Justice and VictimizationWhy This Is Important
Throughout the nation there is a growing awareness of a disproportionate number of persons with mental retardation involved in the criminal justice system. There has been long-standing acknowledgment that, in all aspects of the system, the effective participation of people with mental retardation has been hindered by two major barriers: 1) their limited cognitive abilities and 2) the lack of trained and experienced criminal justice personnel who can readily understand, recognize, interact and/or provide the reasonable accommodations needed to insure that persons with mental retardation are given the protections and benefits available to all citizens. On the one hand, persons with mental retardation may not a) understand or communicate events clearly, b) be unaware of the seriousness of the situation, c) know or be able to exercise their constitutional rights, d) secure adequate representation, e) appropriately participate in their own defense, and/or f) serve as witnesses at trial. On the other hand, criminal justice professionals are often trained to recognize the symptoms of mental illness but not the traits often seen in persons with mental retardation. As a result, the majority of criminal justice professionals are unable to identify, effectively relate to, or accurately assess this population. The behavior and/or communication of victims and witnesses with these special cognitive needs are often misinterpreted so their information is lost or considered unreliable. Without their competency in question, and typically attempting to please authority figures, suspects/offenders with mental retardation find themselves in a never-ending cycle of involvement in the criminal justice system. Without reasonable accommodations for their disability, discrimination and unequal justice are inevitable. Unknowingly, the judicial system often fails to provide victims; witnesses and suspects with the constitutional and due process rights afforded mainstream society.