National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy


Seeking Justice:
Civil Rights Division Work to Reform the Criminal Justice System for People with Disabilities

Eve Hill, J.D.


More than twenty-five years after the ADA became law, and seventeen years after the Supreme Courtís decision in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), more individuals with mental health disabilities are working, learning, and living in the community than ever before.  The vast majority will live their lives without any involvement with the criminal justice system.  In communities where community-based treatment services are not sufficiently available to meet the needs of individuals with these disabilities, however, some individuals may be unable to avoid crises, maintain housing and employment or, engage with school, leading some to come into contact with law enforcement.  In addition, criminal justice entities may incarcerate people with mental health disabilities out of fear or prejudice or to get them services that are not available in their communities.  As a result, an estimated 2,000,000 individuals with serious mental illness are booked into jails each year.  This result harms the individuals and their communities, is a poor use of resources, and violates the principles of disability rights.

By working together, both the criminal justice and disability service systems can better serve their communities, and better utilize their resources.  This is not just a moral obligation, but a legal one.  This session will explore the intersecting obligations of criminal justice systems and community services systems in meeting the requirements and the principles of the ADA and will highlight the work of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division at the intersection of these systems to increase ADA compliance, improve inter-agency collaboration, promote the safety of criminal justice personnel and individuals with disabilities, and better allocate resources to build public trust in the criminal justice system, while helping to reduce social, vocational, economic, and educational disparities for individuals with disabilities.