America's Jails and Prisons Have Become Cruel, Expensive Institutions for the Mentally and Physically Disabled

Inmates in prisons and jails are three to four times more likely than average to report having a disability, new report finds.



People with mental and physical disabilities are dramatically overrepresented in U.S. jails and prisons, according to a report released Monday by the Center for American Progress.

According to the report, "Disabled Behind Bars," 31 percent of those in prisons and nearly 40 percent of those in jails report having at least one disability. Fully half of women in jails have at least one reported disability.

Compared to the general population, people behind bars in state and federal prisons and jails are three and four times as likely to have at least one disability, respectively. Down syndrome, autism, dementia, intellectual disabilities, and learning disorders are among the most commonly reported disabilities, according to the report.

Once behind bars, people with disabilities can find themselves placed in solitary for lack of appropriate accommodations, despite federal disability laws that mandate equal access to all services and activities for those in custody with disabilities. They're more likely to be abused by guards, have their treatment and medication regime disrupted, and have a harder time overcoming the considerable obstacles a criminal record puts on finding steady work and housing, the report says.

"Mass incarceration of people with disabilities is unjust, unethical, and cruel," the report states. "But it is also penny-wise and pound-foolish, as community-based treatment and prevention services cost far less than housing an individual behind bars." The report cites a 2014 study that found jailing a person with serious mental illness in Los Angeles County costs more than $48,500 per year. "By comparison," the report goes on, "the price tag for providing Assertive Community Treatment, or ACT, and supportive housing—one of the most intensive, comprehensive, and successful intervention models in use today—amounts to less than $20,500 annually."

At a White House briefing Monday on criminal justice reform and disability, the report's main author, the Center for American Progress' Rebecca Vallas, said the wave of de-institutionalization in the 1960s and 1970s—when the U.S. shuttered many of its mental institutions—was widely greeted as a positive development, but it was not accompanied by new investments in treatment, leaving police and jailers as the primary mental health service providers.

"We effectively traded one form of mass institutionalization for another," Vallas said.

Another panel member at the briefing, Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, noted the Cook County jail, L.A. County jail, and Rikers Island are the three largest mental health treatment providers in the country.

"The money never followed the people, and additionally, money was cut," Koutoujian said. "Surprise, jails and emergency rooms are now the de facto mental health treatment facilities."

The report says those with physical and mental disabilities face inadequate services at nearly every level of interaction with the criminal justice system, from policing to pre-trial booking to court to jail to reentry into society.

The report highlights cases like that of Christine Stein, a deaf North Dakota woman who was arrested after using a video relay to call 911 to report a suicidal man in her apartment. Unable to understand her, police arrested Stein on suspicion of harming the man. "According to a lawsuit against the Jamestown police department and courts, Stein was denied a sign language interpreter not only during police questioning and booking, but also when she was brought before a judge for court proceedings," the report states. "The charges were ultimately dropped after she was able to meet with an interpreter two days before she was scheduled to return to court."

People who are deaf are sometimes denied access to court interpreters or in other cases billed for them, Vallas said. According to the advocacy group HEARD (Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf), deaf people are often held in solitary as a "substitute for the provision of accommodations for and protection of deaf and disabled prisoners."

People with disabilities are more likely to be on the receiving end of police violence, as well. Nearly a quarter of those fatally shot by police in 2015 had some form of mental illness, according to The Washington Post's analysis of fatal police shootings.

In an interview last week, former New Orleans Police Department superintendent Ronal Serpas, who now heads the group Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, said he had watched this growing trend since he was a rookie officer in the '80s. "Our officers are so removed from fighting violent crime because they're just out there dealing with people who have mental health issues," Serpas said.

Serpas said his officers would complain about the endless cycle of locking up people with mental illness for a day or two at a time, letting them out, and then repeating the whole process a day or two later: "They would tell me, 'Chief, I'm giving this guy a life sentence two days at a time.'"

The Center for American Progress report recommends expanding police training for officers on dealing with people with disabilities, diverting those with disabilities to community-based services, improving court and jail compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and funding more robust reentry programs.

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  1. Likelihood this was an accident?


    1. It's hard to say. Two most common methods of non-food contaminants, in my experience, were the cooks' hands and anything stored above the line. Cooks' hands would be things like; nail polish, rings, the finger glove you might put over a blue bandaid. So there, no, probably not an accident.

      But if the plates were stacked above the cook's station? Glass plates, some with chips in the edges, they're supposed to clean that shelf regularly but at the end of the night everyone just wants to get out of there... the cook reaches up to get the last plate in a stack, slides it off the shelf....

      Oh, yeah. An accident is possible.

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  2. Down syndrome, autism, dementia, intellectual disabilities, and learning disorders are among the most commonly reported disabilities, according to the report.

    Well, do you want these people running around out in public? No, I didn't think so, Hitler.

    1. They seem to collect nicely right here at Hit & Run. Yours truly included.

      1. At least we rule the night.

        1. We don't rule the night. Nobody does.


          But I do want cake.

      2. Dibs on dementia. Crazy old people get to wear anything they like.

  3. So we basically just re-situated all of the crazy people from the insane asylums to the prisons. I really don't see a good solution to the mental illness problem (the mass incarceration problem is much more easily fixed). is there really any other option than forcibly institutionalizing at least some mentally ill people against their will? There is no way to choose or determine who those people are in any sort of ethical way. I really just think there will never be an acceptable solution for crazy people.

    1. I really just think there will never be an acceptable solution for crazy people.

      Free heroin.

    2. So we basically just re-situated all of the crazy people from the insane asylums to the prisons.

      Don't forget about underpasses!

      1. Unfortunately, there are assholes in the world who want to take even that away from them:


    3. Well in Libertopia we cure mental illness.

  4. We could elect them to office instead, put the politicians behind bars. An improvement for the disabled and the public.

    1. Careful - an unbalanced ex-military type could read your words and be incited to violence against their elected officials.

    2. We already give them blue uniforms and badges. You want the crazies to have even more power?

      1. Careful - some crazy could read your comment and take that as an excuse to diagnose their local deputy with 'mental illness' and take the necessary measures to protect themselves.

  5. OT and NSFW: These are the vetted moderates we have given massive amounts of weapons to and who we want rebuilding a new Syria, Al-Zinki. https://t.co/eAurv6rmFR

    1. "We are still thinking if we want to boil him."

      Go check the state of your rations, that will help you decide.

      *I am met with mostly disbelief when I tell people that cannibalism has become common there as a way of illustrating how savage the 'good terrorists' are.

    2. Al Zinki sounds like a Jewish Hollywood producer.

  6. It's a modern day Gulag. Law enforcement labels people as 'insane' and then finds excuses to charge them with crimes and implicate others. Popehat just did a good story on how this works. The FBI does the same.

    1. "The DA had a long talk with a supervisor, and a long talk with the roommate, and came back to me with a deal: drop the gun charge and accept deferred entry of judgment on the drug charge. If Client completed probation successfully, the case would be dismissed, with no conviction. Notwithstanding how much Client and I wanted to put roommate on the stand and eviscerate him, or force him to take the Fifth and tank the DA's case, it was impossible to turn down the deal ? the risks were too high. Client took the deal, completed probation successfully, and as far as I know has run into no problems since."

      I don't get this. The roommate had a prior history of framing others, was clearly framing the client, and this all could have easily been proven in court.

      Why take the deferred entry of judgment on the drug charge? I know client was looking at some hard time, but it seems like it would be an easy case to win.

      1. Because a sure thing is always better than an unsure thing when prison time is involved would be my first guess.

        1. I get what you're saying, and of course the DA is a piece of shit for not just dropping everything, but one of the commenters made a pretty good point:

          Seth says

          July 18, 2016 at 2:07 pm

          I would have been really tempted to make a counter-offer: drop all charges immediately and I won't make formal complaints against the DA for not providing me with exculpatory evidence, and BPU pays all my legal fees and expenses in return for me not suing them for giving me a roommate they should have known was likely to commit a crime against me, and not even telling me about the roommate's criminal record.

          1. And of course the answer to that is: Prosecutorial Immunity.

            1. He said file a complaint not criminal charges.

              1. Oh no! Not a complaint! That's even more powerful than a sternly worded letter!

    2. Neither this story, nor the Popehat or FBI stories, relates to the phenomenon you're talking about. This story is about people with actual mental health problems being persecuted, not Soviet-style "sluggish schizophrenia".

  7. The incidence of higher disability rates in the prison population seems like a side-issue to me.

    I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that even in the countries with the most egalitarian prison policy, that people that find their way into prison have higher rates of the very disabilities listed above.

    To me, it's a bit like suing Taser corporation when someone dies from a meathead cop who used the device 140 times on someone with a dodgy ticker for j-walking.

    We need to reduce our prison population, period, and start paring back all the laws that get you thrown into prison for non-violent, victimless crimes. I'm guessing that the 'disability problem' will begin to take care of itself.

  8. I'm not sold on the causality here. I think it's quite likely that either by being in prison or jail, or by being on the path to prison or jail might make one more likely to diagnosed/labeled as someone with a disability. I'm also guessing there's probably "third variable" factors here, with gender being the obvious one but the possibility of plenty others.

    1. Yes. Disability is at record high among working age adults. Higher still among the poorest.

      1. The ratchet only seems to go in one direction on what is considered a disability; and that direction isn't narrowing the definitions.

  9. according to a report released Monday by the Center for American Progress.

    Who cares about the source, as long as my convictions are supported!

    1. "You got your ad hominem in my confirmation bias!"

      "No, you got your confirmation bias in my ad hominem!"

      1. You're correct, it is definitely an ad-hominem to call into question the veracity of a source that has verifiably lied and twisted information innumerable times just because now I like what they have to say.

        Everything should immediately be taken at face value...when I like what it says.

  10. If a person had committed a crime against property or persons, I am not sure why it is a problem that they are in jail.

    It does suggest that there are some people who cannot beveffectively treated without some kind of institutionalization.

    Another example if good intentions gone awry.

  11. "According to the report, "Disabled Behind Bars," 31 percent of those in prisons and nearly 40 percent of those in jails report having at least one disability."

    Bull. Shit.

    I have had to work with prisoners and I can tell you the number is nowhere near that. Double those numbers and you will be in the ballpark with regards to mental disorders.

    1. Poor impulse control isn't necessarily a permanent mental disability.

      1. I am not talking about poor impulse control, but that is a symptom of a few personality disorders.

        I am talking about seriously unbalanced people. Delusions, MR, emotionally unstable etc.

        1. My FiL is in prison. He is a really nice guy who lies like he breathes. He may also be delusional. I can't tell. He experiences a different world than his daughter and I live in for sure.

  12. People with mental and physical disabilities are dramatically overrepresented in U.S. jails and prisons, according to a report released Monday by the Center for American Progress.

    I have a doubt.

    I don't want to demean or belittle a genuine problem, but I have zero expectation of truth from CAP.

    1. The CAP and other lefty organizations have been on this tear for over ten years to paint anyone with a disability caught up in the justice system as an institutional failure.

      As a libertarian, I want to eliminate laws that get people thrown into prison for victimless crimes. The left on the other hand, have had this nut to sort of gum up the justice system and often point to real, demonstrated criminals as "victims". Honestly, I'm not sure why.

      I remember back... what, in the late 90s there was this long-running theme on NPR about people who didn't get 'fair trials' because their IQ was lower than average. And they weren't talking about honest-to-god mentally retarded people, just people who were a bit slower. Hell, I remember one story where a public defender pointed to a much-reported study on NPR about the inherent poor decision-making skills of young people, therefore no one under the age of 25 should be convicted of anything ever.

      Again, we should definitely be watchful of officers haranguing "confessions" out of people who are mentally retarded or slow, but the far left keeps coming around to this notion that everyone in prison shouldn't be there because of Injustice(tm). I mean... someone is committing crimes in this country, are we really convicting the wrong people at a rate greater than random chance due to a vague spectrum of 'disabilities'?

      1. Thank you for having the courage to defend our heroic Boys in Blue from those fakers, liars & wreckers who claim themselves as disabled to acquire sympathy. This article spends all this time talking about half of this or that prison is filled with "disabled" and I was just waiting for a brave soul like you to point out the true victims of this story are the poor judges, prosecutors & police officers who have to deal with these LIES every day for 20 years until they can retire and double dip their pension.

  13. Yeah, um... learning disorders are not a disability.

    1. It depends. If dyslexia prevented you from learning to read in the first grade, and you quit school in the fifth out of frustration that you were expected to read, but couldn't, that's probably a disability. Its surmountable, but so is losing a limb.

      1. If that's a disability, anything is.

      2. "dyslexia" is not a real disorder. Of course, now they are pushing addiction as a learning disorder: They tell you a million times "don't do drugs", but you feel compelled to do them anyway, and after a while this creates a 'learning disorder' where they tell you to stop doing drugs, but you feel compelled to do them anyway.

        1. Be labelled as having a disability is another way of labeling someone "untermensch".

          The main problem is the growth in the number of bullshit victimless crimes. Unfortunately, being labeled as having a disability is the only way to avoid harsher sentences for committing such "crimes".

          1. The main problem is the growth in the number of law enforcement officers. They then must create new crimes, and unfortunately they need to disable people in order to make them susceptible to committing them.

        2. a close family member of mine is dyslexic. before we found out he was dyslexic, his public elementary school teachers told us the reason he couldnt read was because he was lazy. one of these teachers got into the habit of locking him in a closet during class to prevent his questions from slowing down the rest of the class. it took us a long time to find out this was going on. he thought that was just what teachers did & it was his fault. this was a long time ago. its funny how much guys like addictionmyth & playa sound like those teachers - they would go on & on about how it was my family members fault & how learning disabilities are excuses. sure enough when we transferred him to a school that took dyslexia seriously he was reading within a year & eventually gradhated from a normal highschool with honors. i get the overmedicalization complaints. myth of mental illness is possibly my favorite book on the topic. but my problem with overmedicalization is that it is used to imprison people - u label someone suicidal, and no trial, that person can be legally imprisoned for the rest of their life.

          1. dyslexia was not something that we invented or labeled my family member with. he does not see words the way I do and the process that he uses to spell & form sentences is completely different than mine. not being able to read is profoundly disabling. you will never have a normal job. yes, this is only a disability because of how much importance our society places on the written word & how incompetent & broken our education system is. but i could say the same if someone born without a leg is only disabled because of the importance our society places on independent movement & how broken our healthcare system is.
            I guess im having a hard time understanding the points behind your comments here. this is a complex issue that has had devastating impacts on many children & families & posting "learning disorders are not a disability" does nothing to contribute to tbat convo. again, it sounds like an accusation. like the *real* problem isnt dyslexia but those goddamn kids & doctors & families making up excuses to get a free handout, a free ride. its the sort of thing that contributes not just to a venomous public view of anyone with a handicap, but in this context to the notion that Ive spent a decade arguing against that libertarians are just selfish pricks. TL;DR the next time u have a snide comment to make on a topic u know nothing all about, consider keeping it to yourself before creating a lasting public record of your ignorance that serves only to make you look like a douchebag.

    2. Mild retardation, an IQ between 50 and 70, is.

      1. Yes. Completely different than "learning disabilities".

        1. LT. DAN?!?

  14. I would certainly agree that a significant number of people in prison have issues. And OF COURSE, we need to reduce the number of people in prison based on decriminalizing consensual behavior.

    However, this paper is so full of holes, it is embarrassing (but then it is from the Center for American Progress, so what would one expect.)

    "...fully 68 percent of local jail inmates, 20 percent of state prison inmates, and 14 percent of federal
    prison inmates fail to receive a medical exam while behind bars."

    Depending on how long one is in prison, this could be bad. But i would wonder how this fares against the general population. Local jail inmates could be there overnight. Or awaiting trial for a couple weeks. Why would they necessarily need medical exams. And how many of those state and federal prison inmates chose not to avail themselves of a medical exam?

    Regarding the hunger issues, she brings up a "widespread problem". And to prove this, she references one lawsuit and simply brings up an "investigation" encompassing all of 2 county jails.

    1. She then references a report by Human Rights Watch. (There is an unbiased source.) I don't doubt that there are prisons who have terrible situations for the mentally ill. But frankly, some indications of mental illness involve significant acts of violence. Is it any surprise that a large number of use-of-force incidents in prison deal with a small number of mentally ill prisoners? i don't think the guy who embezzled $500k from his hedge fund employer is going to be causing the same number of physical problems as the sociopathic gang member.

      In regards to disabilities, the statistics that the author quotes are self-reported. I can certainly imagine convicts applying for disabled status exactly to get better treatment.

      And men get raped in prison by other prisoners? Shocking! Let's put them all in separate cells, so they can't hurt each other. NO! That is solitary confinement!!

      And of course, the solution presented: MORE GOVT SPENDING

    2. Could be a front group for the mental illness indoctrination industries.

    3. "...fully 68 percent of local jail inmates, 20 percent of state prison inmates, and 14 percent of federal
      prison inmates fail to receive a medical exam while behind bars."

      '20% of US kids go hungry!'

  15. I really just think there will never be an acceptable solution for crazy people.

    Not since Kesey stigmatized lobotomy.

    1. Bedlam used to charge admission to the general public.

      Then I presume they used the profits to get the patients the help they needed.

      Well, probably not.

  16. Incentivizing disabilities surely has no effect on how many people claim disability. That and you'd have to be crazy to want to go to jail.

  17. And of course, the solution presented: MORE GOVT SPENDING

    Well, duh. What CAN'T be fixed by throwing government dollars at it?

  18. The show "60 Days In" depicted how they exploit the 'crazy' inmate to bully and extort people. After the experience, the police offer realized that she was actually making people worse by subjecting them to jail and decided to retire early after the experience.

    1. Do you know how to write in proper English, or possibly link to a source so someone can rebut your fucking bullshit?

      1. AM is either the village idiot, or a satirist; I'm not sure which one. However, he did cite his source in the first sentence. Do you Google?

  19. Inmates in prisons and jails are three to four times more likely than average to report having a disability


    is this just a phenomena no different than the fact that "Employees of Public Unions" tend to have an absurdly high disability rate?

    NPR noted recently that US disability claims have skyrocketed; presumably in response to laws that made it easier for people to claim benefits

    In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed. The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job, and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled. Every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government.

    The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined. ...The vast majority of people on federal disability do not work.[1] Yet because they are not technically part of the labor force, they are not counted among the unemployed.

    this graphic makes an interesting case that most of it is bullshit - as 50%+ of complaints are now things that doctors can't actually prove- e.g. back pain, or mental trauma.

    1. Yeah, ok - i just read the article here and it seems like the author is regurgitating the claims from (who else) the Center for American Progress.

      Is the idea that because "libertarians dislike the police-state too!" we should be expected to swallow the bullshit that progs shovel... because what; because they'll *EVER* do the same with any libertarian argument? Get #@(*$ real.

      They just want $$$$ thrown at something. they have zero interest in de-fanging the security-state.

      1. They just want $$$$ thrown at something. they have zero interest in de-fanging the security-state.


    2. Additional to the above (worth reading) NPR study on the growth of disability-claims in the US...

      ...is this piece from Wash.examiner, which points to the same phenomenon with Federal workers.

      1. Is it at all surprising that those people who are 'trained' to navigate and administer the labyrinth that we call government know exactly where the hidden nuggets of gold are; and that they feel entitled to any nugget they technically may quality for based on exceedingly vague and expansive diktats?

  20. We get more people with disabilities and more people in jail, all treated more cruelly. We get more people with road rage, more people snapping and mass murdering.

    But at least we don't have the scourge of second-hand smoke anymore.

    I know, correlation isn't causation. Except when government says so. Especially with cigarettes.

    1. "discovered", aye?

      Research for your next book?

    2. Where's the NSFW version sir?

  21. Crazy old people get to wear anything they like.

    Or nothing at all...


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  23. How does this correlate with the people who are in jail for nonviolent drug offenses? Drug abusers are more likely to have mental illnesses, either because they self-medicate or because the abuse itself caused/exacerbated a mental instability.

  24. Libertarians campaign to end involuntary confinement for the mentally ill (paging Dr. Thomas Szasz).
    Mentally ill are thrown out of mental institutions.
    Mentally ill end up on the streets and can't take care of themselves and commit crimes.
    Mentally ill end up in prison.
    Libertarians complain about how the mentally ill are treated in prisons and want to put the mentally ill in mental institutions.

    1. Yeah, those darn libertarians in charge of thee entire country!
      Hey, Bunker Bill, how long did it take you to figger out our amazing powers?

    2. "Mentally ill end up on the streets and can't take care of themselves and commit crimes."

      Many libertarians advocate:

      'A) There should be a LOT less laws to begin with, like laws against un-licensed selling of piece-part $0.50-per-each cigarettes by poor people, and

      'B) Mentally ill people should be free to accept VOLUNTARY charity given to them, and NOT to suck endlessly at the tits of the taxpayer, who now must pay for "alien abduction therapy" and "aromatherapy" and "worship of Government Almighty therapy", and who knows what all else, as long as it is vetted by some public-tit-sucking shrink somewhere...

      ...And it is libertarians who are to be blamed? Please explain... As you would to a child...

  25. While I agree that people should be accommodated before being convicted, I think it's insane to say that there aren't incentives to lie and say you're disabled for a variety of reasons up to and including drugs so I'm not surprised the numbers are high. That and people that think it's ok to lie, cheat, steal, murder, or rape people almost certainly have some sort of moral, physical, or psychological issue by default and it would seem that Doctors agree on that point. I'd imagine that's a great way to get drugs in jail if you're a loony toon. Charles Manson probably gets the good shit.

    I do get a perverse sense of amusement that this HEARD group lobbied for Prisons to have extra special fun rooms for deaf people then act shocked when they get slapped into solitary, which technically meets that burden. Special treatment isn't always a good thing, and I'd say prison is one of those area's. (At least once you're outside. Special treatment before you're inside is the bigger problem I'd say.) I mean what are you missing through being deaf in Prison exactly? Movie night? Jesus.

    Obviously I have a lot of issues with how prisons work in reality; especially pertaining to how you end up there. So my views are probably biased a bit more towards what I wish was, instead of what is in that regard.

    1. Obamacare relies upon creating more opportunities to reach more people with more problems that qualify for more insurance companies and taxpayers paying for it. If you go for the drug addicts and those in prison, you will hit the target market of those the government needs to sign up for the health care. It's another way to get taxpayers to pick up the tab for Obamacare, too.

      Why do you think all this urgent attention on heroin overdoses is all we're hearing about? Heroin was rampant on our college campuses and in our affluent communities back in the 90's. Nobody cared then. Then again, spending money on treatment facilities was not a goal of Obama and Obamacare, either. It's a give away to the insurance companies and the non-profits.

      And here's another thought. If the government can create lists of people who cannot buy guns, they can add whomever they want. These treatment facilities give them access to the kinds of health care they can use to keep people from buying guns. Now, at first blush, that might seem like a good thing. Then, one day after you went to get a prescription for an anti-depressant from your government paid for health care provider because you were going through a nasty divorce, you find out you can't buy a gun.

      1. I have no idea what you're talking about since those same people you mention were probably qualified for Medicaid before the expansion, and they probably qualify now too. At neither juncture of time would they be involved in the exchanges, or purchase their own healthcare. Especially in Prison, where you're basically a ward of the state. Note this isn't a defense of that piece of crap legislation, I just don't know what you're talking about specifically.

        Oh, and as for your medical records, the government is supposed to get a warrant for that type of information either way as it's legally protected information. Obviously, if the government is going to go around that requirement who exactly is going to stop them? Making a law that they should follow another already existing law is mental masturbation.

  26. Clearly we should just give every prisoner Ritalin.

    Can you imagine how many more prison escape after tunneling out with a spoon stories there would be?

  27. The time to catch all these issues is when a person is still a child, is it not? I mean, autism, dyslexia, learning disabilities, certainly intellectual disabilities, and physical disabilities should be the responsibility of parents. It's their responsibility to figure out what to do, how to do it, and when to do it on behalf of their children, is it not?

    Are these incarcerated people growing up in a vacuum or something? The country spends billions on poverty and medical care for the poor. Why, Catholic Charities is the single largest welfare provide in the United States, getting billions in federal funding. What are they doing with the money?

    There is not doubt that people who ruthlessly harm, rape, and murder others have something mentally wrong with them. The article didn't bother to tell us what crimes all these disabled and mentally deficient persons committed that they ended up incarcerated.

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  29. The private sector is unsurprisingly better at acronyming.

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