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Justice Center presentations to take place Tuesday in Watertown

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Parents, guardians and care providers for people with developmental disabilities can attend a session Tuesday at the Dulles State Office Building, 317 Washington St., about how the recently formed Justice Center will affect them.

Hosted by the Disabled Persons Action Organization, its former director and current volunteer Joseph L. Rich said it was important to bring a meeting to the north country to help educate residents on what the Justice Center is, how it’s evolving and how they may plan a role in its future.

“The Justice Center was created to establish the strongest standards and practices in the country for protecting people with special needs,” he said. “It serves as a law enforcement agency and as an advocate.”

Its jurisdiction covers programs overseen by the state Department of Health, state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, state Education Department, state Office of Mental Health and state Office of Children and Family Services. The Justice Center also monitors the quality of mental health care in state correctional facilities, according to a DPAO news release.

In the first four months alone, Mr. Rich said, the center received 25,000 cases of possible neglect, abuse or maltreatment of a person with special needs. Mr. Rich said those calls were fielded by about 100 people in a call center in Delmar, where the Justice Center is based.

The Justice Center may investigate, and then the state inspector general may prosecute a person if he or she is found to have neglected, abused or maltreated a person with special needs. People can call a 24-hour hotline, 855-373-2122, to report any suspected such incidents from anyone, including a family member, friend, caretaker or agency staff member. Those same people also can call the hotline.

Mr. Rich, the only Justice Center committee member out of 32 from the north country, said he was concerned about the time frame of the process, since investigations may be lengthy, and a staff member is out of work on suspension if he is involved. That adds strain to the agency when staff is not there to take care of people and adds financial pressure to agencies if those people are to be paid while on suspension.

Staff deemed responsible for serious abuse or neglect of a person with special needs will be placed on a staff exclusion list, a statewide register that prohibits those people from ever working again with people with special needs in the state.

As of Tuesday, no one was on that list, according to the Justice Center’s website.

People who have general questions about the Justice Center, which does not involve reporting an incident, can call 800-624-4143.

Local presentations will be given at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the conference room on the first floor of the Dulles State Office Building for service providers, and at 2 p.m. Tuesday for family, friends and caregivers of people with special needs. People interested in attending either session should call Mary Friot at 782-3577, ext. 224.

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