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Sep 26, 2011

A hospital, not a prison | OregonLive.com

by mckenna — last modified Sep 26, 2011 01:15 PM

By Guest Columnist Bob Joondeph, Executive Director of Disability Rights Oregon

Published: Sunday, September 25, 2011

The insanity defense has been part of Anglo-American law for centuries. An English legal treatise from 1581 noted that if "a madman or a natural fool, or a lunatic in the time of his lunacy [commits a crime] this is no felonious act for they cannot be said to have any understanding will." While the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness has changed tremendously over the years, our sense of justice has consistently recognized that punishing a person for actions she cannot control is wrong.

When a defendant is found "guilty except for insanity" in Oregon, she is usually committed to the state hospital for custody, care and treatment for a period of time that is necessary to control the person's symptoms and return her safely to society. The maximum period allowed for this commitment is the longest a defendant could have been put in prison if she had been convicted. The vast majority of successful insanity defenses are agreed to by the district attorney handling the case.

The state hospital hires psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and a variety of other professionals and skilled workers to restore the mental health of patients. The hospital has security staff to assure that treatment can be provided in a manner that is safe for patients, staff and the community. Patients are not in the state hospital to "do time." They are there to get well.

Recently, one patient ran away from a supervised walk on hospital grounds and jumped into a waiting car to make his getaway. He was captured 17 days later in Sandy, the same town where his 2009 auto wreck caused the tragic death of two people and resulted in his commitment for two counts of second-degree manslaughter.

Some have questioned whether patients at the state hospital should be allowed to walk outside the facility walls and whether they should be permitted to have uncensored communication with others. If the goal of the hospital is to return its patients to health, the answer is a resounding "yes!" This is, in fact, what the hospital is licensed and staffed to do and what it is asked to do by the criminal justice system.

Mental illness can be effectively treated and the majority of patients in the state hospital will recover and be reintegrated into society. Punishing them with long years of languishing behind high walls is bad for the patients, bad for the hospital environment and financially wasteful. It also violates patients' civil and legal rights to safe and effective treatment that is not unduly isolated from society, and it undermines hope for patients and staff alike.

We at DRO think the hospital has taken appropriate steps to review the individual security assessments of other patients to assure that they are up-to-date and accurate. The actions of one patient should not harm the treatment of others. A thorough investigation should be completed to determine if criminal prosecution is appropriate for those who planned and executed the escape.

Bob Joondeph is Executive Director of Disability Rights Oregon.

© 2011 OregonLive.com. All rights reserved.

May 14, 2010

Parents: DRO Wants Your Input on Summer Programs for Special Education Students

by mckenna — last modified May 14, 2010 04:15 PM
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Have you had a good or bad experience with a summer program serving your special education child?

A question that comes up at this time of year for many parents of special education students is: are there any good summer programs for my child?

We hear from parents who are able and willing to pay, but can't find a good summer program that meets their child's special needs.  We also hear from parents who are owed compensatory education and are looking for something positive for their child during the summer.  

Please add a comment to this blog post by clicking on the blue add comment button below and share the following information with us and other parents:

  1. The type of program
  2. Your child's age & disability
  3. Whether your child's experience was good or bad
  4. The name, location & cost of the program
  5. Dates & hours that the program runs
    (For example, is it 2 hours/day for 3 weeks in August or 5 days/week from 8a-2p all summer?)

How to add a comment

Please register on our website in order to add a comment to this blog post.  You will be asked to enter the following information in order to complete your registration:

  • Full Name
    Enter your full name.
  • User Name (Required)
    Enter a user name.  No spaces or special characters.  User names and passwords are case sensitive, so make sure the caps lock key isn't on.  This is the name you will use to log in on the DRO website.
  • E-mail (Required)
    Enter an e-mail address.  This is necessary in case your password is lost.  We respect your privacy, and will not give your address away to any third parties or expose it anywhere.
  • Captcha Word (Required)
    Enter the automatically-generated word.

A URL will be generated and e-mailed to you; follow the link to reach a page where you can change your password and complete the registration process. 

Then return to this blog post and click on the blue add comment button.

If you would prefer to submit your comments by e-mail we will add your comments anonymously.  Please click here and enter Summer Programs for Special Education Students in the subject line of the contact form.

If we receive a large response, we will look into developing the information into a resource that contains updated and relevant information about summer programs for special education students.   

We hope to hear from a lot of you!  Thanks for your help!

Jan 25, 2010

Important last-minute tips for voters with disabilities

by mckenna — last modified Jan 25, 2010 01:30 PM
Filed Under:

If you are among the thousands of Oregonians who cannot fill out a paper ballot independently, there are several options still available to you. Julie Anderson, who leads Disability Rights Oregon's Voting Access Project, explains.

Yard-signs.  Endless commercials.  Door-to-door-canvassers.  Yes, it is election time again in Oregon.  Tomorrow, January 26th, is election day to vote on Ballot Measures 66 and 67.  If you have not yet turned in your ballot do not mail it, because it will not arrive in time to be counted.  But it is NOT too late to vote.

If you are among the thousands of Oregonians who cannot fill out a paper ballot independently, there are several options available to you. 

Every county now provides your ballot in large print (18 point font), upon request.  Or, if you'd like to use your computer to fill out your ballot, you can get your ballot via e-mail or on a CD.  The ballots are compatible with accessibility equipment, like screen readers.  Of course, you will still need to print out your ballot and return it in the official secrecy and signature envelopes provided to you by the county. 

If you do not have a computer, you can go to your county elections office and use an accessible computer station to fill out your ballot.  These computers can enlarge the text, read the text (at different speeds and volumes) and have a variety of devices to use, including:

  • a custom keypad with large buttons
  • a set of switches
  • a large roller ball, and
  • a joystick.

The computers have a scanner so that after you print out your ballot you can verify that it is marked correctly before you turn it in.

Every county has elections staff that have received training in providing assistance to voters with disabilities.  It is best to go as early in the election cycle as possible because the last few days before an election are typically busy and there may be a longer wait.

Also, if you are someone who has difficulty understanding the ballot measures (who doesn't?), there is an Easy Voting Guide (EVG) that DRO helps create.  The EVG is non-partisan and simply puts the election information into more accessible language. The EVG is available in large print or audio (CD or mp3 on-line). You can get an EVG by checking out DRO's Voting Access page or by calling Julie Anderson at 1-800-880-1931.

Nov 06, 2009

A Boy & His (Trained) Dog

by mckenna — last modified Nov 06, 2009 04:15 PM

Disability Rights Oregon Staff Attorney Joel Greenberg explains why an 8-year old student with autism isn't allowed to bring his assistance dog to school, and how persistent advocacy convinced the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate.

After months of meetings and negotiation, followed by a complaint that eventually required an additional complaint and the intervention of our senior U.S. Senator, the Civil Rights Division of the federal Department of Justice has agreed to investigate a situation involving Jordan, my 8-year old client with autism.

Almost immediately, Madison allowed Jordan to safely and happily participate in many normal community activities that had been difficult or impossible for him on his own.  His mom is now able to bring him with her to stores, restaurants, and other public places that had been impossible before Madison.  Also, Madison’s friendliness fosters positive interactions with other children, something typically difficult for a child with autism.

My involvement began in April 2008, when Jordan’s school district refused to allow him to attend school with his trained autism assistance dog, Madison.  His parents had gone to the effort and expense of acquiring the specially trained dog from a unique program in Ohio that trains assistance dogs for children with autism, 4 Paws for Ability.  

Jordan and his mom traveled to Ohio and spent more than a week at the program to bond with Madison and learn how she could help the boy safely interact with others in public settings.  Madison is also specifically trained to perform tasks designed to quickly de-escalate Jordan’s particular autism-related behaviors, on command or when he becomes agitated.  When he becomes aggressive, Madison maintains a set distance on a tether by pulling him backwards.  To calm him, she lays down on him to apply comforting pressure, and then licks his face. 

Almost immediately, Madison allowed Jordan to safely and happily participate in many normal community activities that had been difficult or impossible for him on his own.  His mom is now able to bring him with her to stores, restaurants, and other public places that had been impossible before Madison.  Also, Madison’s friendliness fosters positive interactions with other children, something typically difficult for a child with autism. 

Although Madison clearly benefits both Jordan and the people around him, the school district refused to allow Jordan to bring Madison to school.  That decision also cut Madison out of Jordan’s life for about 6 hours every weekday, something that Madison’s trainers believe reduces her effectiveness in other settings.

The district refused to consider that Jordan has an independent right to attend school with the support he needs and prefers – the same right that a paraplegic has when choosing between using a walker or a wheelchair to navigate in a public place that is supported with public dollars.

The school justified its decision with a number of objections.  One was that under state law, only students who are blind or severely physically disabled are entitled to have assistance animals at school.  Another was that allowing Jordan to bring Madison to school with him would lead to an unending string of requests for other “therapy animals” from other students, and that the ensuing menagerie would cause allergic reactions and other potential harm that would prove disruptive and potentially lead to lawsuits.

Media reports of other instances in which similarly trained autism assistance dogs had been permitted to accompany students to school with minimal problems and excellent results failed to persuade school district administrators.  They also rejected a number of proposals by Jordan’s parents that included finding out if there were objections by other parents or children, implementing a “test” period to see if concerns were justified, kenneling Madison during some classes, and professionally grooming Madison once a week to minimize allergy problems.

The school district’s lawyer argued that the dispute was about special education and therefore could only be about whether my client was receiving adequate special education services.  

The district refused to consider that Jordan has an independent right to attend school with the support he needs and prefers – the same right that a paraplegic has when choosing between using a walker or a wheelchair to navigate in a public place that is supported with public dollars.  According to the district, Disability Rights Oregon needed to challenge the rather good special education services that Jordan receives and then, after presumably losing at a due process hearing, go to federal court.

The recent acceptance of our case for investigation by the U.S. DOJ Civil Rights Division is a stark rejection of that legal theory.  Perhaps more importantly, DOJ’s involvement in our case is likely to make the district rethink its position that the protections of special education laws automatically strip students of other rights that protect people with disabilities.  I am hopeful that Jordan will attend school with Madison by his side by the beginning of the next school year.