To:Hashem and Aleph Institute
From: Joseph M. Jason, Chairman Criminal Justice Advocacy for the Mentally Ill
Re: Criminalization of Asperger Syndrome and Mental Illness
My son Daniel is presently in Clarinda Iowa serving a 45 year sentence. He is prisoner number 6856003. His release date is April 9, 2033. Daniel has Asperger Syndrome. Despite this severe handicap in life, he graduated the University of Iowa in December of 2005 with an A- average. Daniel has two people in the world who love him-his father Joseph and his mother Nancy. Daniel is a grandchild of holocaust survivors. Daniel cannot look you in the eye and does not want to be hugged. The Asperger Syndrome unlike today was not diagnosed until Daniel was 16. Before that Daniel had absence seizures for approximately 5 years. This is a form of epilepsy.
Daniel was an excellent baseball player and tennis player. He also ran track and cross-country. Daniel loves dogs. He has a special bonding with our dogs Zack, Rody and Casey.
He was devastated when we had to put Rody, our Shih Tzu to sleep due to a tumor in 2012.
Many people today have autistic children. Some of them have family members with Asperger Syndrome or high functioning autism. I know what it is like to live with somebody with Asperger Syndrome, who struggles to look their own parents in the eye, and not being able to reciprocate with the love that you have for them. I grieved when at a young age it became apparent that Daniel could not make friends. I grieved when I coached his baseball teams and he would sit on the bench by himself. My son graduated from the University of Iowa with an A- average. I grieved when I took him on numerous interviews and he could not be hired due to his autism. I grieved when he fell in love with a girl and she finally rejected him and he could not accept it. To him, nobody else would ever love him. I grieved when we had to hospitalize Daniel a couple of times in his youth. I grieved when his roommates at college could not stand living with him and tried to beat him. I grieved when he got caught up in the legal system and not many cared about him. I have spent years advocating for him. Daniel is not violent but yet he has already wasted at least 10 years being incarcerated. What a tragic waste of a life. Without the autism, he could be a CPA, an attorney, or an investment banker. With a criminal record, what job will he ever hold now?
Daniel was involved in a relationship with a woman from the University of Iowa from February 2005 to approximately August of 2006. During this period of time, there were orders of protection where both parties violated the order. After Daniel graduated College in December of 2005, the relationship was an on and off relationship. By September of 2006, the woman no longer wanted contact from Daniel but Daniel did continue to contact her. Daniel believes that he can win her back and is not violent.
Although Daniel has at times threatened people, he has never had a weapon or been violent. It is impossible to fight the perception that he could in the future. Isn’t that true of any of us? Even thought the medical facts and endless psychiatric evaluations do not support this. The best predictor according to experts is the past and Daniel has not been violent in the past.
It is written that if you save a life, you save a world. I am asking for your help in getting the story of my son Daniel out to the public. My hope is that this story gets out so others will not have to suffer like Daniel and my family.. Daniel was found guilty on stalking and extortion in 2014. On May 23rd, 2014 he was convicted as a habitual offender. His sentencing took place on July 11, 2014. Daniel received a sentence of 45 years. Daniel has already suffered being in jails and prisons since March of 2007 except for 4 and a half months. Most of this time imprisoned can be traced to the Johnson County prosecutor’s office. Daniel has recently lost all his appeals and only has hope through post conviction relief. There has been cruel and unusual punishment and violations of the American Disabilities Act. Prior to the trial, Daniel was forced to wear a stun belt despite his history of no violence. The trial took place on February 25, 2014 and lasted three days. Prior to the trial, Daniel was forced to wear a stun belt despite his history of no violence. After being coerced to choosing a trial by Judge, the belt was removed. The actions of the prosecution in Iowa City are indicative of the criminalization of Asperger Syndrome. My son was tried at this date for extortion and stalking. My son sent sixteen emails and made two phone calls that were after hours. These charges are a travesty. My wife and I met with the prosecutor in December of 2012 and explained Asperger Syndrome and mental illness. We explained that our son’s behavior is childlike rather than criminal. We told them he needs treatment and not incarceration. We gave them a forensic psychiatrist’s report that demonstrates he is not violent. He is a nuisance. Although, we do recognize his impact on the girl, it can never justify such a harsh, basically life sentence. We told them that his behavior according to Dr. Mills is typical of one with Asperger Syndrome. We told them he has an organic brain disorder. His criminal behavior consists only of phone calls and emails. This meeting has made no difference. If the Iowa prosecutor’s office was serious about avoiding an expensive trial, they would have offered a humane plea agreement. Instead they offered an agreement of ten years. During the trial Dr. Mills testified that Daniel has no history of violence. In fact people with Asperger Syndrome are more likely to be bullied. Daniel did not have intent and is not a stalker. His actions are part of having Asperger Syndrome and not a suitor stalker. His actions were flawed and ambivalent. He did not want to contact his ex-girlfriend so he chose a flawed way. He had her phone number and did not call it. He used an email address no longer used by his ex-girlfriend. His phone calls were either on the weekend or after hours to the County Auditor’s office. He was blowing off steam. Daniel cannot connect the dots. There is a disconnect between how we feel and how he feels. Daniel made reference to an embarrassing incident in the Johnson county auditor’s office. This referred to an employee who defecated in their pants. He was given two counts of extortion for this by overzealous Johnson County prosecutors.
The typical offender sitting in Johnson County right now has been charged with robbery, theft, murder, sexual abuse, domestic abuse assault, drug offenses etc. My son is not a thug, but yet got the stiffest sentence out of all of them. It is the criminalization of Asperger Syndrome. A full one-third of the nation’s states get a D or F grade for using mental health courts and crisis intervention teams (CIT) – diversion programs proven to reduce the criminalization of mental illness, the study found. Iowa received a well deserved F. “People with untreated psychiatric disease should be getting the treatment they need before law enforcement shows up at their door because of behaviors caused by their illness,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director. That is punishment fit for a major drug dealer and/or murderer. This case, as it always has, cries out for treatment and not incarceration. I had found a place for my son to live. It is called Trinity in Illinois and it is an excellent place for people with issues similar to my son. That is where he belongs. Daniel was living with us for the entire time and did not go to Iowa. This did not stop the charges of stalking and extortion because of two voice messages and 16 emails.. This is not what our founding fathers envisioned that America should be. Daniel has already been in jail and prisons for most of the time since 2007. Dr. Mills has stated that Daniels’s so called criminal conduct is caused by his Asperger Syndrome. “Mr. Jason cannot legitimately be considered morally responsible for his misconduct.” Dr. Mills also states that “The lack of significant history of violence is important.” As stated in the article, Forensic aspects of Asperger’s Syndrome by Justin B. Barry-Walsh and Paul E. Mullen in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, “It behooves us to draw to the court’s attention the obvious: that patients with Asperger’s Syndrome suffer from mental disorder and that their offending and subsequent disposition must be placed in this context. The core features of Asperger’s Syndrome and how they determine what the individual knows and understand of the world should form a basis for sophisticated assessment of the issues of disability”. Senator Durbin, and Senator Harkin have been apprised of this situation.. The Autism Society of America believes this to be the most egregious case in the United States. Murderers have received less of a sentence than my son is facing. Daniel has a brain disorder and needs mental health treatment not incarceration. This typifies everything that is wrong in the State of Iowa regarding the Criminalization of the Mentally Ill and Asperger Syndrome. This Criminalization of the Mentally ill must be confronted and stopped. . It took courageous people to say no to slavery in our history. We must say no to the incarceration of our non-violent mentally ill. This is my mission in life.
In summary, it must be reiterated that Daniel, did commit crimes, but they were non-violent crimes. He never hurt anyone physically. His doctors have verified that he is not capable of hurting anyone. One of the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome is that he often makes verbal threats with no inclination to carry them out. Iowa courts failed to see this, favoring to treat him harshly by giving him the maximum sentence allowable by law.
Correctional systems have the express intent of punishing offenders with the intent that if they miss out on years of their lives, they will learn to live by societal rules. This is not the case for people with organic brain disorders, who are incapable of rationalizing cause and effect, rendering any jail time, moot.
Joseph M. Jason,
Chairman of Criminal Justice Advocacy for People with Mental Illness