Friday, December 26, 2014

On Ruth Marcus' Latest Op Ed On the Neli Latson Case

"That’s not to say Latson should be free. He is, by the accounts of those who know him best, a sweet young man who nonetheless can become aggressive when agitated. Winchester, Va., jail superintendent James Whitley, who took the extraordinary step of testifying on Latson’s behalf at two sentencing hearings, described him as “like a child wanting to please us.”
Latson should be in a secure residential treatment facility, and Virginia’s mental health officials support this outcome even as its corrections system incarcerates him ."   -Ruth Marcus,  Reginald Latson’s case points to a major problem in U.S. prisons, Washington Post Opinions 
Ms. Marcus has continued to write excellent pieces on the Neli Latson case, and should be applauded for bringing his unjust incarceration and solitary confinement to the public. While I understand her latest post, her attempt to explain the way the Latson case exemplifies a greater problem, and I agree that problem exists and needs to be dealt with, I am extremely concerned with something else.

Ms. Marcus writes that Neli Latson, who has already served time for assaulting a police officer of which the last year was served in solitary confinement should not be free. She says he should be in a secure residential treatment facility. Let us call things what they are.  A secure residential treatment facility is the politically correct way of saying a mental institution. 

She describes Mr. Latson as a "sweet young man who nonetheless can become aggressive when agitated". Stop and make a mental list of everyone you know who can become aggressive when agitated.  Should they all be in a "secure residential treatment facility" aka mental institution, for the rest of their lives? If a person, in an act of road rage, throws a plastic cup with soda at a driver who cuts them off,  and that person drives their car off the road and breaks their ankle, should the person with road rage be placed in a mental institution for the rest of their lives? If the person who goaded Mr. Latson into aggression had not been a police officer, and Mr. Latson had not been a Black male with a hoodie, would this case have even gone to trial?  Ms. Marcus agrees that Mr. Latson should not have been in prison. She is quick to remind us of Mr. Latson's IQ in each of her articles on this case. 
She quotes The Bazelon Center's Alison Barkoff, who says
“Neli is important because he exemplifies one of the systemic problems that the settlement agreement addresses,” said Alison Barkoff, a former Justice Department lawyer now with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.“When services are not readily available in the community, behavioral health crises are often treated as a crime,” Barkoff said. “It is counterproductive, costly and inhumane to punish people for their disabilities instead of getting them help.”

So let me quote that again. "When services are not readily available in the community, behavioral health crises are often treated as a crime." Barkoff said. "It is counter -productive, costly and inhumane to punish people for their disabilities instead of getting them help." 

I keep emphasizing the need to place Neli Latson based on the Olmstead decision. Everyone ignores that and blames his behavioral crisis on his autism, then supports punishing him for one behavioral crisis based upon an abnormally high stressor without considering what this Olmstead decision demands. So lets discuss the Olmstead decision. Let me quote from

"In 2009, the Civil Rights Division launched an aggressive effort to enforce the Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead v. L.C., a ruling that requires states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and to ensure that persons with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs."

U.S. v. Rhode Island – 1:14-cv-00175 – (D.R.I. 2014)
On April 8, 2014, the United States entered into the nation’s first statewide settlement agreement vindicating the civil rights of individuals with disabilities who are unnecessarily segregated in sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs.  The settlement agreement with the State of Rhode Island resolves the Civil Rights Division’s January 6, 2014 findings, as part of an ADA Olmstead investigation, that the State’s day activity service system over-relies on segregated settings, including sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs, to the exclusion of integrated alternatives, such as supported employment and integrated day services.

Amanda D., et al. v. Hassan, et al.; United States v. New Hampshire – 1:12-CV-53 (SM)
The Justice Department intervened in Amanda D. v. Wood Hassan, a lawsuit alleging that the state of New Hampshire fails to provide mental health services to people with disabilities in community settings in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. On December 19, 2013, the Department, along with a coalition of private plaintiff organizations, entered into a comprehensive Settlement Agreement with the State of New Hampshire that will significantly expand and enhance mental health service capacity in integrated community settings over the next six years. 

U.S. v. Puerto Rico – 3:00-cv-01435 – (D.P.R. 1999) 
Several years ago, the Division issued two CRIPA/ADA findings letters concluding that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was violating the constitutional and legal rights of several hundred persons with developmental disabilities who had been living in one or more of the Commonwealth's six residential institutions. Shortly thereafter, the Division reached agreement with the Commonwealth that Puerto Rico would develop and implement a series of measures to drastically transform the nature of its service-delivery system for persons with developmental disabilities. In recent years, the Division has been actively monitoring the Commonwealth's compliance with three CRIPA/ADA consent decrees, as well as several other court orders, all executed to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

It is Virginia's legal obligation to deliver the services Mr. Latson needs. This can be accomplished in two phases, first a transitional phase that undoes the damage to his mental health done by placing him in solitary confinement for a year and incarcerating him in the first place. Second, by completing a transition to a community based program when Mr. Latson has shown progress and providing the personnel support and other services needed for Mr. Latson to safely navigate his community.  Fulfilling  Olmstead obligations requires that Mr. Latson's entire case be reviewed by the DOJ to insure that justice was done to begin with. It is quite clear from Stafford County prosecutor Olsen's own statements that what was done to Mr. Latson was done because for attorney's own personal derogatory views of Mr. Latson.  Again quoting Ms. Marcus' article:
 "This scuffle warrants, at most, internal prison discipline, not additional prosecution by Stafford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen (R), who describes Latson as a cop-hating, racist thug pretending to be “mentally retarded” rather than a young man with a disability in need of treatment."
She goes on to state that Mr. Latson should plead guilty because the prosecutor is biased.  I thought that cases of prosecutorial bias should be investigated by the proper authorities. Plea agreements are the foundation of  injustice towards Black males in this country. Unable to afford good legal assistance, and pressured to do so, many innocent Black males are incarcerated by exactly this scenario. Prosecution is trying to make an example of them, so they are told to plead guilty to something that they are not guilty of and this fills the prisons while perpetuating the stereotype of the aggressive, criminalized Black male. Wow. I'm stunned by this. The road to hell for Mr. Latson is continually paved with the good intentions of people, inevitably white people, who find pleading guilty a simple act without weighing the consequences to a Black disabled man.

Ms. Marcus has written excellent pieces on this case. This one, except for what I have noted, is also an excellent piece. But the issues I disagree with I disagree with vehemently. We are not talking about words on paper or in a classroom. We are talking about a young man's life. Let's get it right this time.


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