At the same time as the Gov. Andrew Cuomo administration announced the new Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs would be coming to Bethlehem, Delmar resident Michael Carey made it known he feels the new agency will not go far enough to stop abuse.
The new state agency officially began operating on Delaware Avenue on Sunday, June 30. The center is part of a new state mandate to more heavily monitor, investigate and prosecute the abuse of those with disabilities within the state.
“I would more accurately call it an Unjust Center,” said Carey. “It will continue the process of internal investigating and most cases will never be seen by the police.”
Carey and his wife, Lisa, won a $5 million settlement in 2011 against the state after their 13-year-old son died of asphyxiation while on an outing from the state facility he was living in. The couple have been advocates for improving the protections for those with disabilities for years. In 2004, they formed the Jonathan Carey Foundation, which is now a neighbor of the Justice Center.
Michael Carey believes the new agency will continue in the same vein as the state’s former Commission on Quality Care of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. The responsibilities of that commission have now been transferred into the Justice Center, along with the majority of its employees.
The new $45 million program has been in development for about a year, after lawmakers approved the law following a series of articles in the New York Times detailing the low levels of reporting abuse to law enforcement.
When fully staffed, Executive Director Jeffrey Wise said 250 to 300 people would be employed with the agency to have jurisdiction over the Department of Health, the Office of Mental Health, the Office of Children and Family Services, the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and the State Education Department. The state is also responsible for overseeing various nonprofit organizations and homes that deal with the care of disabled children and adults, and several state camps.
About 80 employees will man a 24/7 hotline in Delmar for reporting cases of neglect or abuse. Patricia Gunning, the former Chief of the Special Victims Unit with the Rockland County District Attorney’s office, was hired to be the agency’s special prosecutor. She will work with about 20 special investigators.
Carey said he believes the new agency has given the state too much power to police itself and has greatly increased the areas of state government that are internally investigated. He also feels people reporting cases will feel less inclined to call the police.
“Employees will remain in the system and get a slap on the wrist,” he said.
Wise said the Center is not a first response team, so those who feel immediate intervention should still call 911 or local law enforcement.
“We’re meant to be like an added level of security,” he said. “Our special prosecutor is meant to assist local district attorneys when needed.”
Wise said many times smaller counties don’t have the resources to take on bigger investigative cases and need help. Others may need assistance because they don’t have a background in cases regarding people with disabilities and are looking for someone with more expertise. He said they would also go back to review cases where a local district attorney opted not to prosecute, but Justice Center investigators feel charges are needed.
Carey said he feels new legislation means much more evidence is now needed to prove abuse is taking place. He also called the new center “a slap in the face of the true justice (he’s) been working on for years”
“I find it appalling that the Cuomo Administration has chosen to put the Justice Center a tenth of a mile down the road from the Jonathan Carey Foundation office, which is a daily reminder of how dangerous the mental health care field is in this state for the people who rely on it for care.”