Reform justice system

for those with ASD

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

Ronna Wertman’s Letter to the Editor on bringing an end to disability injustice was very enlightening. However, it covered just one of many disabilities. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects people in ways that are not obvious like deafness.

Those with ASD are emotionally immature and often are not able to discern if they are being lured into a criminally compromising situation. This happened to my nephew and has happened to many mentally disabled people in Virginia.

This lack of social maturity leads them to isolate themselves from their peer group. They often have been the target of bullying and/or teasing while growing up, and therefore prefer not to interact with others. They often turn to their computers for information. As their bodies mature, they — like everyone else — gain an interest in romance and sex. However, due to their fear of relationships, they seek information online. If they have not explicitly been warned about sites that are illegal, they often will find sites that will endanger their legal standing with the various criminal justice agencies.

It would be a tragedy to find a person guilty of a felony for doing something he didn’t realize was a crime until after he was arrested. Sadly, there are families fighting to have their relatives saved from being labeled a criminal and put in jail.

Currently, the criminal justice system makes little or no attempt to understand this population or to recognize their unique needs, supports and challenges. Virginia lawmakers need to reform the criminal justice system regarding this high-risk population of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Shelle Bester.


Voters need to dig deep

before heading to polls

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

I have seen recent political ads by Republicans running for the General Assembly, and they sure sounded a lot like Democrats. Mary Margaret Kastelberg, running for the 73rd District seat in the House of Delegates, is in favor of gun restrictions. That position is a far cry from her party’s stance taken over the summer in the not-so-special session to discuss gun safety in the wake of the Virginia Beach mass shooting: the Republicans shut it down after 90 minutes. And Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, was promising that his health care bills offer real protection for pre-existing conditions.

I applaud their embrace of these progressive policies that Democrats have been fighting for all along. It’s not surprising: They need to appeal to independent voters who find the Republican agenda unappealing. So while I vote for the person, not the party, it is important to recognize that across the country, the Republican Party has been subverting the sovereign will of voters in the state legislatures of North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia, to name a few, and since 2010, has worked to enact restrictive voting laws in 25 states, including Virginia (Brennan Center for Justice), because when more people vote, more Democrats are elected.

Furthermore, and most appalling, their Republican Party remains silent while President Donald Trump abuses power, obstructs justice, undermines the rule of law, and now appears to have attempted to extort political dirt on an opponent from a foreign power using taxpayer funds. Yet still the Republican Party supports Donald Trump, and Kastelberg and Sturtevant remain in the party. I encourage all voters to dig deep on the issues, read the fine print, and also ask the Republican candidates why they support this party and this president. Unless and until I see candidates speaking out against these assaults on our democracy, this independent voter will stick with the more democratic (small and large D) candidates.

Beth Stephens.


More recovery beds,

not billboards

Editor, Times-Dispatch:

In response to a recent editorial on the opioid crisis, I first want to thank the Richmond Times-Dispatch for continuing to lead our community discussion regarding recovery, which is the solution to our age-old addiction problem. I am a Community Recovery Advocate with almost 28 years of continuous freedom from using any mood- or mind-altering substances, and I attended the most recent Times-Dispatch Public Square. When given the opportunity to speak, I mentioned one of our region’s current solution initiatives, as does the RTD editorial. However, our perspectives differ.

While the editorial stated, “A noteworthy regional effort — — brings together the city of Richmond and the counties of Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield to raise awareness and promote resources to help aid recovery, and complements local initiatives underway,” I also spoke about, adding its $100,000 price tag was coupled with no more functionality than simple web searches. A few simple public service announcements also were produced, but for the same $100,000, six months of recovery housing ($140 per week at Journey House, WAR Foundation, True Recovery RVA, etc.) could have helped 27 members of our local/regional community recover surrounded by recovering peers while attending group meetings and strengthening their social reconnection skills. Our own federal government considers recovery housing an evidence-based practice.

The RTD editorial further said, “Community advocates and many enrolled in addiction programs also shared at the Public Square how they’re confronting the epidemic.” That said, I say we need beds, not billboards or T-shirts.

I am heartened that Gov. Ralph Northam has extended the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Opioids and Addiction existence by an additional year.

To paraphrase a Virginia patriot’s rousing 1775 speech, I say, “Give us recovery, or give us more deaths.” Liberty is truly freedom, and from my experience, freedom from active addiction is recovery.

Michael M. McDermott,

Community Recovery Advocate.Maidens.

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