Have you heard about Neli Latson?
He’s a young man with Autism and Intellectual Disability who has been incarcerated since August 2013 as a result of behavior that results from his disability. He has been held in solitary confinement for most of that time and is presently at a Virginia state prison. You can learn more about this case on the webpage the Arc of Virginia has dedicated to Neli Latson: http://www.thearcofva.org/advocacy/current-advocacy-issues-and-activities/reginald-neli-latson/
Neli is not a criminal. He does not belong in a jail or a prison. His tragic situation is the result of events surrounding his initial detention which occurred, ironically, while waiting for the public library to open, and from subsequent mental health crises resulting from his confinement. As Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus put it, His journey through Virginia’s criminal justice system began four years ago, when he assaulted and badly injured a police officer who had demanded to know why Latson was sitting outside the public library.
Answer: He was waiting for it to open.
Hint: He was a young black man wearing a hoodie.
“In effect Neli spends 24 hours a day locked in a segregation cell with minimal human contact for the ‘crime’ of being autistic,” his lawyers wrote to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. “Absent intervention, there is every reason to think he will remain there until the opportunity for effective treatment has been lost.”
All of us, as a community, should take a moment to help him out. But for the grace of God, any of us could be in the same situation one day.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Please call, email and Tweet the Virginia Governor and Attorney General, and the prosecutor, Stafford County Commonwealth Attorney Eric Olsen. For Twitter, include the hashtag #freeneli and the handles of the Governor, Attorney General and prosecutor: @GovernorVA, @AGMarkHerring, @ericolsenforca The message is simple: Neli deserves treatment, not incarceration. He is not a criminal.
You can reach the Governor by phone at 804-786-2211, by email form at this link: https://governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/communicating-with-the-governors-office/ or on Twitter at @GovernorVA.
You can reach the Attorney General by email form http://www.ag.virginia.gov/contactusform/contactform.aspx or on Twitter at @AGMarkHerring
You can reach the Stafford County prosecutor, Eric Olsen at (540) 658-8780 and on Twitter at @ericolsenforca.
Best wishes for the new year
John Elder Robison