Research conducted by  Rava et al. in 2017 revealed a concerning statistic – by the time a child with autism reaches the age of 21, around one-fifth of them have been subjected to police questioning, and almost five per cent have faced arrest. Those arrested, as indicated by Bowden et al. in 2023, are at a higher risk of being charged with serious crimes, including offenses against individuals & property. These findings are an eye opener to the challenges faced by ASD individuals in the criminal justice system, highlighting the need for better understanding, treatment and support from law enforcement agencies.

A judge in Las Vegas, inspired by research studies & direct encounters with ASD children, has taken action to address this issue by implementing a program aimed at providing guidance to vulnerable youth. This initiative not only aims to prevent the perpetual cycle of incarceration among ASD children but also to provide them with the necessary resources that will lead to their overall improvement.

DAAY Court – Judge Sunny Bailey

The program is commonly known as the Detention Alternative for Autistic Youth, or in short, DAAY Court. It was established in 2018 by Judge Sunny Bailey. Through collaboration with social workers, psychologists, attorneys and parents, this program caters to the needs of ASD children, offering a holistic approach towards their rehabilitation and integration back into society.

Many of the cases brought before Judge Bailey are of juvenile delinquency, similar to the case of Angeleena. For those who don’t know, Angeleena is the 16-year-old daughter of Melody O’Connor, who resides in North Las Vegas. Melody has nurtured and cared for her daughter since infancy, when she was adopted. However, raising Angeleena has had its challenges, particularly during her teenage years.

One significant incident that stands out is when Angeleena impulsively grabbed a sharp steak knife and held it against her own mother’s delicate face, causing great fear and distress to her family. Melody had no choice but to turn to call for police help, which resulted in Angeleena’s arrest. This wasn’t the first time that Melody had to call for police assistance, she has made 43 calls in total to her home, seeking help and intervention for Angeleena’s behavior.

The turning point

The turning point was when Angeleena was offered the opportunity to participate in DAAY Court instead of being sent to juvenile detention. Through the program, Angeleena received therapy and learned practical methods to manage her emotions without resorting to violence or losing control. The results were remarkable, as Angeleena successfully completed the program and has since shown significant improvements in her behavior.

As of now, eighty-six children have graduated from the program, with only six returning to court. This impressive success rate caught the attention of Nevada Governor Joe Lombardo, who officially recognized the program and provided additional funding for its expansion. With Lombardo’s support through Senate Bill 411, other jurisdictions in Nevada can now establish their own DAAY Court programs to help at-risk youth.

Treatment and support

Autism is a complex condition that requires specialized care and support. Thankfully, there are programs like DAAY court and organizations like Nevada Autism dedicated to providing the necessary resources and assistance to individuals with autism. With continued efforts from such organizations and initiatives, we can work towards a society where individuals with autism are fully understood, supported, and integrated into our communities.

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