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Report: Few Charges Brought by Agency Protecting Special-Needs Victims

Critics question the low number of charges that have resulted from the thousands of allegations filed with New York's Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs. Credit: Boldizsar Csernak/freeimages.com.
Critics question the low number of charges that have resulted from the thousands of allegations filed with New York's Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs. Credit: Boldizsar Csernak/freeimages.com.
November 25, 2015

NEW YORK - The Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs was created in 2013 to ensure the health and safety of New Yorkers with disabilities. But according to an Associated Press report, of more than 25,000 claims of abuse and neglect the center has received since the start of 2014, just 169 have led to criminal charges.

Experts say cases such as these can be hard to prove, in part because they often rely on victims with disabilities who are viewed as poor witnesses. Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, said a shift in this thinking could lead to more prosecutions.

"There is no reason to believe that people with disabilities have a diminished ability to report accurately about their experiences of being abused," she said.

A Justice Center spokeswoman said it currently is training with local law enforcement and prosecutors on forensic interviewing best practices with vulnerable populations, including people with disabilities. The report also found that of the 132 allegations involving deaths, the center only has prosecuted one.

The lack of prosecutions is causing some critics to question whether the center can do its job. But Mary Lee Fay, who heads the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, said investigating cases such as these is challenging.

"It takes time," she said. "It takes time to establish relationships with prosecutors, at the same time as reports are coming in. So, I don't think that it is an indicator that the Justice Center can't continue to move forward and improve."

The Justice Center said it reviews all allegations of abuse and, when evidence supports those allegations, holds people accountable. It also said that the center's standard of proof is lower than the standard used to convict someone in court beyond a reasonable doubt.

Details of the report are online at bigstory.ap.org.

Nia Hamm, Public News Service - NY