Nonverbal man with severe autism put in jail as last resort
PASCO, Wash. – A man in Franklin county went to jail in late January, even when prosecutors don’t want him in there.
The man in jail is 18-years-old and is non-verbal with low-functioning autism.
Because of the 18-year-olds violent outbursts his family, law enforcement leaders, and advocates are baffled on what to do.
They have claimed that there isn’t any other place to put the 18-year-old who we are going to call Joseph (to protect the identity of siblings.)
In the state of Washington disabilities advocates are saying that the state is facing a housing crisis—there is a shortage of residential providers for individuals with disabilities.
Josephs mother who we are calling Liz, says she’s at the end of her rope.
Liz has said that Joseph’s episodes are becoming very violent and he is a danger to himself and those around him.
Joseph’s mother has said that a normal day consists of her calling the Pasco Police for help multiple times.
“Basically there’s nothing else,” she says. “There’s no place he can go.”
Liz said that Child Protective Services (CPS) has visited her house and gave her a final proposal, keep Joseph away from his siblings, “Otherwise we’re going to come and pick them up.”
On Jan. 24, Joseph, had asked if he could go to the hospital before one of his violent outbursts.
Liz agreed to take Joseph to the hospital because he would be more safe there versus being around the children.
Liz says she spoke with the nurses before leaving.
“They agreed, they put him in the hospital and gave him some medication,” she says, adding he was there for two and a half days before he hurt somebody and was sent to jail.
Now she says,“he’s in a place he shouldn’t be, and they’re out of options.”
“He remains in jail because we don’t have an appropriate place to put him,” says Franklin County deputy prosecuting attorney Daniel Stovern. “Somewhere he would be safe and where the community would be safe.”
Stovern says that jail isn’t an appropriate place for the 18 year old, however, his mother is out of options.
“If an appropriate place became available we would release him immediately,” he says.
Donna Tracy, Manager of Advocacy at The Arc of Tri-Cities, says Elisabeth has been asking for help for years.
“We’re seeing lots of families facing crisis. They need placement for their children or they’re in current placement and they’re being told to come pick their child up,” she says.
Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) is the Washington state agency existing solely to help families and individuals with developmental disabilities; The DDA is responsible for helping provide supports to help an individual throughout their lives.
- job coaching and training,
- in-home care support and help -based on the level of need
- provide residential options if they no longer live with their family even though 80% of people with developmental disabilities live at home with families
- Washington State Constitution gives individuals with developmental disabilities the right to live in an institution if needed.
Elisabeth says it’s just not happening.
Tracy says community-based residential services for individuals with developmental disabilities are witnessing crisis level shortages due to lack of funding from the state.
Tracey says that the minimum wage is rising each year, however, the state reimbursement to community providers isn’t keeping up.
Because of this financial shortage residential providers who are experts in their area are only being paid slightly above minimum wage which means they’re taking their skills elsewhere.
Joseph’s mother Liz told Action News that she has done everything to keep her son home as long as possible, because he is her son and “that’s what you do.”
“He’s really sweet, he’s a sweet person,” Elisabeth says, smiling. “He tells you he loves you and he’s really caring.”
“The only place in town ended up being the Franklin County jail,” Tracy says. “Thank heavens they’re so accommodating, but this shouldn’t be our answer. This could be any one of our children.”
Liz says legislators and Gov. Inslee “need to make it a priority.”
A bill that has potential to fix the situation currently is in front of the ways-and-means committee.
This original article was written and published by Christopher Poulsen of KEPR ACTION NEWS