The criminal justice system – from law enforcement, to prosecutors, to judges – represents one of the most common tools society has for holding its citizens accountable. While not every victim chooses this avenue, professionals in the criminal justice system want to be prepared when a victim with a disability does. There are a number of strategies that the criminal justice system can employ to improve reporting of abuse of people with disabilities, enhance investigation of these crimes, increase the prosecution of these crimes, and impose appropriate sentences for these crimes.
Steps You Can Take
Build relationships with people with disabilities.
Linking police agencies more closely with the communities they serve emerged as a valued tool for addressing crime in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Establishing positive links between police and people with disabilities can be a deterrent to abuse. Additionally, it can help ensure that police are prepared to act when abuse is reported. Finally, building connections to communities of people with disabilities helps to build trust in the system, an important factor in increasing reports to law enforcement.
Provide training on working with people with disabilities.
Teaching criminal justice professionals how to respond appropriately to persons with disabilities is a critical step towards ensuring that those who abuse them are held accountable. Training topics should cover basic information about the different types of disabilities, challenge stereotypes about persons with disabilities, introduce appropriate response procedures, explain how to provide accommodations, review policies and procedures related to people with disabilities, and explore techniques for communicating with people with disabilities. Partnering with disability organizations in your community is an effective and low-cost strategy for providing this type of training.
Provide supports to people with disabilities throughout the process.
Involvement with the criminal justice system and/or protective services can be a trying and confusing experience for anyone. Victims with disabilities may require additional supports to navigate this complex system. Some strategies for supporting victims with disabilities include:
- Training victim advocates to provide crime victims with disabilities emotional support and information relating to the criminal justice system and their case.
- Providing assistance tailored to the unique circumstance of each victim to include personal support, court advocacy, or help filling out forms.
- Providing victims with disabilities information and support regarding securing accommodations, preparing to testify, understanding the possible outcomes of the case, securing restitution for the crime, and additional options available to them as their cases move through the criminal justice system.
Resources You Can Use
- Commonly Asked Questions About the ADA and Law Enforcement. This fact sheet answers frequent questions about the ADA and its effect on law enforcement services involving people with disabilities.
- Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: ADA Guide for Law Enforcement Officers. This 8-panel pocket guide provides basic information for officers about communicating effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Model Policy for Law Enforcement on Communicating with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. This 4-page document serves as a model for law enforcement agencies when adopting a policy on effective communication with people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Assisting Victims and Witnesses with Disabilities in the Criminal Justice System: A Curriculum for Law Enforcement Officers. Created by Temple University’s Institute on Disability, this training provides law enforcement officers with a basic understanding of intellectual disabilities and its impact on an individual’s ability to interact with criminal justice personnel. The training is designed to enhance an officer’s ability to respond more effectively to victims of crime, as well as witnesses and suspects, who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. It includes both knowledge and skill components. This can be purchased for $15 here.
- Best Practices, Responding to Crimes Against People with Disabilities, Deaf Individuals and Older Adults: A Guide for Law Enforcement and Service Agencies. Created by SafePlace and Family Eldercare, this brochure provides guidance for interviewing crime victims with cognitive disabilities, speech disabilities, mental illness, physical disabilities; victims who are blind; Deaf victims; and older victims.
- Victims with Disabilities: The Forensic Interview, Trainers Guide and DVD. This guide demonstrates effective techniques for interviewing individuals with disabilities that affect cognitive and communication abilities.
- Successfully Investigating Sexual Assault Against Victims with Disabilities. This online course, offered by End Violence Against Women International’s Online Training Institute, is written from a law enforcement perspective. It provides information and guidance for first responders as well as investigators and even prosecutors. However, it is intended to be equally helpful for others whose work intersects with the criminal justice system, to ensure that people with disabilities who are victimized have equal access to information, programs, and services – and that they are treated with fairness, compassion, and respect.