Formerly Incarcerated Disability Voices
In this work, we are committed to driving reform with the voices of impacted people. During the research for this initiative, we interviewed a range of people who have been incarcerated in jails. Our primary focus was on those who have been through Cook County Jail, although we also interviewed some people who had been in jail in other locations. All interviewees self-identified as people with disabilities.
It is important to note that many people find it extremely difficult to tell their story about jail incarceration. While only some stories were shared on the record, all the stories carried common themes: off-the-record storytellers were most concerned with anonymity for fear of retaliation, further criminalization, job loss, loss of academic opportunities, further stigmatization and potentially discriminatory consequences, plus ill treatment by police, probation officers and jail staff.
Most justice-involved interviewees with disabilities that we talked to came from disinvested, inaccessible neighborhoods. Most were people of color. None were asked if they needed an accommodation when they first came into contact with the system. All believed that being incarcerated made their disabilities worse and created new disabilities. All experienced some form of financial instability prior to or after incarceration. All felt that their experience as a person of color and/or a person with a disability made the interaction with the criminal justice system worse. All felt the medical care provided while incarcerated was inadequate.
Those who had been incarcerated many times did share that they felt there has been slight improvement over the years within the Cook County jail system.
All reported loss of at least one of the following as a result of their contact with the criminal justice system: custody of children, a relationship or marriage, of credit, academic opportunities, employment and housing plus an increase in debt.
Most interviewees did not want to see investment in redesigning the criminal justice system but rather in community services accessible to all. Almost all interviewees said they felt that law enforcement needed to respect them, follow the law, provide accommodations and meet people where they are.