Understanding the School to Prison Pipeline
It is an unfortunate reality that school discipline and the criminal justice system have become intertwined in this country. Trouble at school can lead juveniles to their first encounter with the criminal justice system.

Zero Tolerance Policies

While juvenile crime has gone down over the last several years, school discipline policies are going in the opposite direction. Growing concern about crime and violence in schools has led many schools to mandate suspension for those students who break the rules. As more schools adopt zero tolerance policies, there is an increase in the number of suspensions and expulsions. In addition, schools began cracking down on minor offenses in an effort to discourage more serious incidents.

Reliance on Police

Many schools have taken to relying on police for their school discipline. Some districts employ School Resources Officers (SROs) who are stationed in schools, ostensibly to protect students but ultimately policing them. However, students have been arrested in alarming numbers for mostly misdemeanor crimes. Many of these arrests would not have taken place but for the presence of SROs in schools.

These minor arrests force students to encounter the criminal justice system at a young age and set them up for failure.

Outsourcing Discipline

An increasing number of schools are referring disciplinary issues to law enforcement and the juvenile justice system. This makes it much easier for a student to get a juvenile record. Even if the punishment for a first offense is light, the punishment for a second offense will likely be harsher. Reliance on police and placing officers in schools has led to a dramatic increase in the number of students sent to juvenile court.

More Likely to be Disciplined

The school to prison pipeline disproportionately affects black students and students with mental disabilities. Black students are suspended or expelled three times as often as white students. The disparity begins in preschool with 48% of preschool expulsions being of black children. There is no proof that black students misbehave at higher rates. Many suspensions and arrests are for nebulous offenses such as “willful defiance” and “insubordination.”

Students with mental disabilities represent the majority of those who are suspended or arrested. Schools may not be able to handle the behavioral issues that come with a mental disability and instead turn to law enforcement.

If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental disabilities. To schedule a consultation, call (509) 991-7058.
Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorders 

The reason for compiling the expert opinions in Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers is two-fold: first, there is a growing recognition that people with ASD are involved in the criminal justice system and need vigorous, informed advocacy; and two, that there is a need for practical, easily digestible information for lawyers.
If you are a criminal defense lawyer, it is inevitable that you are going to represent someone on the Autism Spectrum. Indeed, the Center for Disease Control estimates that one in 59 children are on the spectrum. And because Autism is a lifelong condition, these children will become adults on the spectrum.

But what is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), how will you recognize it in a client, why is it relevant to the criminal justice system, and why do people with ASD get ensnared in the criminal justice system?
Elizabeth Kelley
Criminal Defense Attorney
Elizabeth Kelley is a criminal defense lawyer with a nationwide practice specializing in representing people with mental disabilities. She is the co-chair of The Arc's National Center for Criminal Justice and Disability, serves on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights, Criminal Justice Section Council, and Editorial Board of the Criminal Justice Magazine Learn more.
Additional Resources
Britney Spears and the History of Controlling Women via 'Insanity' Claims
Before the pop star's conservatorship, men have long used the legal and medical system to subjugate women deemed as unruly.
In September, a Los Angeles court will consider Britney Spears’ petition to have her father removed from the conservatorship that gives him complete control over her finances and, in turn, her life. In previous proceedings, Spears claimed that her father determines everything from her grocery lists to her form of birth control.
The court first approved the conservatorship 13 years ago after Spears experienced a highly public mental health crisis in which she shaved her head and beat a parked car with an umbrella (she admitted that she was frustrated by her lack of autonomy). She nevertheless went on to release four more albums, guest star on various sitcoms, and complete a four-year residency in Las Vegas. But even with her professional success, Spears hasn’t been able to escape her father’s legal control.
How Do I Know if I Have Adult A.D.H.D.?
Q: How common is adult A.D.H.D.? What are the symptoms and is it possible for someone who was not diagnosed with it as a child to be diagnosed as an adult?
A: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or A.D.H.D., is a neurodevelopmental disorder often characterized by inattention, disorganization, hyperactivity and impulsivity.
It is one of the most common mental health disorders. According to the World Federation of A.D.H.D., it is thought to occur in nearly 6 percent of children and 2.5 percent of adults.
We Don't Need a Cure for Autism. We Need to Make Living With It Easier
In 2006, Congress passed the Combating Autism Act. When President George W. Bush signed the bill into law, he said, “I am proud to sign this bill into law and confident that it will serve as an important foundation for our Nation’s efforts to find a cure for autism.” The law’s bipartisan passage was a year after Autism Speaks was founded by Bob and Suzanne Wright in response to their grandson Christian’s autism diagnosis. Autism was entering the public discourse and becoming a cause for mobilization by elites. But this push has not made autistic people’s lives better.

I know because growing up in Southern California as a teenager with what was then known as Asperger’s Syndrome, I absorbed all this messaging about autism. I remember as a rock-and-roll-and-heavy-metal loving teenager, seeing an ad with Tommy Lee of Motley Crue and Roger Daltrey of the Who panicking about the rates of autism diagnoses in children. Gene Simmons of Kiss warned in that same ad that it affected more kids than childhood cancer, Type 2 diabetes and cystic fibrosis combined.
Homeless man with mental illness stuck in loop of fractured system
OAKLAND, Calif. — The big brother Suzette Chaumette remembers was witty and kind, an aspiring historian at the University of California, Berkeley whose promise was derailed by mental illness. Over the decades, he struggled with bipolar disorder, cycling in and out of hospitals and halfway homes and into homelessness.

In June, she saw him on the local news, lying on the ground and under arrest for allegedly throwing a water bottle at California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Authorities called the 54-year-old man “aggressive.” It was the first time she had seen him in years.

I never thought he would be that guy, but he is that guy,” she said, crying. “He’s not a bad guy.
Hiding In Plain Sight: Treating The Mentally Ill Instead Of Punishing Them
Norm Ornstein is a political scientist and emeritus scholar at a think tank in Washington, DC, and the co-founder of the Matthew Harris Ornstein Foundation. In 2020, the foundation helped fund filmmakers Charlie Sadoff and Gabe London which allowed them to produce the PBS documentary, Definition of Insanity (www.doifilm.com), about the decriminalization of mental health and a pioneering program for treating the mentally ill instead of punishing them. 

In the United States, people with mental illness are 10 times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized, and nearly 2 million with serious mental illnesses are jailed every year. Over 70% of those incarcerated have at least one mental health diagnosis or substance use disorder, and nearly 30% have a serious mental illness, much higher than the rate found in the general public.  Another 574,000 are on probation.

"Because we don’t have adequate facilities to care for those with serious mental illnesses, the jails and prisons have become the largest repository for them,” Ornstein emphasizes. 
Dealing with mental health crisis one Zoom call at a time
CHICAGO (AP) — The sergeant had so little use for the tablet that she did not bother to grab it from the seat of her squad car when she ran into the house where a suicidal man was screaming and slamming his head against the floor.

But when she saw the man might harm himself, his family or her officers with knives he was threatening to use, she sent an officer to retrieve the tablet. She turned it on, handed it to the man and told him to talk to the woman whose face appeared on the screen. And then she watched as the man immediately calmed down.
Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers

Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers, was edited by Elizabeth Kelley. It contains chapters devoted to a variety of issues confronted by people with mental disabilities in the criminal-justice system, such as:

  • Competency
  • Sanity
  • Malingering
  • Neuroscience
  • Jail and Prison Conditions
Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers

Elizabeth's book titled Representing People with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers was released by the American Bar Association. Topics include:

  • Co-Occurring Disorders
  • Testing
  • Competency
  • Risk of Violence
  • Mitigation.
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