Pennsylvania – individuals with autism get tangled up in legal system

Pennsylvania, USA – State published data shows that people with autism get caught up in legal systems more frequently. The data was released on November 13th to the Pennsylvania Autism Census Project and showed that people with autism who had contact with criminal justice system rose from 659 per 10,000 in 2005 to 1,423 in 2011.

Luciana Randall, executive director the Autism Connection PA, noted that at least 10% of the calls she handles are from people with autism who are dealing with the criminal-justice system.

“People with autism interact with the criminal-justice system quite often because of their symptoms.”

Randall told the Pittsburgh City Paper. Take the case of one person on the spectrum who followed a romantic interest to work and watched her for six hours without realizing that the law would call that stalking.

“Their behavior can really be misconstrued and officers can’t always tell the person has autism, so things can snowball really quickly.”

Data report author and director of the eastern region of the ASERTA Collaborative, Lindsay Shea said that this is pressing issue that needs to be looked into. According to her, there are many people on the spectrum who don’t receive state services and may be discounted in the data figures.

What’s even more troubling is that according to her research, 75% of PA’s justice system staff haven’t gotten autism training, with 80% asking for it.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge John Zottola mentioned that other judges might not know what autism looks like in the court room and may misinterpret their repeated statements, inability to hold eye contact, and other symptoms harshly with anger. He suggests one solution might be trying to divert defendants with autism to treatment instead of jail.

The original article by Alex Zimmerman on the Pittsburgh City Paper website can be found here

Contributed by Audrey L. Hollingshead