Pathways for Justice – Empowering Chapters to Create Real Change
The mission of The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® is to bridge the gap between the criminal justice and disability worlds. While the center serves many functions, one of the most exciting initiatives is the Pathways to Justice® Program.
Pathways to Justice is a comprehensive program that begins with building a community-based response through the creation of Disability Response Teams (or DRTs). Once formed, these teams work to educate law enforcement, victim advocates, legal professionals, and others in the criminal justice system about cracks in the system that can have devastating effects on people with disabilities – especially those with “invisible” disabilities. This first of its kind program is equipping chapters of The Arc, in a way never attempted before, to build lasting and meaningful relationships with criminal justice professionals, and one shining example where this is happening is Pikes Peak, Colorado.
The Arc of Pikes Peak was one of only five chapters selected to pilot the Pathways to Justice training. The chapter supports people with I/DD who get involved in the criminal justice system and provides direct advocacy within the court system for a number of clients. The chapter was eager to bring Pathways to Justice to their community in order to bolster their already growing outreach in this area.
Recently, their DRT had the opportunity to put what they learned in to practice by working together to divert a suspect with I/DD from the criminal justice system. A staff person from Pikes Peak BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) called their chapter with a crisis situation. BOCES staff stated that one of their clients – a 19 year with autism in transition services - met a girl who said she was of age but was actually only 13 years old. Allegedly, they ‘hooked up’ but did not have sex. However, the girl’s friends told their parents who subsequently reported this to authorities. The 19 year old young man was in trouble and BOCES staff hoped The Arc could help.
Thanks to the Pathways to Justice training, the chapter quickly reached out to Officer Sean Collins, one of their DRT members, to find out if the Sex Crimes Unit had interviewed the young man yet. Officer Collins called Sex Crimes Unit and informed them that the young man has a disability and learned that they hadn’t interviewed the suspect yet, but would in the near future. The chapter staff asked Officer Collins to notify them when the young man was brought in for questioning, because it was critical that the suspect not be alone without representation or an advocate. Officer Collins agreed to this request and helped make arrangements. The quick coordination among just a few DRT members responding to a crisis situation enabled The Arc to be involved early on in the process. This small act of early intervention will help to ensure that the suspect obtains proper due process and is provided the assistance he will need every step of the way in the criminal justice system.
Another benefit of Pathways to Justice is that it helped the chapter expand training to new audiences. The program allows all of those who are involved in the criminal justice system, from police officers to probation officers, to become more empathetic to those with disabilities and more patient. For example, group therapy wasn’t working for an individual because group settings caused great anxiety and angst. Thankfully a probation officer, who was recently trained by The Arc of Pikes Peak, advocated that the client be placed in individual therapy, which would increase the chances for successful completion of their therapy.
The impact of Pathways to Justice is significant and lasting, because it is filling a gaping hole in knowledge not only for criminal justice professionals, but for the disability community as well.