The Arc of Texas Comments on Negative Impact of Criminal Justice Bill Provisions

The Arc of Texas submitted written comment on House Bill 20 by Representative Andrew Murr, a bill that can negatively affect people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in the criminal justice system by removing the possibility for a personal recognizance (PR) bond should an assault on a peace officer take place. A culmination of advocates’ testimony and feedback resulted in changes being made to the language in a committee substitute. Though the bill is still not perfect, we are glad to see a harmful provision removed. The Arc of Texas Manager of Public Policy & Advocacy Alex Cogan submitted the following comments to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on April 6, 2021.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on HB20. My name is Alex Cogan, and I am Manager of Public Policy and Advocacy for The Arc of Texas, a statewide organization that promotes, protects, and advocates for the human rights and self-determination of Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). We are opposing HB20 today based on the disproportionate negative impact it will have on the lives of individuals with IDD.

Firstly, and most unfortunately, people with IDD are disproportionately represented in the criminal legal system. Despite being roughly 1.5% of the general population, conservative estimates show they make up 4% to 10% of our jail and prison populations. This is due to a host of challenges, including their unique characteristics that make them vulnerable to being taken advantage of and used by others to assist in law-breaking activities without understanding the crime or consequences. They may also unintentionally give misunderstood responses to law enforcement which leads to increased vulnerability for arrest and incarceration. Additionally, a severe lack of training by law enforcement to recognize the signs of IDD, as well as understand the most appropriate way to engage with a person with IDD, can lead to unnecessary escalated interactions.

People with IDD can become easily overwhelmed in unfamiliar situations, especially when engaging with unknown persons in positions of authority who are simultaneously giving orders that may be misunderstood. This triggering event can easily lead to a charge of assault on a peace officer and subsequent incarceration. HB20’s provision to remove the opportunity for an individual with IDD to obtain a PR bond can lead to even more devastating consequences.

The Texas criminal legal system in its current state does not adequately identify intellectual and developmental disabilities, therefore it is unknown how many people with IDDs are currently incarcerated in Texas. When IDDs go unidentified, people are less likely to receive federally entitled services and accommodations through the Americans with Disabilities Act. This often leads to exacerbated mental health crises, solitary confinement, sexual abuse, bullying, and more. These vulnerabilities coupled with the removal of a PR bond equates to this population languishing in jail and quickly decompensating, resulting in even greater harm to the individual.

We hope these concerns and the harm that will result from HB20 are fully considered when voting and that you too will oppose HB20.