Mr Latson resided in jail for a few months and was then transferred into a residential treatment program in Grafton. Ms Carpenter went on to further explain in her letter that Mr Latson did well there and that in 2013 he was then moved into a group home. However during phone call with his mother, he became agitated and stormed out of the home.The police were therefore informed. According to Ms Carpenter, Mr Latson took the police officer’s gun to kill himself, however no one was harmed.
Due to this incident, Mr Latson once again found himself in jail where he was transferred to a sparsely equipped “crisis cell”, it was during this time that he allegedly punched a guard.
Mr Latson’s supporters are all unanimous in the fact that because Mr Latson has spent much of his life behind bars or in solitary confinement, that this has considerably worsened his condition.
The Arc of the United States, a mental health advocacy group have asked for the Governor of Virginia to intervene. CEO Peter V. Berns wrote to Latson’s attorney:
“Mr. Latson is caught in a recurring cycle of prosecution and punishment due to factors related to his disabilities. He is not a criminal,”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia executive director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, wrote in a letter to McAuliffe, stating:
“He is in prison because law enforcement, prosecutors, and correctional officers failed to understand or accommodate his disabilities, a problem that more and more people with autism and other developmental disabilities are experiencing when they interact with the criminal justice system,”
Data collected by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, has found that 90 percent of inmates who are in Virginia receive mental health screenings. Less than half of those who who test positive for a mental illness receive follow up care.
A jail diversion program, within the state has been launched in nine localities, however, the Think Progress website states that, ‘Virginia Department of Corrections’ mentally ill population still eclipses that of the state hospitals by 300 percent.’
The bigger picture here though comes down to autism awareness and the fact that police offers and those working within the judicial system at grass roots level, need basic autism awareness training. They need to know what Autism Spectrum Disorder is, how this affects the individual and how it can affect them in a confined and stressful situation. Without this basic training, nothing will change and more individuals, like Mr Latson, will be misunderstood and treated unfairly and inhumanely.
We applaud, Portland Police in Oregon for adopting a new policy on encounters with mentally ill suspects which states,
“Non-engagement or disengagement are tactics that can be used if the member determines that contact or continued contact with the person will result in an undue safety risk to the person, the public and/or members.”
We hope that other law enforcement agencies will also consider this “no cost” immediate gain policy and beleive it should be extended to all individuals who may be acting “out of the ordinary.”
Sources: Larry O’dell on theNewser website: Mental health, civil rights advocates ask Va. governor to intervene in autistic inmate’s case