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Vitale Bill To Protect Developmentally Disabled Individuals Approved

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would require a court order for admittance into the Moderate Security Unit (MSU) at the New Lisbon Developmental Center was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee by a vote of 7-0.

“The MSU is an institutional setting for special needs prisoners with developmental disabilities, and we need to make sure that we don’t send vulnerable patients with no history of violence into a potentially dangerous environment,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health Committee. “The MSU is specifically intended to provide regimented treatment to patients deemed dangerous to themselves and others, and that sort of an environment is not necessarily suited to every patient. We need protections in place to ensure that those suffering from developmental disabilities are not placed in harm’s way in the course of their treatment.”

The bill, S-1047, would require that a person could not be admitted into the MSU without the order of a court of competent jurisdiction. The bill also outlines the eligibility and placement of individuals who are developmentally disabled and involved in criminal proceedings, and establishes guidelines for the period of stay at the MSU and the terms of their release. In addition, the bill allows those in the care of the MSU to voluntarily opt to stay after their required term at the facility, if they so choose.

“The strict treatment environment of the MSU is an absolute necessity to patients who pose a danger to themselves and others, but could potentially be harmful to those without a history of violence,” said Senator Vitale. “We would never put a shoplifting eight-year-old in maximum security prison with murderers and rapists, but the MSU, for whatever reason, doesn’t have such protections. We cannot jeopardize the safety and welfare of vulnerable patients living with developmental disabilities by putting them in a setting in which they don’t belong.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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