Decriminalizing Disability

Without immediate access to crisis services, many people with behavioral health conditions end up in unnecessary, expensive inpatient care or involved with police – often with tragic consequences. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Letter of Findings issued to Baltimore City in August 2016 found that the Baltimore City Police Department routinely violated the rights of people with disabilities by using unreasonable force against individuals with disabilities and those in crisis, even when the individual committed no crime or was in restraints.

Incarcerating people with mental illness who need appropriate treatment and support services mistreats a public health problem through the criminal justice system and cannot be expected to produce positive outcomes. It contributes to race and disability discrimination in our City, and tears families and communities apart.

The basic elements for a comprehensive crisis response system exist in Baltimore, but we must create and support a fully functional system that can help people in crisis at any time. In a fully funded crisis response system, clinical social workers and experienced crisis line workers would respond to 911 calls involving individuals in crisis. Crisis alternatives save money, alleviate pressure on facilities and police, offer a path for recovery, take prior trauma into account when responding, and produce better outcomes.

People in crisis prefer hope, support and community over locked buildings and threats of force.
It is time for a healthy response.

The Justice & Equity in Behavioral Health Coalition Toolkit

DRM Releases Report: Beyond Incarceration

DRM Statement in Support of Proposed Consent Decree (PDF)

Sign On Letter to Decriminalize Disability (PDF)

Press Links:

Baltimore consent decree advocates say transparency still necessary – The Daily Record
“The proposed consent decree offers hope for systemic reform that will result in policing that complies with our Constitution and federal civil rights laws. Significantly, for our community, if the potential of the Decree is realized, there will be a decrease in the numbers of individuals with disabilities being involved with BCPD and an increase in the numbers of individuals with disabilities offered community based supports” – DRM

Justice Department Reaches Agreement with City of Baltimore to Reform Police Department’s Unconstitutional Practices – U.S. Dept. of Justice

Police should rarely be first responders for those in mental health crisis – The Baltimore Sun (Op-Ed authored by DRM Director of Litigation, Lauren Young)

Lauren Young discusses ways police can better respond to mental health crisis – WBAL News Radio

Police shooting in Waverly “extremely disturbing” – Baltimore Brew

Criminalization & Social Exclusion of People with Disabilities

Decriminalizing Disability –  Maryland Bar Journal Magazine, page 64