prison and disability

Navigating Incarceration with Mental Disabilities

Q: How are prisons failing the disabled community? 

Adjusting to prison life would be difficult for anyone. Disability Attorneys of Arizona knows that for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities, life in prison is much harder than regular life. 

In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, those suffering certain mental or physical impairments which fit the government’s definition of being “disabled” must submit an application for disability benefits along with medical records to support the application. 

Very often, those with mental impairments need help not only applying for disability benefits but with daily activities – – from cooking, shopping, cleaning, bathing, and more–to managing finances, transportation, medication needs, and doctor visits. Many with intellectual or cognitive disabilities, like autism, have serious challenges in communication, behavior, and reading social cues. Those who have advocates or staff to help them navigate the world safely are fortunate. But family and caregivers cannot serve a prison term with a disabled person. 

How are intellectually disabled people identified in prison? 

Despite rules designed to identify and give support to prisoners with intellectual impairments, studies show that many prisons fail to adequately identify prisoners with developmental disorders either because they use outdated screening protocols or don’t screen for developmental disabilities at all. This is particularly troublesome especially in light of a 2015 Bureau of Justice Statistics report that states, “about 20% of prisoners mentioned having a cognitive disability”. And many couldn’t even express that thought if they are particularly low-functioning or non-verbal. 

What challenges do intellectually disabled people face in prison?

Because developmental disabilities “restrict one’s ability to learn, speak, behave or physically develop properly” those with autism, cerebral palsy, speech disorders, and more can face additional challenges in prison including:

  • Sensory overload from fluorescent lights, odors, unexpected and loud noises.
  • Unable to grasp the rules, leading to punishment.
  • Vulnerable to sexual and other exploitation and abuse because they’re more quietly compliant.
  • Stresses of all the above can add time for bad behavior. 

Parents struggle with being advocates for their adult children in prison.

If you need assistance with an initial application for disability benefits or an appeal of a denial of benefits or have any questions related to disability law, the Disability Attorneys of Arizona at Roeschke Law can help you. Contact us today for a free consultation. 

From our offices in Tempe, Phoenix, and Tucson, we help disabled people and their families in all aspects of disability law. It’s all we do.