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Guest Column

New Jersey Lags Behind New York in Protecting Developmentally Disabled Population from Abuse

Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 • 7:25am

Numerous stories about the abuse of people with developmental disabilities in New Jersey have been reported over the past two years. However, similar events related to this issue continue well beyond our State. More and more cases have been reported in surrounding states and across the nation. The abuse and neglect of this population is a
universal problem that exists well beyond the borders of New Jersey.

On December 3, 2012, the Huffington Post published a story of a case of a direct-care worker who physically abused the clients that he was paid to care for. In fact, five workers were charged with abuse of developmentally disabled residents of a state facility, but only one chose to go to trial, as the others immediately confessed and pleaded guilty.
According to the Post article “A 31-year-old man has been convicted of abusing residents at a state-run center for
developmentally disabled people in Nebraska.

Pangborn was charged with beating and choking residents when he worked at the Beatrice State Developmental Center last summer.

Sixteen employees were suspended after an investigation found that at least seven of the center's developmentally disabled residents were routinely slapped, shoved, violently pinched, punched, ridiculed and choked. Five workers were initially charged with abuse.

Pangborn is the only one to face trial, after the four others pleaded to reduced charges.

Over the past year, the New York Times published a series of articles, entitled “Used and Abused” that indicted that, not only did episodes of abuse continue in New York, but there was little oversight by State agencies to control the problem. As a result, Governor Andrew Cuomo took action.

In October 2011, the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities announced that it would terminate the employment of 130 State workers who abused disabled residents who they were hired to care for. The former head the State agency responsible for the care of the disabled population was fired by Governor Como and
quickly replaced. In addition, the Governor and the Legislature created a special Justice Center, replete with a special prosecutor and Inspector General, which would be responsible for protecting the civil and human rights of people with developmental disabilities.

Unfortunately, New Jersey lags far behind New York State in recognizing the level of abuse that the developmentally disabled population endures. In addition, New Jersey lags even further behind New York State in providing the legal protections that the disabled population needs. New Jersey should follow New York’s example and create a Justice
Center, with a special prosecutor and Inspector General, which will be responsible for protecting the civil, human and due process rights of a population that has never truly been provided with civil liberties by society.

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