How Does the US Prison System Handle People With Disabilities?

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How Does the US Prison System Handle People With Disabilities?

By Bill Laberis

Published May 4, 2020

It was something of a ‘perfect storm’ that has led to an unprecedented number of inmates with disabilities housed in prisons across the US today. Not surprisingly, administrators struggle to ensure access to services to which all inmates with disabilities are legally entitled.

How did so many people with disabilities end up in US prisons today? First, starting in the late 1970s, prison populations soared as lawmakers toughened sentencing laws in response to a rising tide of crime. This prisoner boom continued into the second decade of the 21st century where it moderated around 2010 but remains stubbornly high. The US today has the highest rate of per capita imprisonment in the world.

Second, around 60 years ago all states began closing mental health hospitals, including ones with secured wards for patients considered criminally dangerous. Many of the hundreds of thousands of people who would have been treated at these facilities today now crowd prisons, which [...]

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