We’re talking with Clarence J. Sundram, the governor’s special adviser on vulnerable persons, at 2 p.m. TODAY on LoHud.com/editorialspotlight. We’re discussing legislation that includes the proposed Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs. Gov. Cuomo’s proposed the new agency in response to safety concerns for those who live in state-funded or state-operated group homes and other facilities that serve people with developmental and other disabilities.
The legislation passed in the state Senate, but the Assembly leadership is looking at the proposals, and seeking some changes, including oversight outside the state government structure. Critics include activist Michael Carey, whose son, Jonathan, died in 2007 while in group home care. Jonathan’s death shed light on the risks faced by the 1 million New Yorkers who rely on state-provided care. The 13-year-old, who was autistic and lacked the ability to communicate, was strangled by restraints in a group home van. Here’s what we said in a Perspective about Jonathan’s death in 2007:
What will we learn from the story of Jonathan Carey, who died when he was improperly restrained during a van ride from a residential facility north of Albany? It remains to be seen what governmental structures, if any, require change. The senseless end to his short, and undeniably hard, life shows that basic training in keeping people safe is still needed. As well, we, as a society, must have the determination to get to those with autism, and other disabilities, the most effective education and support.
… What is the most basic right all individuals deserve? Being kept safe. We failed Jonathan Carey, and I am afraid, despite the best of intentions, we are failing many children and adults who can’t protect themselves.
… When a tragedy like the death of Jonathan Carey occurs, we owe it to the victim to try and understand what happened. And we owe it to his and other families to prevent it from happening again. … The family’s loss is unfathomable, their pain undeniable and likely inconsolable. We owe it to the Careys to examine the legislative issues that this case brings up.
We owe it to Jonathan to pledge a deeper commitment to make sure our promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is for everyone, regardless of ability.
Sadly, in 2012, we are seeking the same answers, and so many questions remain.