Individual Justice Planning

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The Key to Preventing Incarceration of People With Disabilities: Supports and Services Save Money and Prison Beds.

The IJP’s primary goal is to prevent incarceration of youth and adults with cognitive disabilities or mental illness by providing an inter-agency approach to the establishment of supports and services in the community. This helps individuals with an intellectual disability or mental illness get proper services and reduces the possibility of reincarceration.

IJPs are conceptually similar to the Individual Education Plans (IEPs) used in schools and the Individual Program Plans (IPPs) or Individual Service Plans (ISPs) used at community developmental disabilities organizations (CDDO) and their affiliates.

How Does an IJP Work?


First, a service provider or other interested person must help the offender (youths and adults) identify services needed for community living. The offender should consider the following areas: residential; vocational; education; financial; family; medical; psychiatric; psychological; social; recreational; transportation; and advocacy. For the IJP to work, the offender must understand the plan and actively participate in its development and application. This process empowers the individual and increases the likelihood of the IJP’s success.


After completing the needs assessment, the local agencies involved in the offender’s IJP should meet along with the offender to decide what services they can provide. Involved agencies may include the local community mental health center, the local CDDO or an affiliate, Vocational Rehabilitation Services Office, the independent living center, Income Support and Medical Services, Court Services, and the Probation and Parole Office. An inter-agency team should also consider involving the offender’s employer, clergy, family or friends.


One agency participant should be designated to lead the inter-agency team. The leader should chair the meetings, delegate responsibilities, and document the team’s decisions. This person is contacted if the offender does not follow the plan or if a service provider cannot carry out part of the plan. Since the probation and parole officer has legal authority to supervise the offender, he or she is often the team leader. For example, if the offender misses appointments or may not be fully complying with the plan, a team member could tell the probation and parole officer. The officer can address the problem before it becomes a probation or parole violation.


Once the inter-agency team assembles, the members, including the offender, will decide how to carry out the plan. The team must decide who will do each task, when the tasks will be completed, and who will accomplish each task. Team members must not assume anything. For example, saying that the offender will contact an agency on a certain date can cause problems for an individual who does not have transportation or a telephone. Team members must specify how the offender will make contacts with the agencies. Some youth and adults with disabilities do not understand the importance of attending scheduled meetings, so the team must be prepared to repeatedly stress the importance of following through on obligations and to develop contingency plans. The team must cover the offender’s needs thoroughly, write the plan, and send the plan to each agency or service provider working with the offender.


Because the offender’s needs may change during the IJP process and the participation of agencies may change, the plan needs to be flexible. Often after the plan is in place, the inter-agency team including the offender may identify new needs and needs that may have changed. Therefore, the agencies providing services for the offender must communicate regularly after the plan is in effect. Additional inter-agency meetings are necessary to review problems with the plan or the offender’s compliance.


The criminal justice and human services systems are responsible for developing and carrying out the IJP. Generally, the lower the individual’s functioning level and the lower the risk, the more likely that the human services system will have the primary responsibility. The higher the individual’s functioning and the greater the risk, the more likely that the criminal justice system will have primary responsibility. Where there is intermediate risk and severity of the offense, the criminal justice and human service system may share responsibility equally. The IJP is most appropriate where public safety does not require incarceration. All agencies involved in the IJP must work together. Agencies need to clarify philosophical differences. For example, a primary goal of the criminal justice system is to ensure that the individual does not commit more crimes, whereas a primary goal of the human services system is to increase the individual’s independence and decision making. The agencies must be aware of and discuss philosophical differences to avoid misunderstandings.

What is the Typical Client Profile?

Often, youth and adults with cognitive impairments, such as intellectual disabilities, significant learning disabilities, or traumatic brain injury, and individuals with mental illness are unknown to the mental health or social services system and may appear to function at a more independent level than is the case. They may at some point have contact with the criminal justice system. Offenders with intellectual disabilities are usually male and have a mild intellectual disability. Younger or higher functioning persons whose approval they seek will often negatively influence them. For individuals with a mental illness, criminal behavior may be a product of their disability, and sometimes, hallucinations or delusions can influence their actions. Low intellectual functioning is not usually a consideration for individuals with mental illness. IJPs work best for offenders (both youth and adults) who want to change their behavior and will accept appropriate services.

What are the Benefits of an IJP?

  • IJPs are a proactive approach that discourage further involvement in the criminal justice system for both
    youth and adults.
  • IJPs help youth and adults with disabilities get the services they need and promote self empowerment.
  • IJPs provide for early identification of the offender’s potential noncompliance with probation and parole plans.
  • IJPs promote safety in the community by monitoring the offender’s behavior and compliance with the IJP. If the team recognizes violations of the IJP, they have immediate access to the probation or parole officer.

Other References

Four tape video series:
Finn, John W. The Developmentally Disabled Offender: Interfacing the Criminal Justice and Human Services Systems. Vida Publishing, 1993.
{Telephone (717)786-8000}.

The Criminal Justice System and Mental Retardation, Defendants and Victims. Edited by Ronald W.
Conley, Ruth Luckasson, and George N. Bouthilet.
Baltimore, Md.: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company, 1992.

Perske, Robert. Unequal Justice? What Can Happen When Persons with Retardation or Other Developmental Disabilities Encounter the Criminal Justice System. Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1991.

Individual Justice Planning