Advocacy News: July 13, 2022


July 13, 2022 | by Amber Smock

Disability, Law Enforcement and Incarceration, New Papers and Opportunities

Access Living friends and allies,

Today, we’d like to share about an important event and some new papers about the experiences of people with disabilities in relation to law enforcement interactions and incarceration, an issue that disproportionately affects disabled people of color, and new opportunities to engage in diversion/incarceration reform work.

Keeping Olmstead’s Promise: Event and White Paper

On Thursday, July 14, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, in partnership with the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), will present an online event focused on ending police violence against Black communities with home and community-based services. The event is from 11AM-12:30PM. Registration is at this link.

Featured speakers include:

  • Estelle Richman, (Retired) Past Advisor to Secretary, HUD
  • Eric Vassell, Father of Saheed Vassell
  • Victor Dempsey, Legal Defense Fund, Brother of Delrawn Small
  • Lewis Bossing, Staff Attorney, Bazelon Center
  • Puneet Cheema, Manager of Justice in Public Safety Project, Legal Defense Fund
  • Lisa Cylar Barrett, Director of Policy, Legal Defense Fund
  • Jalyn Radziminski, Lived-Experience Mental Health Advocate; Communications Manager, Bazelon Center

In tandem with the event, Bazelon and LDF have issued a brief titled “Advancing an Alternative to Police: Community-Based Services for Black People with Mental Illness.” The paper reinforces many of the issues that have driven Access Living’s work on the Illinois Community Emergency Services and Supports Act (CESSA), and provides recommendations for federal, state and local governments.

Bazelon has also issued a new brief that looks at the development of the new 988 system, as well as the 911 system. The paper makes the case that 911 and 988 alone are not enough to build healthy communities; rather, every community needs access to a robust community-based mental health array of supports and services. Again, this paper is highly relevant to Access Living’s CESSA work.

Blind/Deaf Issues in Incarceration: 

The Civil Rights Clearinghouse at the University of Michigan has released an important new white paper about the civil rights of incarcerated Deaf and/or blind people. The paper, Effective Communication with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Blind, and Low Vision Incarcerated People, looks at cases brought by persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, or low vision in jails and prisons across the country seeking to enforce federal disability anti-discrimination law. They propose best practices for compliance with anti-discrimination law in the custody and treatment of prisoners with communication disability. The paper describes the relevant challenges and governing law, and offers a detailed set of policy recommendations intended as a template for jails and prisons.

Access Living Diversion & Reentry Fellowships: 

These fellowships are paid six-month opportunities for formerly incarcerated people with disabilities to pursue projects related to meeting the needs of people with disabilities at risk of entering or those re-entering from the criminal justice system. Fellows must submit a proposal about their planned project. Fellows will be advised by Christopher Huff, our Diversion and Reentry Policy Analyst, and also receive training on disability leadership. Compensation for each Fellow is $1,000 per month for six months. The application deadline is September 2. 

Access Living Diversion & Reentry Advisory Committee: 

Access Living is also building a community advisory committee to advise us on our work related to diversion and reentry for people with disabilities. Those selected for the committee will also receive disability leadership training, as well as serve as guidance for Access Living staff so we can best support the needs of our formerly incarcerated peers with disabilities. This is also a paid opportunity which requires an application. Committee members will be paid up to $250 per meeting depending on the overall final committee size. Applications are due September 30. 

Please share this important information with friends and colleagues. Thank you for your advocacy.