From the Office of the New York State Comptroller
Thomas P. DiNapoli
March 7, 2017, Contact: Press Office (518) 474-4015
Audit Faults Justice Center Records, Raises Questions on Accountability
The Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs left three individuals who had committed serious acts of abuse or neglect against vulnerable New Yorkers off a registry, a list of individuals prohibited from holding jobs that involve direct care of patients, according to an audit released by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Auditors also found numerous inaccuracies in the database tracking allegations of wrongdoing, including multiple and different identification numbers assigned to suspected offenders.
Based on an interpretation of certain provisions of the State Social Services Law, the Justice Center limited auditors' access to records and only permitted review of closed cases for abuse and neglect allegations in which charges had been substantiated. These records encompassed less than eight percent of unique reported incidents between July 1, 2013 to September 2, 2015. As a result, auditors were unable to reach a conclusion about whether allegations of abuse and neglect against vulnerable individuals were investigated and referred to external law enforcement when appropriate.
The limited testing auditors did complete raised serious questions about whether safeguards are working to track individuals accused of and found guilty of abuse and neglect. The Justice Center has also refused to grant complete access to its records to Disability Rights New York (DRNY), the not-for-profit group designated by federal and state law for monitoring the agency. DRNY has filed a lawsuit to force the agency to give them full access to records. DiNapoli has written to legislative leaders asking them to amend the law and give his office explicit authority to review all records.
"New York created a new agency to protect people with disabilities, addictions and mental illness from individuals who would harm them. The Justice Center faced the difficult task of sorting through a system troubled with delays, questionable follow up and other problems," DiNapoli said. "Even though the Justice Center is over three years old, we don't know how effectively it is operating or whether changes are needed. This isn't about finger-pointing if some of the old system's problems still exist. It is about keeping New York's most vulnerable people safe and seeing what progress has been made and how the system can be improved."
The Justice Center, which began operations in June 2013, was created as a single authority to investigate complaints in response to lax oversight and inconsistent follow up among the multiple state agencies previously charged with looking into allegations. The Justice Center manages a database of claims of abuse or neglect, and it is responsible for investigating those complaints generally within 60 days. It also maintains a list of individuals who have abused or neglected someone and should not be employed in a position responsible for direct care for vulnerable individuals.
Auditors examined the period of July 2013 to May 2016 to determine if the Justice Center met its responsibility to operate a hotline, establish a database of reported allegations and state exclusion list, as well as ensure that allegations were investigated in a complete and timely manner.
DiNapoli's auditors found the Justice Center does operate a hotline and maintains a database of allegations and offenders. Although the examination of records was severely limited, auditors identified three individuals who had been erroneously left off the staff exclusion list after committing serious acts of abuse or neglect. The names of two of the individuals should have been included on the list nine months before auditors identified them. The name of the third individual should have been included five months earlier. Auditors found these problems occurred because the Justice Center lacked proper controls to periodically validate the accuracy of the list. Justice Center officials promptly added these names once auditors brought the omissions to their attention.
Auditors also found mistakes and other problems with the Justice Center's database of reported allegations. For example, each suspected offender should have a unique identification number to enable tracking of repeat offenders. Yet the auditors identified about 180 individuals who are highly likely to have multiple identification numbers assigned to them.
Auditors also identified about 220 substantiated offenses with inaccurate or blank fields for significant dates, including the date the incident was reported or when a finding was made. Such errors can result in inaccurate data being publicly reported. Officials told auditors they are implementing steps to correct the data inaccuracies and are also implementing a new reporting system.
The Justice Center disagreed with the audit's findings. Its full response is included in the audit.
Read the audit, or go to: http://osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093017/15s61.htm