Disability and the Sequential Intercept Model - Access to Justice


Disability and the Sequential Intercept Model

What is the SIM?

The Sequential Intercept Model (SIM),[45] originally developed more than 20 years ago, maps out different points of contact (intercepts) where community members interact with or are deflected from the criminal justice system.

This model is a way of breaking down the processes of the criminal justice system to view the processes in segments. This brief explanation can be used as an introductory overview of how the process might look when people with disabilities interact with the criminal justice system.

The SIM labels these points of contact (intercepts of the criminal justice system) zero though five, zero being prior to contact with the system and five being once a person goes through the justice system and is released on community supervision.

The steps are as follows:

Point of Contact Zero: Community Services
Point of Contact One: Law Enforcement
Point of Contact Two: Initial Detention/Initial Court Hearings
Point of Contact Three: Jails/Court
Point of Contact Four: Re-entry
Point of Contact Five: Community Corrections

Our interviews illuminated what it looks like when a person with a disability comes into contact at these different points.

Point of Contact Zero: Community Services

Community services that are accessible and affordable can provide people with disabilities what they need in the community and can be provided prior to a person engaging with the criminal justice system. Accessible community services can potentially contribute positively to a person’s avoiding other points of contact.

Accessibility at point of contact zero has to be intentional. Both government and funding organizations should hold providers accountable for designing accessibility accommodations as part of annual and long-term planning. This includes budgeting for reasonable accommodations and including access features in new developments as well as rehab efforts of old facilities. Where state and federal dollars come into play, state and federal disability civil rights law also apply.

These same entities should also ask whether people with disabilities and impacted community members are on their advisory boards and equally employed within their organizations. Peer representation is critical across all points of contact, but could have particular impact at point zero.

Point of Contact One: Law Enforcement

This point of contact is most commonly the entry point or deflection point into the criminal justice system. When community services are not provided at point of contact zero, a person with a disability, their family or the community may reach out to 911 for help. At this point, 911 operators must make the difficult decision of routing the call to the correct response. With limited options and the ways in which disability actions and behaviors present themselves, many calls get a police response – and sometimes an elevated police response.

While some law enforcement personnel have Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), the disability range covered by such training is limited to specific disability categories, as opposed to being comprehensive of a broader cross-disability standpoint grounded in a social model of accommodations over compliance.[46]

Many of the agency staff stakeholders interviewed for this report also reported not knowing how to access accommodations for themselves. When first responders are unclear about how to access accommodations for their own mental health and other disability needs, this creates a workplace culture of compliance and non-accommodation ripe with disability stigma and the false belief that either people with disabilities are not capable or that a person should just push through without the needed and legally mandated employer accommodations. This environment fosters compliance over collaboration.

Viewing each other in terms of compliance sets law enforcement agency staff up for conflict in both work environments and with the public being served. When first responders take calls and arrive on the scene without a mindset of collaboration and accommodation, the scene is set for misunderstanding, escalation and repeated trauma to both the first responders and the person with a disability accessing a public service. Occasionally and tragically, death can result.[47]

One interviewee, Jennifer McGowan-Tomke, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Chicago (NAMI), pointed out that disability accommodations should be provided as a first response by law enforcement when they interact with people with disabilities. Further, she said many behaviors are not in fact criminal but a result of the disability, and to criminalize these behaviors is in direct conflict with the required obligation to provide accommodations.

Alternatives to calling 911 and more alternatives to arrest are recurring policy recommendations. Interviewee Susan Kahan reported that in her experience in supporting people with disabilities, if law enforcement is aware that a person has a disability or is aware they are connected to services, they will try to avoid arrest and connect the person back with the community services.

Point of Contact Two: Initial Detention/Initial Court Hearings

This point of contact is when a person is charged with a crime and initially booked into the police station holding facilities. If a person cannot be averted from this point of contact, it is vital that all screenings are accessible and accommodated. This means that the screening should be completed in such a way that the person charged with a crime understands what is going on, including their legal rights and their right to request reasonable accommodations.

Era Laudermilk of the Cook County Law Office of the Public Defender says the Public Defender’s Office will respond at police stations to represent people who are under arrest, but those people must, first, know a phone number to contact a lawyer, and second, rely on police to give them a phone to use.

Susan Kahan stressed the importance of people being moved into the criminal justice system understanding the process that occurring to them. She explained, “Every human has a right to participate in his or her own defense. And so if you’re not able to do that, then… you shouldn’t be in the criminal justice system if you can’t participate in your own defense.”

Point of Contact Three: Jails/Courts

Point of contact three is when people with disabilities are transported to jail, screened for their risk to the community for potential release from jail and, based on these screenings and/or their first court appearance, either being released on cash bail or continued to be held in jail. This point of contact includes pretrial services and a person’s first court appearance. If a person cannot be averted from jail in prior points of contact, all intake forms must be accessible and questions about reasonable accommodations must be asked and accommodations provided. This point of contact also refers to any services provided within the jail which also must be accessible to people with disabilities.

Point of Contact Four: Re-entry

This point of contact occurs when a person with a disability is released from jail or prison back into the community. This starts as soon as a person is processed in the jail for release and includes issues of time of day of their release, what resources they are given upon release and if a case plan for discharge is established. Many people are released in the evening with no resources, case plan or bus fare. Ideally, the release plan would be crafted by the person getting released and identify accessible resources and housing.

Amanda Antholt, a Chicago attorney at Equip for Equality, reports frequently hearing from people in Illinois that they cannot get into halfway houses because of their disability.[48] Due to a lack of accessible housing for people with disabilities with criminal records, they are staying longer in prison and are more likely to end up homeless after their release. If any part of the release plan is inaccessible and a person cannot comply with the plan, it almost guarantees they will return to jail.

Point of Contact Five: Community Corrections

Point of contact five is supervision in the community either by being assigned to a probation officer or, in some states, a parole officer or home electronic monitoring (EM). It is important that community corrections services are accessible and can accommodate a person with a disability. Many times, conditions are set that can result in a person returning to jail. These commonly include curfew, limitations on who a person can associate with, work or educational requirements, checking in with a probation officer at certain times, drug testing and more. Disability and reasonable accommodations must be taken into consideration when forming these conditions to avoid a clash with a person’s ability to follow the conditions. A disabled person’s unintentional “non-compliance” with a condition they cannot meet may result in violation and a repeated cycle of jail time.