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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Being in Jail for being Autistic and being a “suspicious black male”: Neli Latson journey

as posted/shared by The Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Reginald “Neli” Latson 
UPDATES: Dec 2014 - Autistic self advocacy groups are calling for a Twitter day of action using the hashtag #FreeNeli

The Arc Calls on Governor McAuliffe to Grant a Conditional Pardon for Neli Latson Immediately (Jan 8, 2015) (post below)

Mental health advocates seek relief for autistic Va. inmate (Jan 4, 2015) (post below)

ASAN Calls for Neli Latson’s Release

November 24, 2014 | Lydia Brown

In early 2010, police responded to calls about a “suspicious black male” and found a young black man waiting outside a local school library. An officer approached Reginald “Neli” Latson, then-18 and also autistic. He did not give his name when asked, and he attempted to walk away. The initial contact led to an altercation. Afterward, Neli was charged with assaulting a police officer and later sentenced to two years of prison and eight years of probation. Police profiled Neli as suspicious and then attempted to arrest him after he failed to state his name. This incident was avoidable, but the consequences afterward were even more devastating for Neli, who has been repeatedly subjected to inappropriate and ineffective punishment.

While on probation after serving two years in prison, Neli had another unfortunate encounter with police during which he threatened suicide. Since September 2013, he has been back in prison. Neli has languished for over a year in 24-hour lockdown solitary confinement. In theory, this was for his own protection after he attempted suicide inside his prison cell. Because of his developmental and intellectual disabilities, Neli was deemed too vulnerable to place in the prison’s general population. The already inappropriate prison environment has in turn led to increased behavior difficulties. Isolating vulnerable prisoners in solitary confinement is a violation of human rights. Solitary confinement is particularly pernicious and potentially counterproductive for those with disability-related behavioral difficulties. Neli has lost coping skills while in isolation, and remains at continued threat of further adverse psychological impact. Yet instead of providing him with appropriate supports and a meaningful transition plan, the system continues to fail him.
In 2012, the Massachusetts Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit filed by the Disability Law Center over routinely housing inmates with psychiatric disabilities in solitary confinement for the convenience of prison staff. Psychological and neuroscience research have repeatedly demonstrated that prolonged solitary confinement has a profoundly negative impact on prisoners’ emotional and mental wellbeing. For those like Neli who are wrongfully imprisoned, the effects are no doubt exacerbated by the complete injustice of the situation.
Neli Latson should not be in prison, let alone in solitary confinement. His placement in prison is entirely inappropriate and not conducive to positive learning or behavior supports. Governor McAuliffe still has an opportunity to remedy this injustice immediately by pardoning Neli or commuting his sentence. There is no public safety or rehabilitation justification for his continued imprisonment either in general population or in solitary confinement. Neli could be significantly better served in a community-based setting with appropriate re-entry services and behavior supports, including someone to accompany him in the community. For these reasons, we call for Neli’s immediate release.
This statement compiled by Samantha Crane, ASAN’s Director of Public Policy, and Lydia Brown, ASAN Policy Analyst.

shared by The Arc

The Arc Calls on Governor McAuliffe to Grant a Conditional Pardon for Neli Latson Immediately

Stafford, VA – Today was another day in court for Neli Latson, a young man with autism who has spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. His case has become the symbol for dysfunction in our national justice system for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  As Latson entered a guilty plea today to charges of assault, The Arc is calling on Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who now has the legal authority to take action, to promptly grant a conditional pardon so that Latson can be transferred from the criminal justice system to the developmental disability system, where he will receive the services he needs.
“Mr. Latson is caught in a recurring cycle of prosecution and punishment due to factors related to his disabilities. He is not a criminal. He is a person with autism and intellectual disability whose behaviors can be aggressive, often in an attempt to communicate. Prison is not where Mr. Latson belongs,” wrote Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, to Governor McAuliffe in early December requesting a conditional pardon.
Latson, who is 22, has been incarcerated since August 2013 as a result of behavior connected to his disability.  He has been held in solitary confinement for most of that time and is presently at a Virginia state prison.  His tragic situation is the result of events surrounding his initial detention which occurred while waiting for the public library to open, and from subsequent mental health crises resulting from his confinement.  A conditional pardon would allow Latson to be moved immediately to a facility in Florida that will provide the support necessary to help him move on from these events.
Advocates from The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability (NCCJD) and The Arc of Virginia have been involved in this case for months, advocating alongside Latson’s legal team.  NCCJD is operated by The Arc and is the first national effort of its kind to bring together both victim and suspect/offender issues involving people with I/DD under one roof.  NCCJD is a national clearinghouse for research, information, evaluation, training and technical assistance for criminal justice and disability professionals and other advocates that will build their capacity to better identify and meet the needs of people with I/DD, whose disability often goes unrecognized, and who are overrepresented in the nation’s criminal justice system.  Currently, NCCJD is developing training for law enforcement, victim service providers and legal professionals that will support police departments, prosecutor’s offices, and other professionals in the criminal justice system to effectively and fairly administer justice for people with disabilities.


Mental health advocates seek relief for autistic Va. inmate

By LARRY O'DELL | Associated Press | Jan 4, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. Mental health and civil liberties advocates are urging Gov. Terry McAuliffe to intervene in the case of a Virginia inmate with autism who faces trial Wednesday for allegedly assaulting a correctional officer.
Reginald "Neli" Latson's supporters and lawyers say he needs treatment, not punishment, for intellectual disabilities that they say have caused his three clashes with law enforcement since 2010. They have asked McAuliffe to grant conditional clemency so Latson can be moved to a secure treatment facility in Florida that has agreed to accept him.
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said the governor is concerned but can't do anything until the pending charge is resolved in Stafford County Circuit Court. Latson faces six months to five years behind bars if convicted.
Latson, 23, already has twice been jailed for assaulting police officers. His supporters say those incidents stem from a "fight or flight" reflex associated with his autism spectrum disorder.
"He is in prison because law enforcement, prosecutors, and correctional officers failed to understand or accommodate his disabilities, a problem that more and more people with autism and other developmental disabilities are experiencing when they interact with the criminal justice system," American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia executive director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga wrote in a Dec. 23 letter to McAuliffe.
Stafford County Commonwealth's Attorney Eric Olsen, who is prosecuting the latest charge against Latson, did not return telephone messages about the case.
The Arc of the United States, a mental health advocacy organization, and its Virginia chapter also have asked the governor to intervene.
"Mr. Latson is caught in a recurring cycle of prosecution and punishment due to factors related to his disabilities. He is not a criminal," ARC of the United States CEO Peter V. Berns wrote last month.
According to his lawyers and supporters, Latson's legal troubles began in 2010 when he was approached by a police officer responding to a report of a suspicious person outside the Stafford County library. Latson, a young black man wearing a hoodie, refused to identify himself. When the officer grasped Latson's arm to take him into custody, Latson hit him.
"This is the sort of situation that an autistic young man simply cannot comprehend — he had done nothing wrong and yet the officer was restraining him — and the actions of the officer seemed threatening to Neli because he does not understand social roles the way others do," Latson's attorney, Julie M. Carpenter, wrote in the first letter to McAuliffe last May. Carpenter declined through an associate to comment further.
After a few months in jail, Latson was moved into a residential treatment program in Grafton in February 2012. Carpenter said in her letter that Latson did well there and in 2013 was moved into a group home, where he became agitated during a phone call with his mother and stormed out. Police were called, and Latson tried to take the officer's gun to kill himself, according to Carpenter. The officer was uninjured.
That incident landed Latson back in jail and led to the latest confrontation. Latson was being transferred to a sparsely equipped "crisis cell" when he allegedly punched a guard. Had he not been charged in that incident, Carpenter said in her letter, Latson would have been released in February and immediately taken to the Florida treatment center.
Latson's supporters say he has spent much of his time behind bars in solitary confinement, worsening his condition. He has been allowed more time out of his cell in recent weeks.
Alison Barkoff, director of advocacy for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, said Latson's case is emblematic of a systemic problem that prompted a federal investigation of Virginia's mental health system. Barkoff previously was a U.S. Department of Justice lawyer who helped negotiate a 2012 settlement that requires the state to improve training and expand community services over the next 10 years.
While much of the focus in Latson's case has been on law enforcement, Barkoff said the group home staff also erred in calling police instead of mental health crisis personnel. One of the goals of the settlement, she said, is to minimize interactions between police and people with developmental disabilities.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2015/01/04/5424190/mental-health-advocates-seek-relief.html#.VLbug1Ua7gI#storylink=cpy

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Autistic man serving life sentence in an Illinois prison: paulmodrowski.blogspot.com