Joseph Shapiro

Editor's note: This report includes descriptions of sexual assault.

Somebody with an intellectual disability by definition has difficulty learning, reasoning or problem-solving.

But many often think deeply about the things that affect them — and the things that isolate them, like sexual assault.

Nora Baladerian and Karyn Harvey are both psychologists with an unusual specialty — they are among a small number of therapists who treat people with intellectual disabilities who have been the victims of sexual violence.

They're friends, brought together by decades of shared experience. Baladerian, from Los Angeles, is a co-founder of the Disability and Abuse Project, which tracks violence against people with intellectual disabilities.

Editor's note: This report includes graphic and disturbing descriptions of sexual assault.

There's a trial scheduled in March at the marble courthouse in Newark, N.J., of a man charged with kidnapping and raping a young woman with an intellectual disability.

That trial is likely to be a quiet one, with little attention, nothing like the feverish national press coverage 25 years ago of the trial — in that same courthouse — in another case of sexual assault of another young woman with an intellectual disability.

Editor's note: This report includes graphic and disturbing descriptions of sexual assault.

The victim couldn't tell anyone what happened that night. She was a woman with an intellectual disability who doesn't speak words. So the alleged rape was discovered, according to the police report, only by accident — when a staff worker said she walked into the woman's room and saw her boss with his pants down.

Editor's note: This report includes graphic and disturbing descriptions of sexual assault.

In the sex education class for adults with intellectual disabilities, the material is not watered down. The dozen women and men in a large room full of windows and light in Casco, Maine, take on complex issues, such as how to break up or how you know you're in an abusive relationship. And the most difficult of those issues is sexual assault.

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Editor's note: This report includes graphic and disturbing descriptions of assault.

Pauline wants to tell her story — about that night in the basement, about the boys and about the abuse she wanted to stop.

But she's nervous. "Take a deep breath," she says out loud to herself. She takes a deep and audible breath. And then she tells the story of what happened on the night that turned her life upside down.

"The two boys took advantage of me," she begins. "I didn't like it at all."

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A new federal report harshly criticizes the way the Bureau of Prisons treats inmates with mental illness, singling out treatment at the prison at Lewisburg, Pa.

The report by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General says BOP violates its own policies by keeping prisoners with mental illness in solitary confinement for too long and with too little treatment.

At the United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pa., prisoners with serious mental illness are handed crossword and sudoku puzzles instead of counseling, according to a lawsuit that says prisoners at one of the most violent federal prisons are denied routine mental health care.

The lawsuit also alleges that prisoners at Lewisburg are cut off from the medications they were given at other prisons and housed in small cells, where they often spend up to 24 hours a day with other prisoners, who also often have serious mental illnesses.

Disability rights activist Nick Dupree died last weekend. Tomorrow would have been his 35th birthday.

Back in 2003, he told NPR: "I want a life. I just want a life. Like anyone else. Just like your life. Or anyone else's life."

He got that life.

When NPR in 2014 ran a series about how people around the country end up in debtors' prisons when they don't have the money to pay court fines and fees — even on minor infractions like traffic tickets — one cause of the problem, the stories noted, was confusion among state judges.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, 37 civil rights, human rights and church groups on Monday asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate "harrowing allegations of abuse and torture" of prisoners at the federal prison at Lewisburg, Pa., based on stories last month by NPR and The Marshall Project.

Groups signing the letter included the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, National Alliance on Mental Illness and Southern Poverty Law Center.

The United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pa., is one of the toughest, most violent prisons in America, where inmate-on-inmate assaults are common — and sometimes deadly.

See the full investigation: "Inside Lewisburg Prison: A Choice Between A Violent Cellmate Or Shackles"

On Feb. 3, 2011, corrections officers at the Lewisburg federal penitentiary in central Pennsylvania arrived outside Sebastian Richardson's cell door. With them was a man looking agitated, rocking back and forth and staring down at Richardson, who at 4 feet, 11 inches was nicknamed "Bam Bam."

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It may seem like there are a lot more cases of people being shot and killed by police.

Just this week, two African-American men were shot by police: Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn. Before that there were Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Laquan McDonald in Chicago and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

But could it be that we are just paying more attention?

Davontae Sanford was only 14 years old when he was arrested for a string of murders in Michigan. But after almost nine years in prison, his conviction was overturned when a state investigation found that the real killer had later confessed to Wayne County police and prosecutors.

Now 23, Sanford was reunited with his family last week in Detroit. But that tearful homecoming almost didn't happen, because of more than $2,000 in unpaid court fines and fees he amassed while in prison — including a bill for a public defender.

Debtors' prisons have long been illegal in the United States. But many courts across the country still send people to jail when they can't pay their court fines. Last year, the Justice Department stepped in to stop the practice in Ferguson, Mo. And now, in a first, a U.S. city will pay out thousands of dollars to people who were wrongly sent to jail.

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This is a first. A city will pay thousands of dollars to people who were sent to jail because they owed a debt. It is considered wrong in this country to jail someone who can't pay. Debtors' prisons were outlawed generations ago.

This seems like a contradiction: Put a dangerous prison inmate into solitary confinement, and then give him a cellmate. An investigation by NPR and The Marshall Project, a news organization that specializes in criminal justice, found that this practice — called double celling — is widespread in state and federal prisons. And as we learned, those cellmates often fight, attack and, sometimes, kill.

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Civil rights lawyers are using a new strategy to change a common court practice that they have long argued unfairly targets the poor.

At issue is the way courts across the country sometimes issue arrest warrants for indigent people when they fall behind on paying court fees and fines owed for minor offenses like traffic tickets. Last year, an NPR investigation showed that courts in all 50 states are requiring more of these payments. Now attorneys are aggressively suing cities, police and courts, forcing reform.

After years of drug addiction, Jayne Fuentes feels she's close to getting her life back on track, as long as she doesn't get arrested again — but not for using drugs. She fears it will be because she still owes court fines and fees, including hundreds of dollars for her public defender.

Fuentes hopes to change that. She's one of three plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, charging that Benton County, Wash., where she lives, "operates a modern-day debtors' prison."

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To Haben Girma's grandmother, back in East Africa, it "seemed like magic." Her granddaughter, born deaf and blind, is a graduate of Harvard Law School and works as a civil rights attorney.

They came from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Bangladesh.

From Kazakhstan, Lesotho and Mongolia.

From Nicaragua, Nigeria and China. From 33 countries in all.

They were people in wheelchairs, on crutches. Some were deaf or blind. And they all wanted to find out how their country could learn from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which banned discrimination based on disability in employment, government services and public accommodations.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law 25 years ago, "everybody was thinking about the iconic person in a wheelchair," says civil rights lawyer Sid Wolinsky. Or that the ADA — which bans discrimination based on disability — was for someone who is deaf, or blind.

But take a tour of New York City with Wolinsky — and the places he sued there — and you will see how the ADA has helped not just people with those significant disabilities, but also people with minor disabilities, and people with no disability at all.

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