People With Developmental Disabilities And The Criminal Justice System:

CW: Police Brutality:

Jessica Stuckey was sent to the Pine Grove Correctional Centre in Saskatchewan in November. Other inmates noticed Stuckey appeared confused and overwhelmed. The 24-year-old has a disability called Smith-Magenus Syndrome.

Smith-Magenis syndrome (SMS) is a complex genetic disorder. The condition is characterized by distinctive physical features, developmental delays, and a typical behavioral pattern. The vast majority of people have mild-to-moderate intellectual disabilities. Significant sleep disruptions and behavioral issues including self-injurious behavior are all part of the condition.

Several genes, including the retinoic acid-induced 1 (RAI1) gene, are affected by interstitial 17p11.2 deletions, which account for 90% of the causes of SMS, or by pathogenic variations in RAI1 itself, which account for 10% of the causes.

Jessica had been attending a day program and was doing well there. She did art projects and went into the community to practice grocery shopping. Many community support services for people with intellectual disabilities went online when the pandemic struck in 2020. The majority of her daughter’s programs, according to Barbara Stuckey, vanished.

Stuckey wanted companionship. Unfortunately, she didn’t know where to turn. She began calling the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, multiple times a day. They would watch YouTube videos with her and try to engage her in other activities.

According to police, Stuckey also threatened to kill two of her mental health support workers. She didn’t receive the help she needed. Stuckey was arrested and charged for uttering threats and mischief over $5,000.

At a hearing, Stuckey was denied bail. She was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. However, the nearest psychiatric hospital was full. Stuckey was transferred to Pine Grove Correctional Centre, where she remained for 36 hours. As of December 20, she is in a psychiatric hospital waiting to be released.

Her psychiatrist, Dr. Ken Harrison, says Stuckey needs intensive community-based support. Harrison has been recommending the same services for the past two years. The lack of support is what led to Stuckey’s arrest and subsequent criminal charges, according to Harrison.

Many disabled people find the criminal justice system challenging to navigate. Lorenzo Mays waited eight years at Sacramento County Jail, struggling to understand the charges against him. He was arrested when he was 27, but his intellectual disability meant he had difficulty understanding terms like “plea bargain.”

Records from the Sacramento County criminal court and jail show that because of his disabilities, he was particularly vulnerable to violent assaults. According to a class action lawsuit, he spent so much time in solitary confinement that he developed a significant vitamin D deficiency. He was plagued by hallucinations and depression.

He considered taking his own life. He has never been tried for the crime. Mays is finally out of jail. He is nearly 40 years old now. He has adjusted well to life in his group home.

Disabled people are frequently killed by police. According to a Ruderman Family Foundation report, approximately half of those killed by police had a disability. Officers are routinely sent into situations when urgent care would be better suited to lethal action.

On July 8, 2021, Stanley Howard dialed 911 and repeatedly requested assistance while threatening authorities and himself. Even though the body-worn camera footage from last year shows Howard speaking to cops initially at 8:20 p.m., court filings state that the incident started around 9 p.m. Howard had schizophrenia and depression.

According to the lawsuit, three of the four police officers fired their weapons at Howard while simultaneously demanding he drop the water pistol, shooting him more than ten times. However, Phoenix police thought the officers fired roughly ten shots at him.

The officers then retreated, and one of them asked Howard whether he had survived, but there was no response. They subsequently administered first aid, but Howard was eventually pronounced dead.

The criminal justice system needs to be accessible to everybody. Not having the accommodations they need to understand the criminal justice system is unfair to disabled people. When dealing with the police or other members of the criminal justice system, those with disabilities must be treated with dignity and respect regardless of their disability or mental illness.


Rinaldi, Berardo et al. “Smith-Magenis Syndrome-Clinical Review, Biological Background and Related Disorders.” Genes vol. 13,2 335. 11 Feb. 2022, doi:10.3390/genes13020335

Walsh, John. “Mentally Ill Often a Target, but Chicago Police Might Have a Solution.” International Business Times, IBT Media, 18 Jan. 2017,

Vandell, Perry. “Family of Fatally Shot Man Sues Phoenix, Police.” The Arizona Republic, Gannett, 14 July 2022,

Wiener, Jocelyn. “No Way out: Why a Mentally Disabled Man Was Jailed Nine Years Awaiting a Murder Trial That Never Happened.” CalMatters, Simone Coxe, 15 Dec. 2022,

Yourex-West, Heather. “An Intellectually Disabled Woman Needed Help. She Went to Jail Instead.” Global News, Global Television Network, 21 Dec. 2022,

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