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New study reveals unjust criminalization of children with mental illness

BOSTON, Mass. – A new white paper released today by the Ruderman Family Foundation has revealed the daunting extent in which children with mental illnesses have their civil rights systematically violated, resulting in over half of all inmates in the U.S. having a mental illness.

The white paper argues that this widespread discrimination starts early, even from kindergarten in most cases, often cumulating in non-completion of high school, problems with the law, and results in homelessness and/or incarceration in adulthood.

Unlike people with visible or apparent disabilities, people with non-apparent disabilities often don’t receive accommodations guaranteed to them under the Americans with Disabilities Act due to their invisible nature. Instead of getting reasonable accommodations and access to services, this population gets criminalized, often referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline which affects people with disabilities at a much higher rate.

The white paper reveals the following supporting statistics:

  • More than half of all inmates in the U.S. have a mental illness
  • People with disabilities, including non-apparent ones, are over-represented in every single traditionally marginalized group (women, Black people, Hispanic people, members of LGBTQ community, etc.), most of which are also incarcerated at a higher rate
  • Depending on the state, 30-80% of foster care children have a non-apparent disability, and they are much more likely to end up incarcerated
  • The long-term consequences of incarceration are devastating given the high recidivism rate (almost 50%) and the lack of supports in place to re-integrate people, especially people with non-apparent disabilities, back into the community
  • This system of discrimination also hurts the wider community and taxpayers given that it costs more than $140,000 a year to incarcerate a young person, and only about $10,000 to educate them

“It is truly horrifying to which extent children with disabilities, especially with mental illness, are criminalized from an early age instead of helped to succeed. It is then no wonder that more than half of our prisoners are people with mental illness,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

The issue of criminalization over necessary treatment is a long-standing issue in the United States. It is known that the U.S. imprisons close to 25% of the world’s global prisoner population, with disproportionate numbers from minority or traditionally marginalized groups. The study finds that in all these cases, disabilities, including non-apparent ones are much higher in these groups than the general population.

“When we looked at all traditionally marginalized and vulnerable groups—women, Black people, Hispanic people, low-income people, members of the LGBTQ community—in absolutely all instances we found greater incidences of mental illness than in the general population. Most of these groups are also incarcerated at higher rates.” added Ruderman. “This is what decades of systemic discrimination against people with invisible disabilities looks like and we must put an end to it. We simply must stop criminalizing people with disabilities and ensure that they are fully included in our society.”

View the complete white paper here.


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Posted by on Aug 8, 2017. Filed under Around the Nation, Online Only, Top Highlights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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