Pathways to Justice: Improving response to people with disabilities

People in a group training

The criminal justice system was not equipped to handle the case of Neli Latson, a young man with autism from Virginia. After being incarcerated for a year and a half as a result of behavior connected to his disability, Neli entered a guilty plea to assault charges in 2015. He spent much of his incarceration in solitary confinement.

To ensure our country’s justice system can better work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), SAFE is assisting with a one-day training for criminal justice and victim service providers, the upcoming Pathways to Justice. We are working collaboratively with The Arc of Texas’ Disability Response Team.

Led by by The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice & Disability, Pathways to Justice is a field-tested criminal justice and disability training program for law enforcement, legal professionals, and victim service professionals.

Click here to learn more and sign up.

Pathways to Justice

A comprehensive training program for law enforcement, attorneys, and victim service providers on intellectual, developmental, and other disabilities.

9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, July 7

Asian American Resource Center

Sign up

Through the training, victim service professionals will:

  • Increase general awareness about I/DD
  • Learn how to identify if someone has I/DD
  • Make identification as soon as possible upon initial interaction
  • Learn successful accommodations to use when interacting with and supporting crime victims with I/DD
  • Become familiar with current issues impacting crime victims with I/DD
  • Know the local and state resources available to victim service providers and the benefits of using a multi-disciplinary approach when creating solutions

During the July 7 Pathways to Justice training, SAFE will be co-presenting on victim services providers.

The need for training

Days into Neli’s six-month jail sentence, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe granted a conditional pardon. Neli was then transferred to a secure treatment center in Florida to complete his sentence.

Neli’s entry into the criminal justice system began while he was waiting on the lawn for the public library to open. He was a young Black man wearing a hoodie. When a number of police were called to investigate a suspicious person, Neli’s autism-related “flight or fight” reflex kicked in, according to supporters.

His situation worsened during subsequent mental health crises resulting from his confinement.

His is one of many stories that showcase the dysfunction of our national justice system for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).


The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice & Disability

The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

They encompass all ages and more than 100 different diagnoses, including autism, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and various other developmental disabilities.

Pathways to Justice is more than training, and is different from other training initiatives. It does not rely on training alone, but helps communities/states address key barriers to justice for people with I/DD and discuss practical solutions that work best for them.

SAFE’s connection with Pathways

SAFE’s Disability Services team has a long-standing relationship with The Arc’s national- and Texas-based agencies. We have partnered on numerous projects, including through American Justice Partnership grants that helped change the landscape for recognizing and responding to abuse of people with disabilities on the national level.

“For 20 years, Disability Services’ staff have provided hope to countless victims with disabilities, and given advocates the tools we need to feel empowered to make real change in our communities, in our states and at the national level.” – Leigh Ann Davis, Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives, The Arc

SAFE’s Disability Services program

Disability Services provides training and education to help increase awareness about and prevent sexual violence, domestic violence, and abuse.

The program offers technical assistance and consultation to individuals and organizations seeking guidance to reduce the risks of abuse against individuals with disabilities or to enhance accessibility to people with disabilities. Disability Services utilizes custom-designed presentations and trainings for disability service providers, domestic and sexual violence staff, and criminal justice personnel.

It is our hope that trainings like Pathways to Justice provide information to better prepare law enforcement, legal professionals, and victim service professionals to work with people with I/DD. We don’t want to see anyone struggle through the justice system like Neli.

Disability Response Team

The Disability Response Team (DRT) is composed of organizations that all agree our criminal justice system can do a better job serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The DRT sees firsthand the negative impacts someone with I/DD endures because our system does not know how to appropriately support them.

Our team is made of individuals with disabilities, disability advocacy organizations, law enforcement, attorneys, victim services organizations, and parents of individuals with I/DD. They have been instrumental in planning the Pathways to Justice training and represent a great model on how to mobilize a group of passionate people around a common mission.

The DRT includes: The Arc of Texas, The Arc of the United States, The Arc of the Capital Area, Austin Police Department, Texas Advocates, Disability Rights Texas, Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities, Austin Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities, and SAFE.


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