Guilt by Innocence-Autism Awareness

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. The entire month of April is Autism  Awareness Month. As others shine a spotlight on autism awareness, acceptance and inclusion we want to shine a light on autism and the criminal justice system. 

People on the autism spectrum can easily get caught in the web of our current criminal justice system. Yet, they are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. 

Our son Drew would not be in prison today if: 

  • First responders had better training.
  • The prosecutor had properly considered the communication differences (though experts tried to help her understand). 
  • The judge understood how the communication skills of those on the autism spectrum can make them appear guilty when this is not the case.
  • We had a mental health court for people with developmental disabilities. 

Drew has suffered more than the average inmate. Incarceration for someone on the autism spectrum is akin to torture. Some of the reasons are: 

  • NOISE-ongoing slamming of huge metal doors, people yelling, whistles blowing, screeching intercoms.  
  • Bright, florescent lighting that is often on 24 hours a day. 
  • Lack of routine and predictability.  
  • Poor mental health and medical care.
  • Limited medications allowed for anxiety.
  • Fear.
  • Watching dead inmates being wheeled away, some from suicide. In one instance seeing a young man with autism hanging in his cell.  
  • Confusion – knowing he is innocent of a crime and struggling to make sense of why he is in prison. 

There are many changes that must be made for our criminal justice system to ensure justice. Sometimes it feels huge and overwhelming. People can feel small and helpless. But together we are anything but small and helpless. Together we can create positive changes. 

Many of you will be wearing blue and lighting up your homes or businesses for Autism Awareness Month. We hope you will consider asking Governor Ralph Northam to use his powerful position and expertise in autism to pardon Drew this month.   

We’ve written a short letter that you can cut, paste and email to Governor Northam. We’ve provided a link for his email address. 

Dear Governor Northam, 

We know that as a pediatric neurologist you are committed to improving the lives of people on the autism spectrum. Today I am asking that you please pardon Drew Harrison. 

Drew is a young man on the autism spectrum. He has suffered greatly in prison. He deserves his freedom and his reputation restored. Thousands of us have added our signatures. Your signature pardoning him will ensure true justice and send a message that autism must be properly considered and understood within our criminal justice system. 

Thank you, 

Your Name 

The email address for Governor Northam:  

Thank you all for your continued support, 

Judy and John Harrison 

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