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Prosecuting Disability

 

Dept. of Justice Investigation of N.L.D.C

 

 

 

Prosecuting Disability

 

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. 

 

By 1994, 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 process. 

Kathy stepped up to the plate again. 

Coming soon: More about Frankie's mom,  Kathy Wigfield, and her pioneering efforts as an advocate for children and adults with disabilities.

Over 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.  

During 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. 

 

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