The Arc of Texas Supports Enhancements in Identifying IDD in the Criminal Legal System

The Arc of Texas submitted testimony in support of CSHB 2831, a bill that resulted from The Arc of Texas’s efforts on the IDD Task Force, which was established in the 86th Texas Legislative Session. The committee substitute of this bill will do the following: create an Advisory Committee to provide recommendations for people with IDD confined in county jails; modify the jail intake screening form; provide jailers with training on interacting with people with IDD; and monitor and improve the jail intake process. The Arc of Texas Manager of Public Policy & Advocacy Alex Cogan provided oral comments to the House County Affairs Committee on April 15, 2021. Listen to her oral testimony or read the transcript below.


Alex Cogan: My name is Alex Cogan. I am Manager of Public Policy and Advocacy at The Arc of Texas, and we are in support of this bill. So, The Arc of Texas, for those who are unaware, we are a statewide advocacy organization that promotes, protects, and advocates for the human rights and self-determination of Texans with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD). I also had the pleasure of being appointed to the IDD Task Force in 2019 where I got to assist to assist in developing recommendations, as outlined by Representative White, for people with IDD detained in Texas county jails. Key components from that task force are represented in this bill. Even though he is not here, we still want to thank Representative White and his office for their leadership on the bill and being very receptive to stakeholder recommendations to strengthen it through the committee substitute.

So, firstly, we’re glad to see the permanent advisory committee in this bill. It brings together stakeholders to provide those recommendations. As you’ve already heard, people with IDD are overrepresented in our county jails. They represent 1.5% roughly, 1 to 3% of the general population, but 4 to 10% of our jail and prisons. This is for a whole host of reasons, some of which are their unique characteristics that make them susceptible to being taken advantage of and unintentionally giving misunderstood responses, which we know can lead to increased arrest and incarceration. And these compounding conditions make it quite a challenge for people with IDD to receive the appropriate supports and services while incarcerated. As you know, there is also unfortunately a severe lack of training for peace officers to recognize the characteristics of IDD and engage with this population in the most appropriate ways, and that leads to unnecessary escalated interactions, additional charges, and longer sentences. The training program provision in this bill, if developed with adequate stakeholder involvement, will take a step towards better supporting Texans with IDD in jails.

And finally, that jail intake form that we got to hear a little bit about: It’s going to assist jailers in not only detecting people with IDD much earlier on, but it’s going to ensure this population receives the most appropriate services in the least restrictive environment. As stated, there is a severe overrepresentation of people with IDD in our county jails, but we don’t know the exact number in Texas because the current intake screening form doesn’t adequately identify IDD. When this go unidentified, people with disabilities are more likely to languish in jail and quickly decompensate, and this decompensation can lead to state hospitalization, which we know we don’t have enough beds for already. And additionally, if IDD is not known to jails, then they are unable to receive the federally entitled services and accommodations through the Americans with Disabilities Act. The updated jail screening form will definitely assist in preventing undue harm to people with IDD.

I’ll close with we know the criminal legal system is vast and it’s quite complex, but this bill takes a solid step to ensure that people with IDD receive the same access to justice as those without.

So, thank you to Representative White, wherever he is, for working with stakeholders on the committee substitute. I’m more than happy to answer any questions about IDD or county jails.

Representative Stuckey: Thank you, Ms. Cogan. Representative Anderson?

Representative Anderson: Thank you Dr. Stuckey. Do they currently have a form that’s standard throughout the jails and prisons?

Alex: Yes. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards does have a form that all counties have to use. It’s about one page. But unfortunately, the questions that are supposed to pick up on IDD don’t adequately do that. They are very general, and don’t do a great job as they are right now in identifying it so it can go into the right hands.

Representative Anderson: Has the updated form been developed as of yet?

Alex: It has not been developed. The IDD Task Force did provide recommendations for how we would like to see that form adjusted. I believe Representative White and the Texas Commission on Jail—actually, I won’t say that, I’m not sure. But I know Representative White wants to see this form looked into a little bit more through the creation of the advisory committee and the experts and stakeholders on that committee to further develop those questions and then implement them.

Representative Anderson: Do you know, it may not be in your wheelhouse, but do you know what the timeframe is there?

Alex: Well, I wish. I don’t know what the timeframe is there, but there is already an outline for what those questions should be, so hopefully it won’t take quite as long with the creation of a new advisory committee, because there is some sort of foundation there.

Representative Anderson: So, if we talk to the jail standard folks, you say they are intermingling with y’all to try and develop that form?

Alex: Yes.

Representative Anderson: So, we might, do you think that we might be able to check with them and see what their projected date would be. … Oh, yes?

Alex: Yeah, we’re very lucky to have the executive director of TCJS here, so he probably could give a better answer than me.

Representative Anderson: Yep. You bet. Thank you.

Alex: Thank you so much.