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Annex. Search Strategy and Included Articles

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Research Questions

  1. How commonly are disabilities reported on in the literature focused on the criminal and civil legal systems?
  2. What are the common types of articles and methodologies used in the literature?
  3. What topics or issues related to disability and the legal system are covered by the literature, and what are the key gaps?

There is evidence that a significant proportion of individuals who come into contact with the legal system have a disability. In turn, individuals with disabilities may encounter a variety of issues once they are involved in the legal system. Research has the potential to play a critical role in better understanding the prevalence of disabilities in the legal system, the challenges that people with disabilities face when navigating the system, whether there are certain groups that are particularly vulnerable due to intersectional identities (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender), and the policies and programs that might effectively meet the needs of people with disabilities.

This report presents the findings of a scoping review assessing the current state of literature related to individuals with physical, intellectual, and developmental disabilities who interact with the legal system, with the goal of developing priorities for future research related to these populations. It can be read as a stand-alone report but can also be used in conjunction with two related publications, which (1) document findings from qualitative interviews with representatives from relevant professions and communities and (2) outline recommendations for future research focused on this population.

Key Findings

  • The authors identified 334 articles that met the inclusion criteria that were published from 2007 to 2023, including academic articles, law review articles, trade publications, and other reports (e.g., technical reports published by nonprofits).
  • The most common disabilities reported in the literature were intellectual disabilities (56 percent of articles), developmental disabilities (28 percent), and other cognitive disabilities (24 percent). Sensory and mobility-related disabilities were less common.
  • There was variability in how disability was defined and even in whether a definition was provided.
  • Articles varied with respect to the level of detail or analysis they provided for certain disabilities. Some presented an in-depth analysis of a single group in a single context; others reported on multiple groups at a lower level of detail.
  • Most of the literature (90 percent) focused just on the criminal legal system (rather than the civil legal system) — especially, issues related to capital sentencing and incarceration.
  • There was substantial variability in the degree to which articles explored issues related to disability. Some simply reported on the prevalence of disability across a variety of contexts or provided guidance to practitioners on potential accommodations. Others presented an in-depth legal analysis, and a small number evaluated a program for people with disabilities.
  • A subset of the literature included analysis related to race, ethnicity, gender, and age, with some articles highlighting the importance of applying an intersectional lens to this topic.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and was conducted in the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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