Prior to the 2016 election, Republicans and Democrats were coming to an unprecedented consensus on the need for criminal justice reform. Both sides of the isle recognized that modern criminal justice policies that had made the United States the world’s leader in incarceration were not working. Instead, the individuals caught up in the system were disproportionately people of color and many had severe mental illness or disabilities. How the new administration will approach the issue of criminal justice reform remains a question. However, if the consensus on major reforms remains bipartisan, legislation may have a veto-proof majority regardless of the new administration’s stance.
Individuals with autism who end up embroiled in the criminal justice system often find themselves not only brutalized by police because of law enforcement’s failure to recognize and understand autism, but also severely punished if they end up in prison. Some are even re-victimized because of mental health illnesses that result from traumatizing experiences associated with their incarceration. For many, particularly children, the penchant to place incarcerated individuals with autism in solitary confinement—either for their own safety or as punishment for perceived misbehavior—raises concerns under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution and may amount to a breach of the international prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.