Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice working to change court proceedings for people with special needs

PITTSBURGH — Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty said the first time someone with autism came through his courtroom years ago in Philadelphia, the experience changed him. He took a hard look at how cases for people with special needs were handled.

“I thought I was a forward-thinking judge, but here I have before me an individual whose life is in my hands and I wasn’t aware of his total story. It was like a punch in the gut,” Dougherty said. “Their perception and their reality differs from mine. How can I be a really good judge if I don’t know my audience and if I don’t know why? That’s the big question.”

>>>RESOURCES: Autism and the Courts in Pennsylvania

He’s on a statewide listening tour focused on autism to try to find effect ways to reform the courts and jails for people with mental conditions.

“As an autistic person, I think it is imperative that those with autism and other disabilities are treated fairly in every area of society,” said Rep. Jessica Benham.

She is part of the listening tour panel and she has a unique perspective to offer since she’s the first person with autism elected to the general assembly.

CLICK HERE to learn more about the hearing.