Before the U.S. Department of Justice
(DOJ) filed suit against the State of NJ over conditions at New Lisbon, the
frequency with which its developmentally disabled residents were charged
with crimes when their treatment plans failed was rarely discussed outside the disability advocacy community.
In 2001, however, the issue gained a new champion when the NJ Department
of Human Services (DHS) Police filed its first criminal charge against
her son, Frankie Macias. Her name is Kathy Wigfield.
the year Frankie was sent to New Lisbon, Kathy Wigfield already
had over 20 years of experience as an advocate for children with
disabilities and an impressive list of accomplishments to show
for it. Motivated by the same, singular purpose that drives
mothers to move mountains if moving mountains is what their sons
or daughters need, her approach was straightforward. If a system
intended to serve all children wasn't working for hers, then it
was broken and had to be fixed.
In 2001 the DHS Police brought
Frankie into a courtroom in handcuffs, without an attorney, and
asked the judge to issue an order incarcerating him at New
Lisbon's Moderate Security Unit. When the judge refused, the
Department of Human Services locked him up anyway, violating not
only Frankie's civil rights but its own regulations in the
Kathy stepped up to the plate
soon: More about Frankie's mom, Kathy Wigfield, and her
pioneering efforts as an advocate for children and adults with
the course of the next three years, she not only succeeded in
securing Frankie's release. She also changed the law of the
land. The bi-partisan MSU
bill, introduced in the N.J.
Legislature in 2004, ensured that no individual with
developmental disabilities would ever be sent to the MSU without
a court order, remain incarcerated after that order expired, or
after the charges against him were dropped, again.
the four years of court-ordered monitoring that followed the DOJ
lawsuit, not a single criminal complaint against Frankie was filed. Less
than a month after the court-appointed monitor delivered her eighth report, however, he was charged with three crimes and Kathy found
herself in the Woodland Township Municipal Court again. She came well
prepared, as usual, and the charges were dismissed.
On November 13, 2008, Kathy received
another fax from the Woodland Twp. Court when she learned that four new criminal
charges had been filed against her son by the DHS Police in October. On December 8, she learned that an
additional charge had been filed, bringing the total number of charges currently
pending to five and the number filed in the last three months to eight.