The case of Tyler Loftus curiously began in the New Jersey Governor’s office several years ago, when it was decided to cut programs which paid third-party out-of-state providers for medical and psychiatric care. It seemed more cost effective to bring home to New Jersey, those who were being cared for in other states at New Jersey’s expense. Smart financial thinking, but like so many other brilliant ideas, only a half-thought. You see, there was no thought to the fact that New Jersey lacked the facilities found in these other states, and of course, no one in government would increase budgets to fix the current facilities to meet the standards found out of state.
Tyler, now 23, is autistic and developmentally disabled. He has autism, bipolar disorder, and the mental capacity of a five-year-old. He lived successfully at The Woods School in Pennsylvania, funded by the State of New Jersey because of his condition along with dozens of other Jersey boys and girls. He was placed there only because New Jersey had no facilities capable of caring for his specific, unique condition. That fact hasn’t changed.
When Tyler was forced back to New Jersey, the available facilities couldn’t cope with his particular needs. For about eighteen months his mother tried to get the state agency in control of his case to move him to a proper location with such capacity. She had no luck. Placed with others who have much milder autism, he was often harassed, bullied and accused of stealing cigarettes, even though he doesn’t smoke. After a series of such events, Tyler began to run away, and each time state police were called to fetch him back.
One day, not long ago, he pulled out a 3-inch knife and threatened his own life. Let’s face it, he was tormented and frustrated. His happy life in Pennsylvania disrupted (it’s always bad to change the routine of an autistic individual), Tyler became disorganized and his behavior began to change. Confronted with others whom he disliked and who clearly disliked him, he began to run away, have repeated emotional outbursts and continual problems. Finally, he was arrested, then arraigned in court for making “terroristic threats” and for “unlawful possession of a weapon,” a three-inch pocket knife.
Pleas by his mother and others to the New Jersey Department of Developmental Disabilities were met only with pathetic bureaucratic delays and a lack of action, resulting ultimately in her son’s arrest and arraignment. Rather than supporting him, and providing the kind of care he needs, there appears to be a movement to incarcerate him, and others with autism, using our jails to warehouse those we cannot care for due to costs. It’s cheaper to jail someone than to care for them.
Warehousing those society doesn’t want is nothing new. The practice began in the 12th century, and continues to this day, throughout the world. But autistic citizens don’t belong in jail. It’s not the place for them. Their suicide rate in prison is high, effectively making the state their murderers. This is not what people want for our handicapped children, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, neighbors and grandchildren.
New Jersey’s governor, like many a politician past, present and future, is taking an easy path to lower costs, rather than making the decisions that would ultimately cost him his political future — cutting the cost of government in favor of funding those in need. Tyler is the victim, in no uncertain terms, of the system that’s supposed to be protecting him.
Let’s be blunt: government isn’t here to provide jobs and outrageous pension plans, it’s here to provide for the needs of its citizens; to protect and secure them from harm and to provide for their safety. Here’s a newsflash for all the politicians reading this: PEOPLE WITH AUTISM ARE CITIZENS and their families, friends and neighbors pay the taxes you misspend. They vote, and if you keep voting to harm autistic citizens, they’re going to vote you out.
We support Tyler Loftus – unquestionably. We believe his lawyers and the judge are ignorant of autism and consider such ignorance shameful and criminal in the extreme. We believe this a case of a denial of human rights and New Jersey’s failure to find him a secure facility to be a violation of his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Negligence in bureaucracy is unacceptable.
Abraham Lincoln, an Aspergian, said in his famous Gettysburg Address “…this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” We don’t think Mr. Lincoln would appreciate petty bureaucrats destroying the life of a child they’ve victimized yet are pledged to serve. It’s a betrayal of trust.