Persons with Disabilities and the Legal System

Persons with disabilities represent one of the nation's largest minority populations. They are overrepresented in the criminal legal system as persons who are accused as well as persons who are victims of crime. In both the criminal legal system and in society generally, persons with disabilities are often denied meaningful access to the processes and protections afforded to the general population. These training materials and resources provide introduction to some of the issues and challenges that exist in our criminal legal system for persons with disabilities. 

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and its partners prepared the content below with funding from Grant No. 2019-YA-BX-K001, awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. This content has been preserved on this website “as is.” Users should independently confirm that there have been no updates to the law as of the date they access the website content.

It is important that all criminal legal system stakeholders gain a better understanding of core concepts relating to intellectual and developmental disabilities and their impact on involvement with the legal system.

The Arlington Disability and Justice Coalition conducted three trainings on issues related to persons with disabilities in the criminal legal system. To view these trainings, visit our video archives:

Week 1 Videos   Week 2 Videos   Week 3 Videos


Victims, Witnesses, and Defendants with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (June 24, 2019)

Ariel Simms (The Arc of the United States), Kristine Hamann (Prosecutors' Center for Excellence), and Melissa Reuland (Vera Institute of Justice) provide an overview of intellectual and developmental disabilities, prosecutors' legal obligations when interacting with the disability community, and concrete strategies to effectively serve this population using real-life case scenarios.

Comfort Kits for People with Disabilities (November 3, 2021)

Lucy Beadnell (Director of Advocacy, The Arc of Northern Virginia) and Melissa Heifetz (Founder, Advocacy Partners) introduce and explain comfort kits and their component parts. The affordable, household items in comfort kits improve criminal legal system interactions for many people with disabilities. The kit is designed to be kept by a first responder or justice personnel and re-used over time. For more detailed information about comfort kits, see our information sheet.


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