Unfortunately, the instances of abuse in New Jersey group homes have become an all too familiar topic of discussion. However, raising awareness of this critical issue is necessary to accomplish the changes integral to mitigating these preventable occurrences.
Advocates Demand Cameras in Homes for Developmentally Disabled Adults to Reduce Abuse
When 33-year-old Nick Aquilino, who is severely autistic and completely nonverbal, suffered a broken finger in July 2021, he couldn’t say what happened — and no one at the state-run home for developmentally disabled adults in Cape May County where he lives had answers either.
“It was a bit of an unusual injury,” said his mother, Cynthia Allen. “The orthopedist explained it as the type of injury basketball players get when they go for a ball high up and their finger bends all the way back to their hand.”
Two weeks later, the same joint on Aquilino’s other hand got mysteriously injured, and an X-ray revealed another healed fracture his mother never knew about.
So Allen started keeping track, and found Aquilino has had 248 injuries in the past 17 months, averaging an injury every other day. For two-thirds of those injuries, workers at the Woodbine Developmental Center — where Allen supposedly is under one-on-one, 24-hour monitoring —couldn’t explain what happened, she said.
Allen asked state authorities to investigate. But without proof of wrongdoing, they told her they couldn’t hold anyone accountable, she said.
Now, Allen is on a crusade. She wants state legislators to act on a long-stalled bill that would require group homes to install security cameras in common areas and private rooms, if residents request and consent to such monitoring.
A Sad History of Inaction
Calls for cameras in group homes started more than five years ago, when Billy Cray was found dead, face down on a bloody pillow, in the bedroom closet of his Somers Point group home.
An autopsy concluded he died of natural causes. But his mother, Martha, an outspoken disability rights advocate even before his August 2017 death, always suspected foul play because she said Billy, 33, had been repeatedly physically and sexually abused during 25 years of living in group homes.
After helping to pass the 2017 Stephen Komninos Law that strengthened protections for people with developmental disabilities, Cray again set her sights on Trenton, working with lawmakers to craft legislation known as “Billy Cray’s Law,” that would require group homes to install security cameras, with residents’ consent.
“How many deaths of a client does it take to pass a law?” she said. “I find that astounding. I find it, oh my god, horrible. People are going to be continuing to bury their children. I’m offended that these are not considered. Bills that protect dogs get passed quicker than a bill passed for the disabled.”
Take a Stand!
New Jersey State Senator Joseph F. Vitale continues refusing to release this bill for a public hearing. The public has a right to advocate for this critical bill, so contact him for our voices to be heard!
New Jersey State Senate President, Nicholas P. Scutari, can be a powerful ally in persuading Senator Vitale to release this bill.
This online petition to pass Billy Cray’s Law is under 200 signatures away from reaching 5,000!