Federal officials are highlighting the responsibilities of everyone from police to courts and attorneys in ensuring that people with developmental disabilities are treated fairly.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities during interactions with the criminal justice system, according to new guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Pursuant to the ADA, state and local government criminal justice entities — including police, courts, prosecutors, public defense attorneys, jails, juvenile justice and corrections agencies — must ensure that people with mental health disabilities or (intellectual and developmental disabilities) are treated equally in the criminal justice system and afford them equal opportunity to benefit from safe, inclusive communities,” the federal agency said.

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With the guidance, the Justice Department is outlining those ADA obligations and encouraging law enforcement and other relevant entities to review their policies and procedures.

Specifically, the criminal justice system must take steps to make sure that communication with individuals who have developmental disabilities is as effective as with those who are typically developing, the guidance indicates. This could include allowing the use of assistive technology or merely employing more simplified language and patience.

What’s more, “reasonable modifications” to regular procedures might be necessary to prevent discrimination. For example, if a person does not pose a significant safety threat, it may be prudent to allow “time and space to calm the situation,” the Justice Department said.

The federal agency indicated that training law enforcement on recognizing and interacting with individuals who have developmental disabilities as well as collaborations with disability service providers can also help ensure compliance with the ADA.

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