Life Without the Possibility Of Parole and Disability

 

Using discretion when sentencing vulnerable populations can be more just, and lead to less harsh, lifelong sentences being meted out. However, in the U.S., there is a very high number of Life Without the Possibility of Parole inmates, and many of them are disabled.

Background

In July of 2003, Evan Miller (age 14) and Colby Smith (age 16) murdered Cole Cannon (age 52) at his residence in an Alabama trailer park. Evan was Cole’s neighbor. The crime started when the two boys stole baseball cards from Cole on the afternoon of July 15th, and continued through the night until 6 am, as the boys made trips from Evan’s trailer back to Cole’s trailer to rob and beat him. The two boys beat Cole with their fists and a baseball bat, and stole money from him, then set fire to the trailer with Cole inside. He died from blunt force trauma, rib fractures and smoke inhalation.

Cole_Cannon

Cole Cannon.

 

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Colby Smith and Evan Miller.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colby Smith pleaded guilty to Felony Murder and received a sentence of Life With Parole. 14 year old Evan Miller was initially charged as a juvenile but his case was moved to adult court, where he was tried as an adult and sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole for Capital Murder and Arson.

Growing up, Evan was in and out of foster care. His mother was a drug user and an alcoholic who worked 16 hour days and consequently neglected him. His stepfather was violently abusive, and Evan tried to kill himself several times, starting when he was around 5 years old. He was diagnosed with conduct disorder, anti-social personality disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and other disabilities. He also had issues with substance abuse.

After the trial, Miller “filed a post trial motion for a new trial, arguing that sentencing a 14-year-old to life without the possibility of parole constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eight Amendment.” 

The case went to the Supreme Court under the name Miller v. Alabama. In 2012, the court decided that “The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment ‘guarantees individuals the right to not be subjected to excessive sanctions.’ Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 560. That right ‘flows from the basic precept of justice that punishment for crime should be graduated and proportioned’ to both the offender and the offense.”

Juveniles, Disability, and Abuse

The judge who initially sentenced Evan Miller was unable to use discretion, and instead had to apply a mandatory minimum sentence, which was Life Without the Possibility of Parole. Miller v. Alabama states that a judge has to be able to use discretion when sentencing juveniles, and that mandatory Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional. Juvenile cases are different from that of adults. Reasons are (from the Supreme Court decision):

  • Juveniles have diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform
  • Juveniles have a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility
  • Juveniles are more vulnerable to negative influences and outside pressures
  • They have limited control over their environment
  • There is a lack of ability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings
  • There is a difference between adult and juvenile minds
  • Juveniles are less likely to develop entrenched patterns of behavior

As a result of the Supreme Court decision, Evan Miller will be resentenced. Since his conviction, he has been doing well in prison and is learning welding. He has apologized to the victim’s family. He is now 28 years old.

evan-miller-prisonreformcomjpg-80892f67bb42b1b4

A more recent photo of Evan.

Evan Miller’s environment and experiences growing up clearly fit the concept of a child having “an inability to extricate themselves from horrific, crime-producing settings”. It is not surprising that someone from his background would have serious trouble with the law.

Neglect and abuse can cause disabilities in children, and in Evan’s case, this is what happened. The treatment he received from the adults in his life caused severe psychiatric disability, and taught him to be violent. High numbers of juveniles sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole had a similar life trajectory. From The Sentencing Project regarding juveniles given this sentence:

  • 79% witnessed violence in their homes regularly
  • 32% grew up in public housing
  • 40% had been enrolled in special education classes
  • Fewer than half were attending school at the time of their offense
  • 47% were physically abused
  • 80% of girls reported histories of physical abuse and 77% of girls reported histories of sexual abuse

The United States is the only country in the world which sentences minors to die in prison, some as young as 13 or 14 years old, using LWOP. Things are changing very slowly with Miller v. Alabama, and 12 states have outlawed LWOP sentences for juveniles. But thousands have already been sentenced, and face uncertain resentencing. In Missouri, those sentenced to LWOP as juveniles have routinely been denied parole, despite the passage of Miller v. Alabama. A lawsuit has been filed.

Many of these juveniles have disabilities. Abuse, neglect and poverty cause disability. Disabled children are more likely to be abused. There are many reasons that incarceration and LWOP are disability issues.

Having a cognitive disability can cause someone to give a false confession or otherwise become entangled in the criminal justice system due to bias and a lack of understanding about their disability. According to the ARC (Association for Retarded Citizens): While those with intellectual disability comprise 2% to 3% of the general population, they represent 4% to 10% of the prison population, with an even greater number of those in juvenile facilities and in jails (Petersilia, 2000).

Rising LWOP Sentences

The numbers of LWOP sentences have risen exponentially since the 1980s while crime has dropped. Thousands of those with LWOP sentences were convicted of non-violent crimes. According to Forbes: Violent crime has been steadily dropping since its peak in 1991, while the murder rate is now approximately half as high as in 1991. Nevertheless, the number of people serving life sentences and life without parole in particular, has continued to rise.

Many of those with LWOP sentences, which has replaced the death penalty, are disabled. From the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

  • An estimated 32% of prisoners and 40% of jail inmates reported having at least one disability.
  • Prisoners were nearly 3 times more likely and jail inmates were more than 4 times more likely than the general population to report having at least one disability.
  • About 2 in 10 prisoners and 3 in 10 jail inmates reported having a cognitive disability, the most common reported disability in each population .
  • Female prisoners were more likely than male prisoners to report having a cognitive disability, but were equally likely to report having each of the other five disabilities.
  • Non-Hispanic white prisoners (37%) and prisoners of two or more races (42%) were more likely than non-Hispanic black prisoners (26%) to report having at least one disability.
  • More than half of prisoners (54%) and jail inmates (53%) with a disability reported a co-occurring chronic condition.

While it does make sense for someone like Evan Miller, who committed a violent crime, to spend time behind bars, it also makes sense that the courts view juveniles differently from adults and do not apply one-size-fits-all mandatory sentencing. Looking at reasons that a disabled person, in particular, an intellectually or cognitively disabled person, might become involved in a crime should also be applied during sentencing.

It is important for everyone involved in law and criminal justice to have disability studies based training, and to learn to view disability as not being a defect, or part of the normal vs. abnormal binary, but as being an aspect of biodiversity that is complex, and to disregard old fashioned ideas and biases. It is my suspicion that one reason that so many disabled people are in prison for life is because there is little discretion applied to their case, and often they do not have the right access in order to participate in their own trial. Disabled people can have trouble understanding their arrest, and if there is an interrogation, that can also be an issue with access. I think that many disabled people are also taken advantage of and targeted by criminals who use them.

The problem of why disability is so highly represented among LWOP inmates should be of concern. There are many complex reasons that disability is over represented in the criminal justice system, but infusing criminal justice with a disability studies perspective could potentially lead to less disabled people being given LWOP sentences.

 

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I am now writing for the Coalition for Responsible Home Education

I am very pleased to have been offered the chance to write for the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, which runs the website Homeschooling’s Invisible Children.  Here is a link to my article, which I also just posted on this blog, as well:

https://www.responsiblehomeschooling.org/victimization-of-autistic-children-the-savannah-leckie-case/

My homeschool articles are going to be appearing on the CRHE website from now on and this site will continue to have a disability rights focus but with topics other than homeschool.

Victimization of Autistic Children: The Savannah Leckie Case

Autistic people are more likely to be victims of violent crime. The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) states in its online literature that  “…the safety of autistic people is a critical concern for autistic self-advocates, federal and state government agencies, parents, and other stakeholders.” When researching autism and crime, often what comes up in a search for information are articles, much of them biased, on whether autistic people are “more violent” than the general population. The reality is, autistic people are more likely to be victims of hate crimes and other crimes than the able-bodied population. Stereotypes about disability and crime have persisted for centuries, and the topic was a favored one in the eugenics era, when disabled people were said to be morally depraved and genetically defective. Disability and criminal, violent, and otherwise degenerate behavior were said to be comorbid during the eugenics era, and these biased notions about disability are still extremely pervasive today, even though eugenics was discredited as a junk science which fueled the Holocaust. It is important when thinking about disability to remember that all disabled people are victimized at higher rates than able-bodied people, regardless of what their specific disability is. The question should not be: are disabled people or autistic people violent, the question should be why are these groups victimized at such extremely high rates, and what can we do about it?

Disabled people are also more likely to be victimized by a family member, and teenagers age 12-15 are most likely to be victimized. Disabled homeschool victims Hana Alemu and Erica Parsons were both around 13 when they were murdered. From ASAN:

‘People with disabilities were more than three times as likely to be victims of a serious crime (such as rape, robbery, aggravated assault) than people without disabilities. Among people with disabilities, people with cognitive disabilities had the highest rates of serious crime victimization. Because the BJS [Bureau of Justice Statistics] defines “cognitive disability” as “serious difficulty in concentrating, remembering, or making decisions because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition,” this category includes many autistic people. Autistic people may also be represented in the categories of people with a “self-care limitation” or “independent living limitation,” as defined by the BJS. Because BJS disaggregated its data in ways that may have put autistic people in multiple categories, it is difficult to determine the rate of victimization of autistic people as a whole.’

Savannah Leckie

In August 2016, when Savannah Leckie was 15, she moved from Minnesota to Missouri to live with her biological mother. Some reports indicate that when Savannah’s adoptive mother, Tamile Leckie-Montague, got a new boyfriend, that caused her to send Savannah away. However, Leckie-Montague disputes this, and says that the family was having so much trouble caring for Savannah that they needed help. Savannah was autistic and had depression and ADHD. It is not uncommon in cases like this that a disabled child is passed from one relative to another. Savannah was sent to live with her biological mother, Rebecca Ruud, who had a farm in rural Missouri, and lived there with her boyfriend, Robert Eugene Peat, Jr., a firefighter.

Rebecca  attempted to put Savannah to work on her farm, but became frustrated when she felt that Savannah had difficulties acclimating and carrying out tasks. Rebecca also homeschooled Savannah. There are no reports that Rebecca was working to accommodate Savannah’s disabilities or provide disability focused education and supports.

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The rural farm in Missouri. [image of dirt road, gate and fields with trees.]

Rebecca was severally abusive to Savannah. From the Daily Mail:

‘In the lead up to Savannah’s death, authorities say Ruud had allegedly taken to extreme forms of punishment to discipline her daughter. The criminal complaint reveals Ruud forced the teen to roll around in a hog pen on at least one occasion and wade into a muddy pond and dunk under. She also allegedly used a water hose on her daughter. Ruud also told police that Savannah had once deliberately cut her own arm ‘in a suicidal gesture’, according to the complaint. To punish her, Ruud poured alcohol and salt on the wound twice a day and rubbed it in until the scabs came off. She had also smashed Savannah’s cell phone and banned her from using Facebook as a form of punishment, according to the complaint. Ruud also admitted to making her teen daughter remove her pants so she could spank her bare bottom.’

Rebecca also made Savannah live in a 30-foot cramped trailer on the property that was run down and had no electricity or air-conditioning. She repeatedly contacted Tamile Leckie-Montague to tell her that Savannah was a “drain” and costing her too much money.

At some point, the abuse accelerated to homicide, although authorities are unsure of what exactly happened, but it appears that the child died on or around July 18th, 2017. On July 20th, 2017, Rebecca Ruud called police to notify them that Savannah was missing, stating that she thought the girl might have run away. Police were suspicious that Savannah had not run away due to all of her belongings, including her toothbrush, piggy bank and messenger bag, still being at the Ruud farm. Rebecca Ruud started a campaign to “help find Savannah”, both online and in her community.

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[Image of “Missing” poster with photos of Savannah and identifying details.]

Two days prior to reporting Savannah missing, Ruud had called local firefighters to help her extinguish what she said was a large brush fire on the farm. When firefighters asked about Savannah, whom Ruud said had been injured in the fire, Ruud was evasive, and said the teen was “taking a shower” and did not want to be disturbed. Firefighters observed that Ruud was also injured with a burn mark and treated her for it. Rebecca said it was a result of battling the brush fire, but would tell people different versions of how she got the injury.

Shortly after the report that Savannah was missing, a large search of the 80-acre farm commenced. Authorities noticed that Rebecca was acting strangely the entire time, which heightened their suspicion that Savannah had not run away.

The search revealed the charred remains of a body in a burn pit, a fire which was deliberately set and fueled with an accelerant. The canine unit discovered the pit, which was concealed by brush. Forensics revealed that the body was Savannah Leckie.

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[image of Rebecca Ruud mugshot, close-up of Savannah Leckie’s face, Savannah and Rebecca posing together.]

Forensics also revealed that large quantities of lye, likely from Ruud’s home-made soap business, had been poured on the body, and that the body had been burned several times. Rebecca responded to the situation by hurriedly marrying her live-in boyfriend, Robert Eugene Peat, since they believed a married couple could not testify against each other. Rebecca was later arrested, attempting to flee the area on a Greyhound bus, carrying large luggage bags.

An informant, according to court documents, told authorities that Rebecca had admitted to her how Savannah died. She drugged the girl and put her body in a fire. When Savannah started to wake up, Ruud hit her with a rake. However, it is unconfirmed whether this story is true. A search warrant revealed several long-handed garden tools on the property, including rakes. Reports also indicate that Rebecca Ruud had prescription hydrocodone on the property.

Rebecca was charged with first degree murder, second degree murder, abuse or neglect of a child resulting in death, tampering with physical evidence in a case, and abandoning a corpse without notifying authorities. She awaits sentencing. Robert Peat was also arrested, but later released.

Patterns

Rebecca Ruud tried to force Savannah into a particular way of behaving, and did not accommodate or respect her neurodiversity. When Savannah did not act the way Rebecca wanted or expected, Rebecca became violent. Savannah responded to being effectively abandoned by her adopted family and abused by her mother by attempting suicide. Instead of being caring and understanding towards this understandable response to her circumstances, Rebecca added to and exacerbated Savannah’s emotional and physical wounds.

Able-bodied people far too often erroneously view non-neurotypical people as being defective, burdensome and irritating. They try to force them to be “normal” or to behave in specific ways. Instead of forcing a disabled person into an environment and set of expectations, one should instead work with them to celebrate who they are and accommodate their disabilities. The answer to having a disabled child is not to send them off by themselves to be homeschooled on a farm in the middle of nowhere with someone they do not know very well. As we frequently see in child torture, abuse, and homicide cases, the child victim was placed in an “informal family arrangement” (Knox, 2014). This is often because the disability is too overwhelming.

Autistic children are murdered by their parents and caretakers at astonishingly high rates. The disability community remembers these victims every year with Disability Day of Mourning, which specifically focuses on disabled people who were murdered by a parent or caretaker. I attend a vigil for Disability Day of Mourning every year, and the list of names of victims that we are given is very, very long. Many of these victims were autistic.

Another aspect of this case is the fact that anyone thought it was a good idea for a child who evidently needed support doing daily tasks, as Savannah needed, to be homeschooled by someone like Rebecca, who has no qualifications in the field of special education, disability studies, or anything else. Autistic children can thrive and excel if they are in situations where their abilities are supported, and they are not pigeon-holed into behaving the way an adult would like or prefer. The issue is that it can be difficult to find these kinds of supports, and public schools frequently pass the buck when it comes to disability. However this does not excuse how Savannah was treated by any of the adults in her life. Far too often parents who murder disabled children are sympathized with and looked at forgivingly by the public since the child was such a “burden”. Many times, these murderers are given light sentences. I have a feeling that this will not be the case in the Leckie situation and hope that justice is appropriately served.

The Leckie case has the hallmarks of many homeschool homicide cases: isolation, deprivation, adoption, informal family arrangements, disability, and abuse by the mother. This is a tragic and extreme case, but there are patterns and recognizable, recurring issues when looking at it through the lens of disability studies. It is by using this lens that we can better understand the high rates of murder and abuse suffered by autistic and otherwise disabled people.

 

 

Report Indicates a Third of Children Removed From School to Be Homeschooled were Involved in Prior DCF Abuse/Neglect Cases

Child torture cases have distinct characteristics such as starvation, isolation, and homeschool used to cover the abuse. Another pattern of homeschool child torture cases has been revealed this year by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate. Based on a study of six school districts, 36% of parents who pulled their child from public school in order to homeschool them did so after a Department of Child and Family Services (DCF) investigation revealed that they were abusing the child(ren). Instead of stopping or slowing down the abuse, the parent(s) instead figured out a way to continue the abuse, and to even escalate the abuse to torture or homicide without being found out: homeschool. When parents with a prior abuse history pull their children out of school to “homeschool” them, this needs to be understood as an escalation and cover up of their criminal activity.

In April 2018, the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) released a report titled Examining Connecticut’s Safety Net for Children Withdrawn from School for the Purpose of Homeschooling—Supplemental Investigation To OCA’s December 12 2017 Report Regarding the Death of Matthew Tirado.

Matthew Tirado was an autistic, intellectually disabled 17-year old-teenager who was withdrawn from school by his mother, Katiria Tirado, so that her abuse and neglect of him would be hidden. Katiria started a homeschool for Matthew and his sister, whom she also withdrew from school to abuse. Katiria’s abuse of Matthew escalated to torture, and lead to his death on February 14th, 2017. Connecticut, like many U.S. states, has no regulations around homeschool, which made it very easy for Katiria to legally start one.

Under the guise of being “homeschooled”, Matthew was starved, denied water, and physically tortured up to his death. The 5’8 teenager was emaciated and weighed only 84 pounds when law enforcement discovered him after his mother called 911 to report that he was vomiting and unwell. Matthew died at the hospital shortly after being transported there by emergency services.

From the Child Fatality Investigative Report:

The Office of the Chief State’s Medical Examiner found that Matthew had “numerous injuries in various stages of healing,” including multiple “broken ribs, a laceration to the head, several bruises and contusions on his upper body, a pattern type injury to the upper back and bed sore type injuries to the buttocks.” The Medical Examiner’s office reported that the injuries “appeared to be the result of long term abuse and neglect.” Pictures obtained from Ms. Tirado’s cell phone confirmed that she had locked and shuttered her refrigerator and kitchen cabinets, restricting Matthew’s access to food. Text messages obtained by police investigators allegedly reflected Ms. Tirado’s knowledge that her son was starving and the criminal warrant alleged that Ms. Tirado “intentionally prevented [Matthew’s] access to food,” with Ms. Tirado reporting to a relative that Matthew was forced to seek food “from the garbage and [he] would drink cooking oil, ketchup, and syrup if these items were accessible.”

As we have seen in previous cases mentioned in this blog, child torture victims commonly experience food and water deprivation, are more likely to be abused by their mothers, are disabled, and suffer prolonged physical abuse.

Katiria Tirado was charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree and Intentional Cruelty to Persons. She plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 17 years in prison, to be suspended after serving 11 years, and 5 years probation. She was also charged with educational neglect. 

Katiria-Tirado-and-Matthew-Tirado

At left, Katiria Tirado, mugshot. At Right, image of Matthew Tirado.

Like homicide victim Erica Parsons, family, friends and community members rarely, if ever, saw Matthew. He was kept hidden away because Katiria knew that it was obvious Matthew was starving and abused. The Department of Child and Family Services (DCF), had been in contact with Katiria regarding Matthew and his sister multiple times leading up to his death, starting back in 2005. DCF closed the case a month before Matthew’s death, a serious error on their part.

It turns out that many families studied by the Office of the Child Advocate had been in similar situations:

Based on the data requested from the six school districts, OCA learned that over a span of three academic years, 2013 through 2016, there were 380 students withdrawn from the six (6) districts to be homeschooled, and that 138 of these children (36 percent) lived in families that were the subject of at least one prior accepted report to DCF for suspected abuse or neglect. The majority of these families had a history of multiple prior reports to DCF of suspected child abuse or neglect. OCA also learned that none of the six districts had protocols to conduct follow up with the withdrawn student or his/her family, such as an assessment of academic progress or a portfolio review of work, as suggested by the State Department of Education in previously-issued agency guidance.

Like many states, Connecticut does not regulate homeschools. Since there are no regulations, there is no plan for the Department of Child and Family Services to follow when a family with an open case or prior cases starts a homeschool. The fact that so many families who pull their children from school have prior cases with a child abuse investigating agency indicates that regulations around homeschool are necessary. From the report:

Data Regarding Family Child Welfare Involvement for Children Withdrawn
from School to Be Homeschooled in the Six School Districts Reviewed By
OCA. N= 139.

– 17 children lived in families with 1 prior accepted report to DCF and where
there was no substantiation for abuse/neglect.
-90 children lived in families that were the subject of multiple prior accepted
reports to DCF.
-Range of accepted reports to DCF was 2 – 30.
-43 children lived in families that were the subject of 4 or more prior accepted reports to DCF.
-Most families (more than 75%) in the cohort OCA examined were the
subject of accepted reports dated 2013 to the present.

When a child who has been involved in a CPS, DCF, or other child welfare reporting system has been pulled from school in order to be “homeschooled”, this needs to raise alarm bells. A victimizer of children is not going to stop the behavior because they were the subject of a report by DCF. A victimizer wants to continue the abuse and torture in peace, without being disturbed or found out.

Reports indicate that reasons parents give for homeschooling include disability. From the U.S. Department of Education Statistics About Non-Public Education in the United States: ‘ [In 2011],17% of parents said that the child having special needs was the reason, and 15% said the child having a “physical or mental health problem” caused them to homeschool.’ I have shown in this blog repeatedly that higher numbers of disabled children are homeschooled now, and that disabled children are at higher risk for abuse.

Once in a homeschool, there is no requirement for a child like Matthew Tirado to recieve disability accommodations, therapies, special education, or support in any way for their disabilities. The chances that someone will find out about the abuse drop significantly, as the child is further isolated from every aspect of society. The Connecticut DCF, which obviously messed this case up very badly, prompting the OCA report in the first place, has no protocol to follow around homeschool. No one does, because there is no regulation of homeschool in Connecticut, just as there is little to no regulation around homeschool in many U.S. states.

When a family with prior DCF reports pulls a child from school in order to homeschool them, there needs to be a policy and a regulated course of action for the child welfare agency, and other entities, to take. Stricter regulations around starting a homeschool in the first place would act as a deterrent. Criminals who victimize children will find the loopholes that exist and exploit them. We need to work on closing those loopholes, holding people accountable, and understanding that criminals use homeschool to cover the most heinous of child abuse crimes.

katiria in court

Katiria Tirado in court.

 

 

 

 

Why Doesn’t Disability Rights Law Apply To Homeschooled Children?

American Disability Rights law was written to include all disabled Americans. The Americans with Disabilities Act (commonly known as the ADA), ratified in 1990, states that:

The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual (A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment. 

If someone meets these definitions of “disabled”, that means that they are covered by disability rights law. The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) (1975, 1990) stipulates that all disabled children who are part of a school district have the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).   From the U.S. Department of Education: 

“An appropriate education may comprise education in regular classes, education in regular classes with the use of related aids and services, or special education and related services in separate classrooms for all or portions of the school day. Special education may include specially designed instruction in classrooms, at home, or in private or public institutions, and may be accompanied by related services such as speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy, psychological counseling, and medical diagnostic services necessary to the child’s education.”

A Free Appropriate Education involves many accommodations and services disabled children have a right to, including an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). 

An IEP is a plan developed by teachers, staff and parents that outlines the child’s disability or disabilities and what kind of accommodations are necessary for them to achieve. It outlines a plan for everyone involved in the child’s education to agree on and follow.

Another aspect of the IDEA is the right of a disabled child to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment. This means that disabled children have the right to be educated in the same classroom with non-disabled children, and that they should not be segregated from other children. Disabled children commonly used to be kept isolated and segregated in institutions. Now, we mainstream disabled children, ideally, as much as possible, and have accommodations and services in place in the school, such as teacher’s aids, speech pathologists, therapists, and so on. One of the problems with isolating and segregating marginalized people is that it leads to abuse and suffering, and the horrific conditions of these institutions spurred laws like the IDEA into existence.

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Image of Willowbrook State School, a former institution for the disabled, notorious for abuse. 

Along with the Least Restrictive Environment, the IDEA also requires that a child receive an Appropriate Evaluation. This section stipulates that there be an evaluation process that meets certain requirements and standards.

The IDEA has many sections that are comprehensive and important when it comes to the rights and education of disabled children. Other disability laws passed in the U.S., largely since the 1970s, outline specific rights for disabled children in public and even private schools. However, when it comes to homeschool, many states allow the parent or guardian to choose whether or not they would like their disabled child to have any of these rights and safeguards. Yes, that is correct- it becomes the choice of the parents whether to allow their child to have disability accommodations, therapies, or special education. If the parent wants, their homeschooled child will never have any accommodations like hearing aids, a wheelchair, speech pathology, a psychologist, and so on.

Non-disabled and disabled pupils (in this case a boy suffering from Down's syndrome) learn together in the same class.

Today, law mandates that disabled children be mainstreamed in schools. [image of child with hearing aids and down syndrome working on a school lesson with seemingly able bodied student]

I have maintained in this blog, as readers know, that not providing disabled children with disability accommodations and therapies should not be a choice, and it is abuse. Organizations like the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HLDA) have consistently pushed, since the 1980s, to remove as many regulations around homeschool as possible. The HLDA has also lobbied against the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), a comprehensive United Nations law on disability rights. If this convention were ratified in the U.S., there would be even more legal protections for disabled children, something which could affect homeschools. Ratification would mean that children in homeschools would have more rights around disability. The Republican homeschool lobby also effectively blocked the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), another convention that would give children more rights,  and one of the world’s most widely-ratified U.N. conventions. The Homeschool lobby is an arm of the well-funded Republican Christian Right, which seeks to have total control over children in homeschools. Every time there is a homeschool torture case, protests occur from this faction, decrying any regulation around homeschooling at all.

My question is, why do disabled children in homeschools not have the same rights as disabled children in public schools? Since when are civil rights a choice? Allowing the dominant class, in this case, adult parents, to have that kind of power over marginalized people defeats the entire purpose of civil and human rights. No one should have the power to choose whether a marginalized person has access to rights, and what we have increasingly seen in this country is how parents use this loophole to deprive, isolate and torture children under the cover of a homeschool.

Not giving disabled children access to disability accommodations and therapies leaves them vulnerable to victimization, not only as children in their own homes, but as they grow up and join their communities. Disability accommodations provide independence. Even if a parent is not directly abusing their child, it is negligent to not provide disability accommodations, and can cause the child pain and suffering, and set them back substantially in the course of their development.

Now, this dearth of disability rights protection is creating a new institution: the home. Like the institution or state school of old, a homeschool is an area where disabled children are frequently abused, murdered, isolated, neglected, and deprived.

Some might say that the horrific homeschool child abuse and homicide cases that seem to be a part of the news every month are anomalies. The reality is, disabled children are vulnerable to victimization more so than their able-bodied counterparts, and experience crime at higher rates. Disabled children should never have to exist in a crossroads of no disability rights, no oversight, and no regulation- that is what happened in institutions and the results were horrific. The civil and human rights of marginalized people are routinely violated, and that is why oversight, regulation and enforcement is necessary to protect vulnerable citizens. Victimizers of children look for and use loopholes like this one to exploit, abuse, torture and murder children. Because homeschool provides such a good cover, the worst child abuse torture and homicide cases are often found within a homeschool.

There is an intersection with disability rights being upheld and regulations in homeschools. When this area is better regulated and disability rights are ensured to all children, I expect that the astonishingly high rates of disability abuse and homicide will start to go down. The home cannot replace the institution as the new disability asylum, and civil rights should be ensured for all Americans, as the laws are written.

Erica_Parsons

Homeschooled, disabled homicide victim Erica Parsons

 

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Homeschooled torture and homicide victims, the Hart children; Devonte, far left, was disabled. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Disabled homeschool homicide victim, Hana Alemu 

No Homeschool Oversight in California: Another Child Torture Case Is Discovered

This May, another homeschool torture case came to the attention of authorities, and has been covered by news outlets all over the country. This time, the alleged abuse took place in Fairfield, California, and occurred at the hands of parents Jonathan Allen, 29, and Ina Rogers, 31, who lived on the 2200 block of Fieldstone Court with their ten children, who range in age from six months to twelve years old.

Ina-Rogers-Jonathan-Allen

Ina Rogers and Jonathan Allen, who has face and neck tattoos, and the squalid conditions of their home. On the left is the bathroom, with feces all over the floor. On the right is a bedroom full of disarray and junk.

Police came to the home after responding to a call from Ina Rogers about the twelve-year-old, who had run away. When police arrived at the home on Fieldstone Court, they saw squalid conditions throughout the house, and witnessed the other nine children huddled together in fear in the living room. Police were able to locate the missing child, (he was sleeping under a neighbor’s bushes), but were alarmed at the filthy environment the children were living in, and the way the children were acting. Human and animal feces littered the house, an image of which appears in the above photo, along with garbage and disarray. Police indicated that the children were scared, and spoke with speech impediments, a sign of neglect.

As a result of the horrific environment discovered in the house, Solano County Child Welfare Services took the ten children into custody, and the parents were arrested. During the investigation, the children revealed to law enforcement that they had been subject to years of torture. The children were also homeschooled, but it does not seem as if they really were ever educated.

Prosecutors involved in the case allege that the children were shot with a BB gun, and waterboarded, among other things. From Time magazine:

“On a continuous basis the children were getting punched, strangled, bitten, shot with weapons such as crossbows and bb guns, hit with weapons such as sticks and bats, subjected to ‘waterboarding’ and having scalding water poured on them,” Solano County Deputy District Attorney Veronica Juarez wrote in the bail request.

Ina Rogers was charged with nine counts of felony child abuse and one count of child neglect pertaining to all ten children. Jonathan Allen was charged with nine counts of felony child abuse and seven counts of felony torture, which was later amended to twenty felony counts including four felonies for a lewd and lascivious act on a child under 14. It is not unusual to see child sexual abuse in such severe cases. Both Ina and Jonathan deny the charges and insist that they are good parents. Their friends even started a GoFundMe internet fundraising page to raise money for a lawyer to defend the couple, stating that they were unfairly targeted (the page has since been taken down). The children’s grandmother, however, has spoken out against the parents, saying that Jonathan was unrelentingly abusive and a Satanist. In the past, she reported the parents to child welfare services, although nothing came of it. Photographs of Jonathan’s “meditation room” reveal what appears to possibly be a Satanic altar. Police said that the children were abused for “sadistic reasons”, but did not elaborate. As we often see in these cases, ideology and religion can be a component of the abuse.

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Jonathan Allen’s meditation room altar with book “Awakening Lucifer”, Egyptian statue, purple velvet cloth, and knife.

The children were removed from the house on May 31st, 2018. Jonathan faces 5.2 million dollars bail, and Ina $495,000.

Ina told reporters that she homeschooled her children, but the home in Fairfield had never been registered with the state as a homeschool. Previous California residences where the family lived were also not registered as homeschools. Even if they had registered the school, it would not have been subject to oversight by the state of California, which has extremely lax homeschool regulations, and there would be no state assessments which could have lead to the abuse being discovered.

The Turpin Family

These lax regulations are evident with another recent California homeschool-torture case, one which I have touched briefly upon in previous blogs- the thirteen Turpin children, who were found shackled to furniture in their Perris, California home on January 14th, 2018, by authorities, after a seventeen-year-old member of the family escaped and alerted police. The father of the family, David Turpin, had registered the family’s various homes a few different times as homeschools with the state of California. However, no one had ever checked in on the children to make sure that they were actually being educated, because California, like many U.S. states, does not require it.

The Turpin children endured years of torture and starvation, which caused them to have stunted growth due to malnourishment. Authorities reported that the younger children were unaware of what police were, and had never heard of medication. The children were not taken to doctors or dentists, and did not have much experience outside of the home, having been subject to severe isolation. Neighbors said the children were pale, skittish, and rarely seen outdoors. They were so malnourished that police initially thought the seventeen-year-old child was ten, and other adult children also appeared to be much younger than they were. The children of David and Louise Turpin ranged in age from two to twenty-nine, with seven of them being over the age of eighteen. Police did not realize this at first, due to the stunted growth of the adult children, which made them appear to be minors. This type of undernourishment can lead to many different health problems and disabilities.

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Image of David and Louise Turpin renewing their vows in Vegas with their children, who are dressed in matching outfits, faces blurred out. Bottom of image: at left David Turpin mugshot, right Louise Turpin mugshot.

The Turpin family were religious Pentecostals and Quiverfull, adhering to the large-family, no birth control, strict gender binary, traditional gender role lifestyle and ideology which I have written about in this blog before. A part of this ideology involves homeschooling, and often it means eschewing modern medicine. Not everyone involved in this movement is abusive.

David and Louise Turpin were charged with twelve counts of torture, twelve counts of false imprisonment, seven counts of abuse on a dependent adult, and nine counts of child abuse. Independently of each other, David was charged with committing a lewd act on a child under 14 years old, and Louise was charged with felony assault. A judge approved a restraining order, prohibiting the parents from making contact with their children, in person or electronically. In May of this year, David was charged with perjury for lying to the California Department of Education about the children being homeschooled, as they clearly had not been educated.

Although David told the state that the children were in a full-time homeschool, incredibly lax regulations and zero oversight allowed he and Louise to severally torture and deprive their children for many years. The state does not require that homeschooled children see medical professionals to be checked for things like hearing loss and general health, nor does the state require that children ever be checked on by a mandatory reporter. There are no processes in place in California to assess educational progress made by homeschooled children, there are no tests children are required to pass.

Unlike Jonathan Allen and Ina Rogers, David and Louise Turpin told the state that they were educating their children, but in each situation, no one checked on the children, registered or not. It did not make any difference that the Turpins were registered and the Allen-Rogers home was unregistered; the same things occurred in each home: isolation, starvation, severe neglect and physical abuse, filthy environments, sexual abuse, and oppressive religious ideology.

The Role of Disability Rights 

Both of these examples highlight how disabilities can develop when children are severally neglected and not educated. It is unclear if any of the younger children or the adult children in either case were disabled prior to the abuse, but disabilities have either already occurred, or will likely occur, in each family as a result of the abuse. Neglect and abuse can lead to learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, speech and language delay, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many other disabilities. Neglect and abuse in childhood can cause emotional problems, physical problems, substance abuse, eating disorders, psychiatric disabilities, and leave a person vulnerable to future victimization.  

In previous blogs, readers learned about abuse of children who already had disabilities. In this post, we have read how abuse that is covered up in a homeschool can also cause disabilities. This is another example of how regulations around homeschool is a disability issue. As the children in these cases developed these disabilities from the mistreatment and environment, the disabilities were not addressed with education or accommodations, either, leading to a further level of suffering and vulnerability.

If children do not learn to communicate and have delayed speech and language, and are not taught any alternative forms of communication such as through technology or using sign language, it leaves those children limited in their ability to communicate the abuse that is happening to anyone outside the home. It causes them to be even more dependent and reliant on the abuser. It is the same thing with being in a situation that causes developmental or intellectual delays from neglect and abuse, or psychiatric and emotional disabilities. The parents are using the disabilities to further isolate, deprive, and victimize the children.

As Rachel Coleman and Katheryn Brightbill wrote in this recent L.A. Times article, The Turpin child abuse story fits a widespread and disturbing homeschooling pattern:

“The solution is relatively easy: Force contact with mandatory reporters. States could require annual assessments by a certified teacher and annual doctor’s visits, creating at least two opportunities for a trained professional to recognize abuse.
Abuse in homeschool settings is all too common, even if it doesn’t always make international headlines. For families like the Turpins, mandatory reporter contact could mean the difference between death and rescue.”

Coleman is the director of the Coalition for Responsible Home Education.   Brightbill is the Coalition’s legislative policy analyst. The CRHE also runs the site Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. 

A component of requiring children see a doctor would be the discovery and accommodation of disabilities. Law and policy need to go even further to ensure that American Disability Rights law covers children in homeschools. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is meant to cover anyone in the country who has a disability. This means that if someone is disabled, they have a right to disability accommodations and access, and they have civil rights around discrimination and mistreatment. Being in a homeschool does not, and should not, mean that a person is exempt from these rights. However, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association and their supporters have routinely blocked legislation that would regulate homeschools and protect disabled children, including the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities  (CRPD). 

The CRPD has been ratified in over 180 countries, meaning that this international convention has become part of that country’s domestic law. It is the most comprehensive and inclusive disability law ever written. The U.S., due to the conservative homeschool lobby, has routinely blocked this legislation, although Presidents George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama were in favor of it.

Clearly, a lack of homeschool regulations in the U.S. is causing serious problems, and many states have almost no regulations at all. Unchecked homeschools can be a cover for the most serious and heinous of crimes against children, and also cause disabled children to not have disability access, accommodations or therapies, which is another form of neglect and abuse. Often these two issues are concurrent-: torture and neglect intersect with disability in myriad ways.

It is interesting to note this juxtaposition between human rights, civil rights, and homeschool. We need to extend human rights and civil rights into homeschools and enforce mandatory reporting to try and eliminate child torture cases altogether, and to ensure that every child has disability rights protection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do Homeschools Defraud the Government? Profiting Off the Adoption of Marginalized Children

In all of the homeschool homicide/abuse cases I have written about, a major factor was defrauding the government. Erica Parson’s adoptive parents were convicted on federal fraud charges for stealing substantial amounts of state and federal money meant for the little girl, and continuing to do so for years after they killed her, also claiming her on their taxes. In the case of Hana Alemu and her surviving adopted brother Immanuel, I am unsure if there were subsidies granted to the family or not, since it was an international adoption. However there are possible ways to receive subsidies for children like Hana due to her status as special needs. Recent developments in the case of the Hart family, written about in my last blog, indicate that parents Sarah and Jennifer received $2,000 a month from the state of Texas to help support their 5 adopted children.

At least one of the Hart children, Devonte, was disabled.

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Sarah and Jennifer Hart with four of their adopted children

Special Needs Children: A Category of Adoption

Adopting what are considered by the state to be “special needs” children, means more money for parents, and this is a good thing, as the money is helpful. However, it can be taken advantage of. Children of color fall under the special needs category when it comes to adoption, although this terminology is outdated when applied to disability, and I do not refer to disabled people as having “special needs”. In this context however, it is not only referring to disability, but to children who are from difficult backgrounds and/or are minorities.

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Disabled Ethiopian Adoptee, Hana Alemu Williams

From a research brief from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation: Children Adopted from Foster Care: Adoption Agreements, Adoption Subsidies, and Other Post-Adoption Supports:

“The percentage [of parents] receiving a subsidy is higher among non-Hispanic African American children than among non-Hispanic white children (85 percent compared with 69 percent). This is likely due to states definitions of special-needs adoption that frequently encompass children of color, as well as older children, sibling groups, and children with medical conditions or disabilities, as being harder to place for adoption (NACAC, 2008).”

Children adopted from foster care receive funding that can last until the child is 21.

“Subsidy payments are intended to assist parents in meeting the special needs of their adopted children and to encourage the adoption of children who would otherwise be difficult to place in adoptive homes.  States define criteria relating to special needs, but in addition to special health care needs typically include children from racial or ethnic minority groups, older children (with the definition of older varying by state) and sibling groups adopted together.”
“For the vast majority of children adopted from foster care who receive a subsidy (88 percent), their parents felt it was very likely or likely that they would have adopted without the subsidy. However, for a minority (12 percent), the parents reported it was not likely or very unlikely they would have adopted in the absence of the subsidy.”

The above statistic states that 12 percent of parents would not likely have adopted a marginalized child, but did so potentially because there was more money involved. This mentality proves to me that yet again, marginalized identities are often looked down on as burdens or being too much work, and not like other children. This is the mentality that can be prevalent in cases of abuse.  The intersection of adoption, homeschool, and disability needs to be understood as an area where children are susceptible not only to abuse, but to torture and homicide. 

It is a good thing that there are higher subsidies in place for children who have been abused and/or who are marginalized identities, because often those children need more services and support. However, this also creates an incentive for predatory types to exploit such children for money. Some families have been known to only adopt disabled children, for various reasons. Sometimes it is for money, sometimes it is to gain accolades and respect from their communities.

Adopting children can also give one a giant tax credit. From the Huffington Post article Adopting a Child Can Bring You Countless Rewards — and Tax Benefits:

“While the adoption credit is no longer refundable, you may still be eligible for a credit of up to $12,970 if you’ve adopted or are planning to adopt a child this year. Yes, you read correctly, an income tax credit of over twelve thousand dollars related to adoption costs — in addition to other benefits. Also, if there is one other true statement about adoption, it is typically a very expensive undertaking. So tax credits, potentially a big one, is often very well received and deserved. The adoption tax credit is available for adopted children who are under 18 years old and who are not the step-child of you or your spouse. The credit also applies to a child any age if they are physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves.”

Adoption is very expensive, yes, or it certainly can be, as raising children in general is. But in situations of abuse, this money is not going towards the children, it is providing and income for the parents. Erica Parson’s parents did not accommodate her disabilities, did not send her to school, and starved her. Hana’s parents did the same. These abused children are not seeing the benefits of the money.

Vulnerability of Adopted, Disabled Children

There is a clear intersection between adoption and disability. Adopted children, whether from foster care, directly adopted from the mother, or internationally adopted, often have experienced trauma and/or come from difficult backgrounds. Some of them, like Devonte Hart, were born addicted to drugs. Some, like Hana Alemu, have trauma related disabilities like PTSD. Others, like Erica Parsons, have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and hearing loss. Many of the situations these children came from were abusive and traumatic. If a child put up for adoption was not born disabled, there is still a possibility that a disability can occur later in life as a result of the trauma of losing their birth family or being abused while in care.

As we have seen in the Knox child torture report, which I have cited a few times in this blog, victims of torture are frequently not biological children. The Knox study proves that children who have been adopted or placed in “informal arrangements” are susceptible to torture, which is a severe, prolonged condition of abuse, and all of the adopted children I write about have gone through it. Erica Parsons did not go through the foster care system, but was adopted in a family arrangement. Erica’s adoptive parents received state money for her. A child does not have to come from the foster care system to be eligible for these benefits.

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Homicide victim Erica Parsons

As above statistics indicate, disabled and marginalized children are not the first pick of many people, but the higher subsidies they come with can be an incentive, and these subsidies can be available for different types of adoptions.

Studies show that there are many disabled children in foster care, and that these children are more likely to be abused.

From the National Council on Disability’s Youth with Disabilities in the Foster Care System: Barriers to Success and Proposed Policy Solutions:

“At any given point in time in the United States, approximately 500,000 youth are in the foster care system, although nearly 800,000 youth are served by this system per year. Separately, almost 13 percent of all youth ages 6 through 14 have at least one documented disability. Recent reports estimate that youth with disabilities are between 1.5 and 3.5 times more likely to have experienced abuse or neglect than youth without disabilities. Although determining the cause of a disability for an abused young person is often difficult, research has assessed that disabilities are often caused and/or exacerbated by abuse. At the same time, data suggests that youth born with disabilities are more often abused, and also more often relinquished to the child welfare system (either by choice or force).”

In cases of severe abuse and torture, children are often “homeschooled” and kept away from school and anyone else, such as a doctor or disability accommodations specialist, who might recognize and report signs of abuse. When abuse and starvation, which is also common among tortured children, become very severe, which can happen after it has gone on for many years, parents are more likely to pull the child out of school, and the situation can escalate to homicide.

Rising numbers of homeschooled, disabled children

From my law paper Homeschool, Disability and Homicide: The Relation Between Disability Accommodations and Abuse:

‘The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2003, 1,096,000 children were homeschooled in the United States. This is an increase from 1999 numbers. The top reason given by parents in 2003 for homeschooling their children, ages 5-17, or K-12 equivalent, was “Concern about environment of other schools”, with 31% of respondents citing this reason. The second highest reason, at 30%, was a desire to “provide religious or moral instruction”. “Child has a physical or mental health problem” came in at 7%, along with “Child has other special needs”, also at 7%. [1] The US Department of Education estimated in 2011 that 1,770,000 children in the US were homeschooled. Reasons parents have given in 2011 for homeschooling include, at the top of the list, “A desire to provide religious instruction”, with 64% of respondents stating so. 17% of parents said that the child having special needs was the reason, and 15% said the child having a “physical or mental health problem” caused them to homeschool. [2] As the numbers show, parents have increasingly cited disability and/or health of the child as a reason for homeschooling since 2003.’

It is certainly possible and not at all uncommon that a homeschool is a better option for a disabled child, and there are many homeschooled children who thrive. But that is not what this blog is about, this blog is about people who exploit the system. Statistics and evidence show that disabled children in general are more likely to be abused and murdered; there are high numbers of disabled children in foster care; disabled children are becoming homeschooled at higher rates every year; child torture is often covered by homeschool, and that tortured children are often not biological. 

Homeschool can be an excellent way for an abuser to cover their actions against children. Once abuse becomes very severe, it is likely that the abuser(s) will pull the child(ren) out of school. This is why homeschool needs to be looked at with extra scrutiny instead of being almost completely unregulated. It is also important to understand that adopted, disabled children are likely to end up in situations of homeschool torture, abuse, and homicide. If we as a society would like to reduce the numbers of murdered, abused children, and in particular the high numbers of victimized disabled and Deaf children, this is an area we need to examine and to regulate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey of the 2003 National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES).
[2] “Statistics About Non-Public Education in the United States.” US Department of Education. Office of Non-Public Education, 2012.