Monday, July 14, 2008

Is Abuse a Crime?

Perhaps someone can tell me why it is that when a person with a disability has a crime committed against them it's called "abuse", but when a person without a disability has a crime committed against them it's called a "crime". This doesn't make sense to me at all. When are we as a society going to pull our heads out of our collective bottom and realize that crime is crime. "Abuse" seems to lessen the significance of what has happened, which makes it more likely to occur.

This is out of the Massachusetts based Patriot newspaper...

SPEAK OUT: Checking on the caretakers
A hole in the law lets out-of-state crimes fly under the radar

By Maureen Gallagher, Daniel Shannon And Joshua Komyerov
Posted Jul 12, 2008 @ 01:48 AM
As reported in your pages recently, Derek Marcia was operating carnival rides in Weymouth when he was arrested in April on kidnapping and armed robbery warrants out of Florida.

The notion of Marcia interacting with children and families at carnivals in Massachusetts and elsewhere is nothing less than frightening.

But imagine if instead of landing a job with the traveling carnival, Marcia had found work in one of the state’s hundreds of group homes serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. At the carnival, we can at least hope that crowds and caretakers will deter criminals from trying anything too brazen. But in group homes and other settings where many of our state’s 180,000 people with disabilities are served, there are no such deterrents.

Even with safeguards in place at group homes including supervision and state monitoring, someone with illicit intentions could be in a position that should make everyone feel uncomfortable. After all, working in a group home with some of the state’s most vulnerable individuals includes some serious responsibilities such as having access to money and prescription medication.

Scenarios like this are not outside the realm of possibility. Like carnival workers, employees hired to work with people with disabilities are required to undergo state criminal background checks, but not national checks. That means people with warrants (or a criminal record) outside Massachusetts but nothing in-state, could be working across the commonwealth in direct contact with people with disabilities.

Fortunately, a bill filed by Rep. Martin Walsh of Dorchester and co-sponsored by Rep. Louis Kafka of Stoughton would plug this gaping loophole. The National Criminal Background Check Bill (H144) would require candidates who apply for positions working with individuals served by the Department of Mental Retardation to undergo a national criminal check in addition to the statewide Criminal Offense Registry Information (CORI ) check.

This bill has the overwhelming support of disability groups, including The Arc of Massachusetts, The Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council, The Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress and Massachusetts Families Organizing for Change, as well as DMR Commissioner Elin Howe, among others. Similar legislation has already been implemented successfully in other states, including New York and Idaho.

Opponents of the bill have tried to peg it as an expansion of the CORI law, but it is no such thing. It would not have any effect on the current CORI system or on any CORI reform. It would simply require employers to conduct a national record check on top of the state check, thereby ensuring an additional level of protection.

What evidence is available underscores the need for such a law. According to the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission, in the last decade in Massachusetts there have been more than 2,000 documented cases in which people with disabilities were victims of abuse at the hands of staff ostensibly providing care and supervision. In about 300 of those cases, the alleged abuser resided (at the time of the abuse) outside Massachusetts in a neighboring state. (This number does not even include employees who previously lived out of state.)

Because of current law, no national background check was conducted in these cases and any out-of-state criminal records went unseen. Had this law been in place, dozens of instances of abuse may have been prevented.

This law, if enacted, will give provider agencies the most basic tools to properly screen for employees who will first and foremost ensure the safety of their disabled and most vulnerable clients.

Maureen Gallagher is executive director of the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress; Daniel Shannon is executive director of the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council; and Joshua Komyerov is director of government affairs of the Arc of Massachusetts.

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