By Tucker Paquette
It is often said that people will be inclined to dig deep on a project if the subject piques their interest. In the case of two recently published Springfield College professors, that sentiment most definitely holds true.
Springfield College Program Director of Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Professor of Counseling, Michael Accordino, and Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Counseling Lindsey Fullmer have written a book titled “Corrections and Disability.”
The book was born out of a shared interest between the two on the relationship between the corrections system and people with disabilities, as well as the realization that there hasn’t been much published on the topic.
“I’ve always had this interest [in how different people fare during and after their time spent in correctional facilities],” Accordino said. “[My colleagues and I] were talking, and I said ‘Is there a book on corrections and disability?’ and pretty much everyone says ‘Not really, we just get articles here and there.’ And I said, ‘Well, what if we just put one together?’”
While Fullmer shares Accordino’s curiosity in this department, writing the book was also appealing to her because it would provide students both at Springfield and elsewhere with useful knowledge and references.
“When we look at materials that exist in our profession, there aren’t any textbooks with a counseling philosophy that are geared toward supporting students’ needs in their education and training,” Fullmer said.
Accordino and Fullmer’s book, which was crafted after extensive research and collaboration, focused on the impacts correctional settings such as jails and juvenile detention had on people with mental health challenges.
The idea of stigmas, and how people with various challenges might be negatively impacted by them, stood out to Accordino as he worked on the book.
“If you have a drug and alcohol problem, an addiction, a mental or physical disability [along with being in the corrections system], the stigmas rack up,” Accordino said.
Specifically, Accordino wonders how long it is reasonable for a stigma to stick with a person.
“If you are convicted of a crime and you do your time, how long does that stigma have to last?” Accordino said. “You’ve done your time. Is it years, is it five to 10 years? Obviously, there’s some people who say ‘once a criminal, always a criminal’ and you’re stigmatized forever.”
In addition to stigmas, the overall approach by the corrections system on taking care of inmates with disabilities struck Accordino as problematic. Some places are more inclined to make an earnest attempt to help people than others, but with so many incarcerated people having disabilities (more than half have one, according to Fullmer), the need for real help is serious.
“One of the big problems is the corrections system is more interested in warehousing people than helping them get better,” Accordino said. “But there are systems where they are interested in rehabbing, it’s just not universal. [The same is true] for the residential treatment facilities for juveniles.”
Fullmer points to the deinstitutionalization movement in the 1960s and 70s that neglected far too many patients, with some becoming homeless, as a factor that might explain the high volume of people with disabilities who are incarcerated.
“When you have people with disabilities who are homeless, they’re less likely to be taking medication and less likely to be receiving treatment,” Fullmer said. “Incarceration becomes the next possibility, and a lot of people are committing crimes out of survival, not necessarily the intent to hurt people or not abide by laws.”
With so many people in situations like these where a helping hand could do a world of good, Accordino is encouraged by the fact that he and Fullmer are far from the only people who want to promote meaningful change.
“The fact that there are some forward-thinking people is important,” Accordino said. “You don’t want to just lock everybody up for good. And if you lock someone up for a limited amount of time and don’t help them get better, they’re going to probably come out and do it again.”
Ultimately, it is undeniable that people in the corrections system with physical, mental or emotional disabilities will face their fair share of struggles. However, Accordino and Fullmer believe it is possible, and important, to help individuals with these challenges.
“If you can bring about promoting emotional intelligence, help a person get a meaningful job, a place to live and [surround them with] people who aren’t stigmatizing them, they have a shot,” Accordino said.
Image courtesy of: VitalSource