Vinnie Carozza, 25, was arrested in October 2018 and charged with Arson in the third degree. His family members are working hard on getting him back home and shedding light on individuals with special needs in the justice system.
Carozza was born with multiple birth defects which began his many surgeries he had from the age of 2 months to 2 years. Carozza was then diagnosed with autism and spent his time in school switching back and forth from special education schools to neurotypical schools.
“None of the schools ever seemed to be the right fit for Vinnie,” Joe Carozza, Vinnie’s father, said. “He was either too low functioning or too high functioning so he was continually passed along from place to place trying to fit in but never actually succeeding.”
While growing up Vinnie held countless jobs, mowing lawns for neighbors at the age of 13, working at the Renegades Stadium, and an auto shop and farm. Vinnie grew up with his mom, dad and three siblings. When he was 16 his mother died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Then as his siblings got older and moved out of the house Vinnie wanted to follow in their footsteps, so he and Joe started looking into group homes.
Vinnie was living in a group home when he placed a book on the stove and turned on the burner, then placed a fork and battery in the microwave and turned it on. The stove started smoking and set off the fire alarm, no fire or harm actually took place in the building. According to his family, the group home was supposed to be giving their residents one on one supervision, meaning a staff member should be with a resident at all times. Vinnie was left alone during the incident.
Vinnie was then arrested and sent to county jail where he remained for a week until Joe bailed him out. Once he returned home Vinnie started working for a landscaping company awaiting his trial.
At Vinnie’s first court date it was decided that he be released into Joe’s care and go upstate to Sunmount, a facility to determine whether he was fit to stand trial. After a month at Sunmount, they declared that Vinnie was incompetent to stand trial, and Vinnie returned home awaiting his next court date.
When Joe and Vinnie showed up for his next court date in April they were expecting a routine court appearance and instead Vinnie was handcuffed and arrested again, told he never should have been released in the first place. Vinnie has been in Sunmount since, with no offer on the table and no option for bail.
Vinnie’s aunt, Sherry, has started a Facebook page and gofundme to help raise awareness for Vinnie and help pay for their court bills, called “Justice For Vinnie.” She and Joe are also using this platform to help raise awareness for autism and people with disabilities in the system.
“A person with autism and disabilities should be protected and helped by the system, not completely allowed to fall through the cracks of injustice,” Sherry says in the gofundme page which has raised $1,825 as of Tuesday afternoon.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approximately 1.2 million people under the age of 21 in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism. There are no figures that state how many people incarcerated have autism but according to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics three in ten jail inmates reported having a cognitive disability.
“I think the problem lies with the uneducated police force and judicial system employees. Unless one of them has a child with autism, or any other disability, they don’t understand that individual,” Joanne Ponte, a Highland resident, said.
“Education all around needs to happen.”
With Vinnie still in Sunmount they are once again evaluating him to see if he is fit to stand trial. With Sunmount being a four hour drive away Joe tries to visit as often as he can but wishes his son were closer.
“Vinnie comes from a loving and supportive family. His father and his siblings are everything one can wish for. They have been his greatest advocates and cheerleaders,” Kate Waage, a New Paltz resident, said.
Along with support from family members there are endless posts on the Facebook page advocating for Vinnie’s return home with people telling stories of the times they met him and how wonderful he is.
Vinnie’s next court date is June 14, for updates check out facebook.com/groups/318836912135022/.