November 10th, 2020
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network welcomes the Governor Northam’s decision to conditionally pardon Mr. Matthew Rushin, an autistic Black man who was facing a decades-long sentence after an automobile collision. ASAN had expressed concern about racial and disability bias in Mr. Rushin’s prosecution and sentencing. The conditional pardon will enable Mr. Rushin to return to the community in early 2021.
Matthew Rushin was incarcerated in 2019 after a serious car crash. Although Mr. Rushin said that the crash was unintentional, he was advised to plead guilty to malicious wounding, which requires intent to cause harm. ASAN believes that Mr. Rushin may not have received the support he needed to understand what this plea meant. He received a 50-year sentence with 40 years “suspended.” This meant that he would spend up to ten years in jail, followed by another forty years of supervision by the criminal legal system. This sentence was far harsher than state guidelines recommended. ASAN and the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWNN) expressed our concern in a July 2020 letter that racism and ableism influenced the plea and the sentence in Mr. Rushin’s case. In addition, Mr. Rushin faced severe difficulties accessing necessary medical and mental health care while incarcerated.
We are pleased that Governor Northam has granted Mr. Rushin a conditional pardon. Mr. Rushin’s pardon will reduce his sentence and enable him to be released in early 2021. Mr. Rushin will be on supervised parole for five years and will have several restrictions placed upon him, such as the inability to ever own a firearm or drive a car, and a requirement to seek mental health counseling. After ten years, he may ask a judge to allow him to drive.
ASAN recognizes that Mr. Rushin’s car crash did greatly harm others, and one of these individuals, George Cusick, has been institutionalized in a nursing home – a prison by another name. But neither Mr. Rushin nor Mr. Cusick are served by placement in restrictive settings where they have little control over their own lives.
ASAN believes that, rather than relying on a system of mass incarceration and widespread institutionalization, the state of Virginia–and our nation as a whole–should invest in transformative justice approaches and robust community living services. Racism and ableism impact every aspect of the criminal legal system and interact to damage the lives of Black disabled youth like Mr. Rushin. ASAN will continue to advocate for a world in which all people are treated fairly by the criminal legal system, instead of one in which the lives of disabled people of color are treated as expendable. For more information on ASAN’s positions on this case, or the criminal legal system broadly, please contact Sam Crane, our Legal Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.