Can This Prison Unit Make Life Better For Incarcerated Neurodivergent People?

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Zain Murdock
April 19, 2024

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities like autism are represented twice as much in prisons as in the overall population. Steven Soliwoda, creator of Albion Prison’s new Neurodevelopmental Residential Treatment Unit in Pennsylvania has stated that neurodivergent people are “more vulnerable to abuse, violence or manipulation in prison.” 

That’s the kind of violence the unit says it remedies.

The unit’s sensory rooms, exercise and art areas, life skills classes, emotional regulation time, and opportunities to socialize with other neurodivergent people are framed as a solution.

But though the quality of life for some incarcerated people could improve, that doesn’t mean units like this aren’t angling for a more “acceptable” form of state violence.  Where should the line be drawn?

Separate facilities for uniquely marginalized populations, like disabled people, women, LGBTQ+ people, children, and more, often acknowledge the violence they face. But prisons perpetuate violence at higher rates than outside.

If everyone’s in the same facility with the same resources and treatment, it’s equal. If certain groups are offered resources specific to them in different facilities, it’s equity. But what if the prison facilities don’t have to exist at all?

The violence of imprisonment doesn’t have to be necessary or inevitable. Imagining bigger could mean offering people the resources they need and addressing the root causes of why people are incarcerated in the first place.

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