New research finds that people with disabilities—including emotional, physical, cognitive, or sensory disabilities—were nearly 44 percent more likely to be arrested by age 28, while those without disabilities had a lower probability of arrest, at 30 percent.
“For people with disabilities, particularly men of color, the experience of arrest is extraordinarily common.”
This “disability penalty” was strongest for African-American men. Black men with disabilities in the study faced a particularly high risk of arrest: 55 percent had been arrested by age 28. In contrast, 27.5 percent of whites in the study who had no disability had been arrested by that age.
“I expected to find that people with disabilities would be more likely to be arrested, but I was frankly shocked by how large the disparity was,” says author Erin McCauley, a doctoral candidate in the field of policy analysis and management at Cornell University.
“These findings really point to a problem,” she says. “For people with disabilities, particularly men of color, the experience of arrest is extraordinarily common. They are constantly exposed to this risk.”
The types of disability were evenly distributed across all races, so the difference in the probabilities of arrest between whites and blacks is likely due to racial discrimination, McCauley says. The findings also have public health implications, she says.
For example, police training should put stronger emphasis on deescalation, minimizing the use of force, and the role of implicit bias in police interactions, she says.
In the paper, she writes: “Police officers should understand how disabilities may affect compliance and other behaviors, and likewise how implicit bias and structural racism may affect reactions and actions of officers and the systems they work within in ways that create inequities.”
Ensuring high-quality care could decrease how frequently and closely people with disabilities come into contact with the criminal justice system, she says.
“For many with disabilities, quality health care is imperative for positive functioning within the community through increasing access to medication and support services,” she writes.
McCauley reports her findings in the American Journal of Public Health.
Source: Cornell University