scale and gavel

Center for Criminal Justice and Disability to help victims


The Arc was awarded a two-year grant for $400,000 by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance. It will develop a National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability, specifically focused on intellectual and developmental disabilities. This is the first national effort to bring together both victim and offender issues involving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities under one roof.

leigh ann davis

The Arc
Program Manager
Justice Initiatives

According to the National Crime Victim Survey of 2010, the victimization rate is twice as high for individuals with disabilities as compared to those without disabilities.

And we don’t have to look far for examples where law enforcement and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities could have benefited from this kind of work, including the tragic death Robert Ethan Saylor in Frederick, Md., who died earlier this year after three off-duty deputies attempted to remove him from a movie theater over a misunderstanding over a ticket.

Robert Ethan Saylor in Frederick, Md., who died earlier this year after three off-duty deputies attempted to remove him from a movie theater over a misunderstanding over a ticket.

“When individuals with I/DD become involved in the criminal justice system as suspects or victims, they often face miscommunication, fear, confusion and prejudice. This new center will play a critical role in improving first response and communication between people with I/DD and the justice system. No similar center on this topic exists, nor are there sufficient resources to address the gap in expertise in the field, and so this effort is long overdue,” Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, said.

The Arc is working closely with several other national partners within the criminal justice, legal and victim advocacy communities to research, analyze and replicate evidence-based solutions to the problems of injustice and victimization that have gone on for far too long within the intellectual and developmental disabilities community.

For example, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are often unable to report crimes or are not seen as credible witnesses. They are also vulnerable to becoming perpetrators of crime, including sex offenses and used by other criminals to assist in law-breaking activities.

And with many forms of mild intellectual and developmental disabilities not being easily identifiable, justice personnel may not recognize that someone has a disability or know how to work effectively with the individual.

Although organized training is available for criminal justice professionals on mental illness, few resources on intellectual and developmental disabilities exist. Many law enforcement and other justice professionals do not know the difference between mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities and often think they are synonymous.

“When our chapters work with their local law enforcement agencies, they hear time and time again that training is provided for mental health issues, yet that doesn’t encompass millions of people with I/DD living in our communities. Through this grant, The Arc’s center will become a national focal point for the collection and dissemination of resources and serve as a bridge between the justice and disability communities,” Berns said.

The center will consist of an online resource library, which will continually be updated as well as news and information about criminal justice issues as it relates to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In addition, the center offers monthly online educational sessions and is in the process of developing curriculum and training for law enforcement professionals. Find out more about the center’s activities at



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