Being arrested is a harrowing experience for anyone, but individuals with special needs can face additional challenges, especially because the criminal justice system isn't always equipped to handle those needs.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty recently embarked on a statewide listening tour to learn more about the challenges those with autism face in the court system. His goal is to identify and develop ways that courts and jails can better address the special needs of people with mental conditions.
One of the listening panel's members is Rep. Jessica Benham, who is the first person with autism elected to the general assembly. Since November 2020, the group has held several “Autism and Courts” roundtables across the state, which can be viewed on the website of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.
As the caretaker of an individual with special needs who has been arrested who needs to know what to do now, though, rest assured there are some steps can take to help ensure the criminal justice process goes as smoothly as possible for your loved one:
1. Hire an attorney.
There is simply no substitute for having an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side advocating for the needs of your loved one. You should make sure your lawyer knows everything about your loved one's condition, diagnosis, medications, and any other treatment.
In addition to informing your lawyer of your loved one's special needs, if they are also being held in custody, it is imperative that you ensure that all of your loved one's medications and treatments are available to the jail.
2. Think ahead.
Being held in custody isn't enjoyable for anyone, but the stress it can create for those with special needs can quickly become overwhelming, even without additional triggers. If you know that your loved one has certain triggers that could come up while in detention, tell your attorney so they can communicate these potential issues with the facility's management and staff.
For example, if your loved one is sensitive to certain noises or events that could create problems while they're in custody, making these known can help head off potential issues later.
3. Be present.
Your presence at all hearings and other proceedings will certainly be an emotional comfort for your loved one, but beyond that, it also allows you the opportunity to speak to anyone and everyone you can about their special needs. The more people that are made aware of potential issues while your loved one is in custody, the better.
If your loved one with special needs is facing criminal charges, you need someone on your side now to guide you through the legal process. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-8636 today to discuss your case.