State Could Require Cameras In Group Properties

EDISON, NJ – William Cray was found dead on the floor of his bedroom closet in a group home in Somers Point three years ago.

His mother said she would never know what happened to her son, a 33-year-old man with developmental disabilities. The autopsy said he died of natural causes. The operators of the state-licensed group home Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health didn’t say much, though she’d disagreed with them over the past few months over Billy’s unexplained bruises and other injuries.

Martha Cray last week asked a New Jersey Assembly panel to relieve other families of this fear and uncertainty by supporting laws that would require security cameras to be installed if local residents or their guardians consent. She noted that her son had been ill-treated in other licensed facilities and when she complained and requested an investigation, the allegations were always “unfounded”.

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“What exactly is the purpose of a health department and a (department of) human services if they don’t oversee and hold these institutions accountable?” She said.

After an emotional three-hour hearing, the Human Services Committee approved the assembly and voted 6-0 to pass the law (A4013).

The bill says the group home will keep the video recordings for 90 days and the State Department of Human Services will list the names of the group homes with cameras on the state website. The bill, which was amended prior to the vote, makes it clear that the cameras will be installed in public areas – including backyards and doors – and only if all residents agree they want them.

“The loss of a child is best described as a state of purgatory and hell wrapped in one,” Cray said, crying. “The families who testify before this committee today and feel the stress of sleepless nights are a fraction of the pain and stress they will experience if they lose loved ones.”

Priscilla Quesada, from East Windsor, the mother of a 21-year-old nonverbal son with autism who lives in a group home, believes cameras would help keep her son safe. She showed photos of bruises around her son’s neck and carpet burns on his face, including injuries.

“Nobody knew or was able to explain how these incidents happened,” said Quesada, who described the guilt she feels as a “bad mother” for leaving her son in group care.

Representatives of the group’s home industry asked the committee to vote no and consider how cameras in public areas such as living rooms would violate residents’ privacy.

Cathy Chin, executive director of the Alliance for the Improvement of Citizens with Disabilities, shared a research paper with the committee that cameras were found in the homes of people with intellectual disabilities, increasing staff mistrust and giving families a false sense of security.

Brent A. Hayward of the Department of Health and Human Services in Victoria, Australia, after reviewing 43 research papers on the subject, concluded: “It was disliked by people with disabilities and viewed with suspicion by staff. The functionality was limited and the ethical challenges associated with its use are considerable. “

At a time when the budget for purchasing personal protective equipment to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is running out, “cameras are a waste of resources,” Chin said.

Evelyn Ramundo, president of the Statewide Self-Advocacy Network, an organization made up of people with disabilities, said she had interviewed its members and that the “vast majority” were against the idea of ​​living under surveillance.

The bill “doesn’t say who will be able to review the footage,” Ramundo said. “Can you imagine being watched in your own bedroom or living room? The thought frightened me. “

“Cameras don’t stop being abused or neglected,” she added. “Cameras can’t stop someone choking.”

Congregation’s Human Resources Chair, Joann Downey, D-Monmouth, who is also the main sponsor of the law, stressed that anyone living in the group’s home must consent to the use of cameras in public areas. If someone says no, they will not be installed. Residents could request it for their bedroom – paid for by the resident’s family – but if it is a common space, everyone who shares the space must agree.

Downey said she was “really upset” because it appeared like the self-advocates had “received information” that wasn’t true.

“We’ve gone through everything possible to make sure privacy is balanced and people are protected,” Downey said. “If you don’t want it, you don’t have to have it.”

Downey added that some group homes use cameras with great success because they protect both residents and employees who may otherwise be falsely accused of wrongdoing.

Jessica Gustafson, a former Devereux employee who said she had been warned by management that Billy Cray was in the habit of falsely accusing employees of abuse, said she got to know him well and witnessed his abuse.

There’s no reason employees should object to cameras unless they have something to hide, Gustafson told the committee.

“Cameras should be installed in every hospital, nursing home, and group home in America,” said Gustafson. “While abuse may never go away completely, cameras would definitely reduce the level of abuse. The men and women who have to live in a group home have the right to feel safe. “

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