New York Targets Abuse of the Disabled, Advocates Say It’s ‘More of the Same’

By
Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Governor Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Mario Tama/2010 Getty Images

New York's legislative session ends on Thursday, and in addition to a bill targeting cyber-bullies, lawmakers are going after those who abuse the mentally and physically disabled. Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders announced on Sunday that they've reached a deal to create a new state agency to police and prosecute reports of abuse and neglect in facilities that care for those with special needs. While it sounds like a major step toward protecting the disabled, advocates say they don't trust the state to properly address problems in the system.

In the past year, state lawmakers have faced increased pressure to address the issue in response to a series of articles in the New York Times that described misconduct and coverups in the state's system of care for the developmentally disabled. Cuomo said in May that in the past year there were more than 10,000 abuse allegations in state-funded facilities.

The new legislation creates a Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. According to the governor's office, its responsibilities will include:

• An Executive Director, Special Prosecutor, and Inspector General, and a substantial staff of trained investigators, lawyers, and administrators. The Justice Center's law enforcement branch will have concurrent authority with district attorneys to prosecute abuse and neglect crimes committed against such persons.

•  Creation of a statewide 24/7 hotline staffed by trained professionals to ensure that allegations of abuse are promptly reported to law enforcement and fully and effectively investigated.

•  Development of a register of workers who have committed serious or repeated acts of abuse who will be prohibited from ever being hired again in any position where they would work with people with disabilities or special needs.

While Cuomo said the new measures will give New York the "strongest standards and practices in the nation for protecting those who are often the most vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment," some are upset that reports of abuse will be handled by the state rather than local police. Michael Carey, who became an advocate after his autistic son died while in state care five years ago, said the measure is "a slap in the face on Father's Day." Per the New York Daily News:

"This is not historic reform, it is a historic disaster. It is more of the same," Carey said. ”If the state’s going to handle everything itself, all it does is strengthen its ability to cover up abuse the way it’s been doing since 1978. It’s the same damn thing. It’s not going to help to protect the disabled.”