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. 


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


Forsythia said…
One of my resolutions for 2015 is to "do what I can." Which I will, starting now. This is an outrage.
Dana said…
I had not heard about Neli Latson. I have now and will do what needs to be done. I know that having an autistic son, who is also black, just adds one more layer to an already complicated situation. Change is needed.
jonathan said…
But for the grace of God, any of us could be in the same situation one day

John Robison, somehow I doubt you'll ever be in the same situation as Neli Latson. Of course, as a member of the neurodiversity movement, you didn't care at all about the quality of life for people like Neli Latson until he received media exposure and you have no suggestions or solutions as to help people like this.
Lena said…
This makes me so sad and angry. My email has been sent to the Governor.
Laura said…
This is absolutely horrible, especially due to the fact that it is entirely due to circumstances. I am also an autistic individual, however, I am also white and middle class.

If I had ended up in his situation, due to the color of my skin, and the resources I have due do being born to a middle class family (no effort of my own), I would most likely have been allowed out of the jail while he is still trapped. I probably wouldn't have even spent a day in jail, though I can't guarantee that, even if I had acted in the same way Neli did, simply due to the circumstances of our births.

The worst thing is that he literally would not have been put in this situation if he were white and middle class. Even being autistic, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I would not be labeled as a suspicious person, and even if somehow my stims caused any suspicion, I would not have been manhandled in the same way he was. I would more likely be suspected to be lost or running away than a dangerous individual. All of this is gross and upsetting, as well as beyond belief. Yes, this is about autism, but it's about so much more, none of it his fault, and that just makes it so much worse and harder for him.

My only question is would my mail count? I'm not from Virgina, I'm from Kentucky. Would that mean anything? I'll also be sharing this with friends. All of them will be internet friends, so I could at least get more help on that front.

Sorry this is a bit of a ramble. I've already been having a bad day, so this just adds fuel to the fire.
Bob Yamtich said…
Thanks for writing and sharing this!

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