ABA releases study on people with dementia in the criminal justice system

The American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging recently released research findings and recommendations on the treatment of people living with dementia in the criminal justice system in a live online program on June 15.

The roundtable discussion about key findings in the report and potential action steps included Richard J. Bonnie, director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at University of Virginia School of Law; Jennifer Bronson, Ph.D., senior director of Consulting and Research and director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors at the National Research Institute on Criminal Justice and Mental Health Research Center; Dr. Debra A. Pinals, clinical Professor of Psychiatry and director of the Program in Psychiatry, Law, and Ethics at the University of Michigan; and Serena Worthington, program officer at the RRF Foundation (formerly The Retirement Research Foundation).

The report is the result of a one-year project that was based on a national survey, as well as research and interviews with professionals in the criminal justice system, including members of law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, evaluators, correctional health and correctional staff.

The project made possible by funding from the RRF Foundation and was conducted in collaboration with the University of Virginia, the National Research Institute, University of Michigan, Penn Memory Center. and the Medical University of South Carolina.

The views expressed in the report are those of the commission only. They have not been approved by the ABA House of Delegates or ABA Board of Governors and do not represent the position of the ABA.

The report has findings based on the research and recommendations for improvements the experience of persons living with dementia in criminal legal system.

The key findings in the report are:

• Although systematic data are not available, the number of persons with dementia coming to the attention of law enforcement appears to be increasing and is likely to continue to increase over the next decade.

• Efficient methods of screening arrestees and people admitted to jails and prisons for dementia should be developed and implemented.

• People with dementia who have been found incompetent to stand trial should no longer be committed for restoration of capacity. If the person poses a danger to self or others, a civil pathway for protective custody should be invoked.

• Community-based approaches that divert people with dementia from prosecution need to be developed and implemented.

• The aging of the prison population is resulting in a growing number of people with dementia in correctional systems that are unable to care for them, and struggle to find placements for release. Care and placement options are urgently needed for these offenders.

The full report, “Persons Living with Dementia and the Criminal Legal System,” is available at www.Americanbar.org/aging.

The ABA Commission on Law and Aging leads the association in strengthening and securing the legal rights, dignity, autonomy, quality of life and quality of care of older adults. The commission accomplishes its work through research, policy development, advocacy, education, training and through assistance to lawyers.

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