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Saturday, March 20, 2021

Autism in Court

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss interactions between justice system and autistic people.

Liz Evans Scolforo  at TheYork Dispatch:

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty thought of himself as a forward-thinking judge when, some time ago, a juvenile came before him in a Philadelphia courtroom.

"The juvenile was nonresponsive. I asked him to look me in the eye and he wouldn't," Dougherty told The York Dispatch. "I was finding his behaviors as being incorrigible and borderline delinquent."

It was Dougherty's job that day as a Philadelphia court judge to determine the disposition of the young man's case, he said, and thankfully the juvenile's mother was a strong advocate for her son.

She explained that her son wasn't being defiant — he had autism and couldn't respond in the way the judge expected him to, he recalled.

"I had viewed myself as a forward-thinking judge and was pretty much humiliated and embarrassed," the justice said.

Now, as a justice on Pennsylvania's highest court, Dougherty wants to see change throughout the commonwealth that allows courts to better understand and serve those on the autism spectrum, he said, whether they be defendants, victims, witnesses, jurors or other participants.

Along with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, he has embarked on an online virtual listening tour about criminal justice reform when dealing with those on the autism spectrum.