Disabled People Need Support in Prison

CW: Neglect, Death & Imprisonment

An autistic 18-year-old with intellectual and developmental disabilities was held in Tarrant County Jail in Texas for approximately a week with no access to the medication he requires.

According to the Fort Worth Police Department, Gabriel Pión got into a fight at his group home on June 7 and repeatedly beat another individual in the head with a skateboard. As of June 14, the condition of the other person was unknown, according to a police spokesperson.

Gabriel was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. According to jail records, he was booked into the Tarrant County Jail on June 8 and his bond was set at $5,000.

People with disabilities are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than those without disabilities. The National Crime Victim Survey indicated in 2008 that people with disabilities experience greater rates of violence than those without disabilities (40 victimizations per 1,000 persons with disabilities compared to around 20 per 1,000 without disabilities), and that the incidence of victimization is twice as high for people with disabilities.

Gabriel, takes numerous medicines to manage his anxiety and “explosive behaviors” – meltdowns that sometimes turn violent. It took years to find the proper combination of medications for him to function at his present level said his mother Liz Pion.

Gabriel has been living in a group home near his family’s home for the past two years, according to Liz. She and her husband, who also have a set of triplets who are disabled, are unable to provide the 24-hour care he requires.

According to paperwork Liz gave, Gabriel is prescribed a number of different medications every day, including the antidepressant trazodone. He also gets a dose of aripiprazole every four weeks, which can be used to treat agitation linked with autism. Liz Pión said she gave the authorities a list of her son’s prescriptions after he was jailed.

Jails are required to check if someone has previously been associated with a local mental health or disability authority before booking. MHMR is the authority in Tarrant County.

Gabriel already works with MHMR, but the agency was unaware that Gabriel was in jail, according to Liz. In some court documents, his name is written “Grabriel.” Liz also says that his birthdate was inaccurate.

When someone is arrested, they cannot just bring medications with them, according to Courtney Luther, a staff attorney with Disability Rights Texas.

The procedure for dispensing medication varies every jail, but it typically works like this: Jails must validate someone’s prescription and then dispense medicine from their own pharmacy, according to Luther. That means that there is a delay, and there is no guarantee that someone will receive the same medication they take in the free world.

Unfortunately, The Tarrant County Jail has a history of accusations regarding medical neglect, some of which resulted in death. Javonte Myers, who had epilepsy, died in his cell in 2020. Two former Tarrant County officials were charged with lying about checking on him.

Kelly Masten, a disabled 38-year-old woman, left the Tarrant County Jail disoriented and covered with bruises in 2022. Masten has a severe form of epilepsy, and the jail did not give her medication, despite her family bringing it to the jail, according to her father.

Everyone should be able to access the criminal justice system. People with disabilities are treated unfairly in the criminal justice system. When dealing with the police or others in the criminal justice system, people with disabilities deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Sources:

Abid, Urooba, et al. “For People with Disabilities on Parole and Probation, Accessible Communication Is Essential: News &; Commentary.” American Civil Liberties Union, 7 Nov. 2022, https://www.aclu.org/news/disability-rights/for-people-with-disabilities-on-parole-and-probation-accessible-communication-is-essential

Rand, Michael, and Erika Harrell. “Crime against people with disabilities, 2008.” (2010).

Suarez, Miranda. “A Disabled 18-Year-Old in the Tarrant County Jail Says He Spent a Week without Medication.” KERA News, 17 June 2023, http://www.keranews.org/news/2023-06-16/a-disabled-18-year-old-in-the-tarrant-county-jail-has-spent-a-week-without-medication-he-says.

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