When Your Job Caring for Those With Special Needs Subjects You to Investigation by the Justice Center
The Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs was created pursuant to legislation passed in 2012 known as the “Protection of People with Special Needs Act.” According to this legislation, there is a need to strengthen and standardize the safety net for the more than 270,000 vulnerable persons who are receiving care in New York’s human service agencies and programs. The Act established standards and practices for protecting people with special needs who are being cared for in facilities under the auspices of six state agencies that operate, license, or certify such programs. The Justice Center was created to enforce these standards and practices.
What Does the Justice Center Do?
Not only does the Justice Center advocate for persons with special needs, it also has legal authority to investigate incidents involving people with special needs. Further, its Special Prosecutor/Inspector General has the authority to prosecute allegations that rise to the level of criminal offenses.
The Justice Center investigates cases involving “vulnerable persons” who are being cared for by a facility operated by or provider licensed or certified by the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), the Office of Mental Health (OMH), the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS), the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), the Department of Health (DOH), and the State Education Department (SED).
The Justice Center investigates and prosecutes persons accused of:
- Physical abuse (intentional contact such as hitting, kicking, shoving, corporal punishment, or an injury which cannot be explained and is suspicious due to extent or location)
- Sexual abuse (inappropriate touching, indecent exposure, sexual assault, taking or distributing sexually explicit photos, voyeurism, or other sexual exploitation)
- Psychological or emotional abuse (taunting, name calling, or using threatening words or gestures)
- Deliberate misuse of restraint or seclusion (use of these interventions with excessive force, as a punishment or for the convenience of staff)
- Neglect (failure to provide supervision, adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, or access to an educational entitlement)
- Aversive conditioning (unpleasant physical stimulus used to modify behavior without person-specific legal authorization)
- Obstruction (interfering with the discovery, reporting or investigation of abuse/neglect, falsifying records, or intentionally making false statements)
The Justice Center’s Staff Exclusion List and Discipline
The Justice Center has developed a Staff Exclusion List (SEL) that contains the names of individuals found responsible for egregious or repeated acts of abuse or neglect. While a person has a right to challenge their placement on this registry, once their name is on that registry he or she will be barred from future employment in the care of vulnerable persons. This registry is not public, but the authorized staff at the Justice Center will advise providers if a potential applicant is on the list. Employers are required to check this list before hiring employees who will be working with anyone with special needs.
Even if a person isn’t put on the Justice Center’s registry, that person can be found responsible for less serious acts where he or she will be subjected to progressive discipline. This can include re-training as well as other actions necessary to facilitate his or her safe return to the workplace.
Criminal Prosecutions Involving the Justice Center
If you are employed in the field of caring for those with special needs, and if you are being investigated for mistreatment of your patients, you may likely be facing a investigation by the Justice Center. Many attorneys don’t know about the Justice Center or how to advocate for their clients being investigated by this agency. At Pappalardo & Pappalardo, LLP, we have experience in dealing with Justice Center investigations and the strength to stand up to this powerful agency. Our attorneys will protect your rights through all phases of the process, including investigation, administrative proceedings, and criminal charges.
In criminal cases, the Justice Center collaborates with state police, local law enforcement agencies, and district attorneys to pursue prosecution to the extent allowed by the law. The Justice Center’s staff includes trained investigators with the authority to make arrests, and the Justice Center’s Special Prosecutor/Inspector General can bring criminal charges in courts across the state.
- Protection of People with Special Needs Act, L 2012, ch 501, §§ 1, 2.
- New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, “Homepage.” Available here.(last accessed April 26, 2017).