A New Jersey Assemblyman and Budget Chairman, Louis Greenwald, a democrat from Camden (pictured on right), is proposing to close FIVE of the seven state institutions for people with developmental disabilities. Can the other two be far behind? I hope not. His proposal calls for them to be closed within five years, which seems longer than it should take, but at least it's a plan. The money now spent on them would be used for community housing. Hallelujah!
According to a posting by the New Jersey Star-Ledger's reporter, Susan K. Livio, Greenwald says there are compelling moral and economic reasons to "radically restructure" the way the state spends money on people with developmental disabilities. This is one of those cases when throwing money at the problem makes it worse. Big bucks mean maintaining prisons for people with disabilities.
It's becoming clearer around the country that incarceration is not cost effective. Even the prison system is moving to house prisoners in their own homes. The Natchez Democrat newspaper did a cost comparison between incarceration and in-home house arrest. Originally designed to reduce prison overcrowding, officers say the program has another important benefit: It is cheaper than other forms of incarceration. They found that the cost to house a prisoner in a county jail is approximately $22.21 per day; in a work center, $33.69; in a restitution center, $23.53; and in the Home Supervision Program, $6.46 per day.
Greenwald said the state can no longer afford to support seven institutions, where it costs about $227,000 to house EACH of their 2,900 residents. He estimated community care would cost less than half of that amount. That is $658,300,300 annually.
"We are warehousing human life," Greenwald said January 27, 2008. "We pride ourselves on being a progressive state in health care and science." Other states have closed a total of 140 institutions, and New Jersey has not closed one in 10 years.
According to the article he is sure that the state's labor leaders, numbering about 8,000 at these institutions will oppose the measure. Don Klein, executive vice president for Local 1040 Communications Workers of America, said the bill appears to be a stunt to save money. Klein's position is a short-sited and regressive. Each individual will leaving an institution will still need in-home services. There's no reason those workers laid-off at the institutions could not transfer to being in-home workers and should not have union representation. (See Shiva and my comments below, for a clarification of this paragraph.)
He also anticipates that some parents and family members how have relatives in these institutions will who prefer the around-the clock care provided by the developmental centers. Being a parent, I understand the concerns they face; however, the concerns of the parents should not interfere with the independence of their adult children.
New Jersey's State Human Services officials say there are roughly 2,400 people living at institutions who are willing and able to move to community housing. Under the bill, two centers -- one in north Jersey, the other in south Jersey -- would remain open to accommodate the people who want to stay. If it were you... which would you prefer? If available community options were available, those two remaining facilities will also be empty.
Joseph Young is the executive director for Disability Rights New Jersey. The agency sued the state on behalf of people who want to leave institutions and 8,000 others living with families who are on a waiting list for state-funded housing, called the bill "an incredibly ambitious program. Whether they can logistically do it I have no idea, but clearly they are headed in the right direction," Young said.
C'mon Mr. Young! way to stick your neck out. People are languishing in hell holes. Let's be "incredibly ambitious."
One can only hope the forces for disability advocates will succeed in their efforts; also that other states (are you listening Illinois?) will follow their lead quickly.
If you want to become involved in creating more community choice options for people with disabilities in Illinois, contact the Campaign for Real Choice, Chicago ADAPT, or your local center for independent living's Community Reintegration Program. Other states have similar programs, but I am not familiar with them... do a little Google research to find them.