Jessica Oppenheim, Director
2013 Equal Justice Conference
On April 18, 2013, The Arc of New Jersey's Criminal Justice Advocacy Program held its annual Equal Justice Conference, with the theme, Building Community Capacity for Successful Reintegration of Individuals with Intellectual and/or Developmental Disabilities Involved in the Criminal Justice System
Conference Presentations are now available to view and download (PDF format).
There are at least 25,000 people with intellectual disabilities in the nation's prisons, and some studies indicate that the actual number may be twice that. This means that approximately one out of every 20 prisoners in the United States has an intellectual disability.
Early identification of offenders who may have an intellectual disability is critical to providing appropriate treatment within the criminal justice system. Without knowledgeable advocates, offenders with developmental disabilities may not obtain equal justice.
Offenders with an intellectual disability face certain disadvantages at various stages of the criminal justice system:
- Arrested individuals with an intellectual disability often confess quickly, might say what they think a police officer wants to hear, and may not understand the implications of Miranda Rights.
- Most defendants with an intellectual disability more readily plead guilty to and are convicted of the arrested offense rather than a reduced charge.
- Inmates with an intellectual disability have more difficulty learning the rules and regulations of correctional facilities, which results in more accumulated rule infractions.
- Inmates with an intellectual disability are denied parole more frequently, serving on the average 2-3 years longer than non-disabled inmates convicted of the same offense.
The CJAP also serves as a clearinghouse for information about offenders with developmental disabilities and serves as a liaison between the criminal justice and human service systems, monitoring the quality of care and service provided to those with developmental disabilities as they move from one system to another.
The continuing challenge for the CJAP is to investigate ways in which linkages between these two systems can be established, strengthened and maintained.
- Providing technical assistance to attorneys who represent these individuals
- Educating the criminal justice and human service systems about intellectual and related developmental disabilities, including the disadvantages faced by this population and the ways in which appropriate community supports can address their habilitative needs.
The Criminal Justice Advocacy Program seeks to ensure that defendants with developmental disabilities are guaranteed equal access to justice and fair treatment in the criminal justice system. The Program can intervene during any stage of a defendant's involvement with this system, including initial appearance, arraignment, pre-trial conference, trial, sentencing, correctional facility, pre-release planning and community.
The Criminal Justice Advocacy Program provides advocacy services to individuals who, because of their disability, may not understand the process and procedures of the criminal justice system. The Program seeks to ensure fair and equal access to alternatives to incarceration and correctional habilitative programs, as well as a more coordinated system of follow-up and aftercare through specialized community release programs and services.
The Program also actively advocates for and supports legislation promoting the development of specialized programs and services for offenders with developmental disabilities and the protection of their rights.
The Criminal Justice Advocacy Program provides Case Management Services as a way of monitoring individuals with developmental disabilities who become involved in the criminal justice system.
As soon as the Program receives a referral from the court, attorney, probation department, Department of Corrections, Division of Developmental Disabilities or any other public or private agency, a Personalized Justice Plan (PJP)is developed, immediately ensuring accountability for the individual's behavior while balancing the needs of the community.
The PJP serves as a Case Management tool that helps identify and coordinate relevant community services, thereby decreasing the fragmentation of these services as the individual passes from the criminal justice to the human service system.
The Criminal Justice Advocacy Program seeks to educate clients, the service providers, legal professionals and the community with regard to persons with developmental disabilities and the criminal justice system.
- Client Education: Because of the number of persons with developmental disabilities living in the community, educating them about appropriate citizenship is paramount. The Program adheres to a prevention model and strives to teach clients with developmental disabilities about citizenship and the law.
- Service Provider Information: Through presentations to service providers, the Program provides specific information about the special needs of persons with developmental disabilities and their at-risk status when involved in the criminal justice system.
- Criminal Justice Education: Through distribution of informational packets and advocacy letters, the Program educates the court system about offenders with developmental disabilities, and how these offenders can remain accountable for their criminal behavior while living in the community.
- Community Education: The Program educates the community about the needs of defendants with disabilities. Emphasis is on the effective use of the Personalized Justice Plan to assist persons with developmental disabilities who become involved in the criminal justice system.
The Program seeks to address the general lack of knowledge about developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system by providing generic and specialized training sessions to a number of target audiences, including defense and prosecuting attorneys, court officials, judges, police officers, parole officers, and community service agencies.
Training curricula are individually designed to meet the diverse needs and interests of the target audience.
PERSONALIZED JUSTICE PLAN(PJP)
The Personalized Justice Plan is presented to the court system as an alternative to incarceration. It emphasizes the use of the least restrictive community-based alternatives to incarceration as early as possible in the criminal justice process, while holding individuals accountable for their behavior.
When presented as a special condition of probation or parole the PJP can help stabilize the individual in the community by identifying, coordinating and monitoring supports. Once a client is placed on probation or parole, the Program monitors the PJP until the client completes his or her sentence; monitoring can occur weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or even annually, depending on the needs of the individual.
Every PJP increases the individual's accountability and responsibility in the community. In every case, the goal of the Criminal Justice Advocacy Program is to help the client successfully complete probation or parole.