New data indicates that the number of Pennsylvania youths with autism who are getting caught up in the juvenile justice system increased dramatically from 2005 to 2011, prompting researchers to call for a deeper dive into the numbers and better strategies to guide law enforcement and other agencies encountering those with autism, says The Reporter in Lansdale, Pa. The 2014 Pennsylvania Autism Census Update said the rate of juvenile justice system contact among individuals with autism grew from 659 per 10,000 people in 2005 to 1,423.4 per 10,000 people in 2011.
The most common criminal charges in such cases involved property offenses and incidents of physical contact. “Individuals with autism who have contact or multiple contacts with the justice system are (an) at-risk group both because contact with the justice system can be traumatic and misunderstood, and because the short- and long-term costs to the system for crisis events are generally disproportionate when compared to the cost of the services that might prevent such events,” the report concludes. Jason Schellack of the Autism Advocacy and Law Center said that, “When a student with a disability displays behavioral problems, such as aggression or making threats, school staff too often rely on law enforcement for help.”