New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law on Monday that has prison terms up to 10 years for people who endanger the welfare of those with developmental disabilities, reports Asbury Park Press (APP).
Senators Steve Sweeney and Robert Singer proposed the law after they heard the story of Parker Drake, who was allegedly bullied by two acquaintances last year. Drake, who has autism, jumped off a jetty into the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 26, 2015, and Nicholas Formica and Christopher Tilton, who reportedly bribed and encouraged him, took videos of the incident and allegedly posted them on social media, NJ.com reported.
In an interview with APP prior to the passing of the legislation, Drake stated, “I didn’t really think I was going to make it,” adding that he had no idea he was going to be jumping into the cold water — or filmed. “I would like for them to be prosecuted, and I would like for there to be better laws to protect disabled people,” he said.
Per the new law, it’s now a second-degree crime to “create a substantial risk of death for someone with a developmental disability.” The crime is punishable by five to 10 years in prison or a fine up to $150,000, or both. Legislation for lesser offenses is also now in place.
“These added protections should send a clear message that this type of bullying and dangerous acts against those with developmental disabilities won’t be tolerated in New Jersey and that those who do so will be held accountable,” Senator Singer told APP.
In 2014 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report showing 1 in 68 children nationally has an autism spectrum disorder, but in New Jersey that rate was 1 in 45 children, and 1 in 28 boys. Autism New Jersey cited that number as the highest in the nation.
Dr. Suzanne Buchanan, Executive Director of Autism New Jersey, expressed her gratitude towards the lawmakers and explained to The Mighty what we can do to continue making the community a safer place.
“While the law will hopefully offer greater protection for our most vulnerable citizens, we must continue our proactive efforts of raising awareness to help build communities that embrace and accept individuals with autism,” Buchanan said. “Whether it be via character building, awareness campaigns or disability support programs, children and adults alike will have a greater understanding and sensitivity for the disability community. These qualities will hopefully reduce episodes of harm and increase meaningful inclusion for individuals with autism.”
h/t 94.3 The Point