 32% of federal and state prison inmates had a disability. This is compared to 15% of the general population. While some individuals have disabilities that are immediately apparent, such as those that require a wheelchair, some inmates suffer from other types of non-physical disabilities. BJS reports that cognitive disabilities are among the most common in the prison population, with 2 in 10 prisoners reporting such a disability.
Even though they are not physical, cognitive disabilities can have a huge impact on a person's daily life. Individuals with behavioral/emotional disorders, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and traumatic brain injury make up a significant segment of the prison populations. An analysis of students in North Carolina found that students with these disabilities tend to go to prison at a higher rate than their peers. The analysis found that students with disabilities were twice as likely to end up in prison than their peers.
This higher rate of incarceration may be explained by the discrepancies in graduation rates. Students with a cognitive disability were more likely to drop out of school than their peers. Dropouts with disabilities had a higher rate of incarceration that dropouts without disabilities. However, this cannot be the only explanation.
The likelihood of going to prison is also dependent on the type of cognitive disability. Individuals with intellectual disability, certain learning disorders, or traumatic brain injury had a significantly higher risk of going to prison. Those with autism were significantly less likely to go to prison than their peers without disabilities.
Working on the Problem
It is clear from the statistics that individuals with cognitive disabilities need better support and treatment. Given the high rate of dropping out of school, they may not be receiving the educational support they need to be successful. By focusing more resources on identifying and supporting those with cognitive disabilities, then maybe we can eliminate the school to prison pipeline that is affecting so many.
If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.