Are You Effectively Serving Clients with Criminal Justice Involvement: Overview of a Best Practice Program in New Jersey

Tuesday, July 24
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM
Location: Grand Ballroom BC

We know that approximately 3% of the U.S. population identifies as a person with an intellectual or developmental disability (I/DD). Yet at least 10% of the jail and prison population is a person with an I/DD. People with I/DD face unique disadvantages in the criminal justice system, which limits their access to equal justice under the law. Often unidentified by criminal justice professionals, people with I/DD are more likely not to understand Miranda warnings and thus may waive rights that protect them. They are more likely to respond affirmatively to questions posed and to confess to crimes they have not committed; they may not understand fully the intricacies of the criminal justice system and may plead guilty to or be convicted of original charges and face longer prison sentences. They are also unlikely to be identified in prison and have difficulty understanding prison rules and regulations, so spend more time in prison. Prison programs for high school and college education, as well as licensed trade options may not be accommodating to their needs and so they are unable to avail themselves of these opportunities. They may agree to collateral consequences such as sex offender registration without understanding the ramifications of these sentencing results.

These concerns have only become more important as we seek to improve the lives of people with I/DD with independent living. The way in which service providers and families support people with developmental disabilities is changing; Independent life in the least restrictive environment is the hope and goal for all people. As we move to accomplish this goal, it becomes incumbent upon service providers and family members to understand the criminal justice system and its ramifications and be prepared to advocate on behalf of their clients and family members.

The Criminal Justice Advocacy Program of The Arc of NJ was created in 1985 in response to the needs of people with developmental disabilities who become involved in the criminal justice system. As one of a handful of programs around the country and the only statewide program, CJAP has provided intervention, case management and education for people with developmental disabilities, law enforcement, lawyers, court staff, judges, families and support providers. This workshop will provide an overview of the Program, including a review of the Personalized Justice Plan tool implemented by program case coordinators; tips for effective communication with courts and counsel and recommendations for training for law enforcement that can help de-escalate difficult situations and improve community relations.

Jessica Oppenheim

Director, Criminal Justice Advocacy Program
The Arc of New Jersey

Jessica S. Oppenheim, Esq. is Director of the Criminal Justice Advocacy Program of The Arc of NJ. She was a Deputy Attorney General in the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, first in the Appellate Bureau and then the Prosecutors Supervision and Coordination Bureau, as Chief from 2000 to 2007. In 2007, she went to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, as Assistant Prosecutor in Charge of the Domestic Violence and Megan’s Law Units and retired in 2010, joining The Arc of NJ.

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