Casualties of the State Budget Crisis

2,400 people will be deprived of their freedom for another year because of the state’s continuing fiscal crisis.

Their only crime? When they were young, somebody hung a label on them that said “Mentally Retarded” and sent them to an institution where they didn’t belong.

 Many of them have been locked up in those places for twenty, thirty even forty years. During that time, they’ve had to live with people they didn’t choose, eat what and when someone else told them to, get up and go to bed at the convenience of others, often with the lights on and the TV blaring 24/7 year after year.

Ten years ago, the Supreme Court said they didn’t belong there and told the state to free them as soon as it could. During those times of plenty, the state dragged its feet to avoid meeting its responsibility to these people, some of its most vulnerable citizens, freeing as few of them as it could get away with.

It missed a real opportunity to do well by doing good. You see, it spends a quarter of a million dollars for each person in those places each year and only $80,000 to support them in the community. For a one-time start-up cost of $10 million, it could have saved itself twice that much every year just by freeing them.

Then, a couple of years ago, the state’s budget problems began to loom large and the trickle of people leaving the DCs slowed to a drip. Money already appropriated wasn’t spent; the state, which had been sued by Disability Rights NJ to free them, said it no longer had money to negotiate in good faith and spent it on lawyers, not on freedom.

There’s even less money this year and next year will be worse.

When I was younger, I supported the state when it closed Johnstone and North Princeton DCs. After they closed, I spent a lot of time serving on countless task forces, writing white papers analyzing the political and economic benefits of closing the remaining developmental centers, once more doing the state’s job for it.

No more. The state has a moral and legal obligation to free these people and give them the opportunity to live the rest of their lives with the dignity they deserve as human beings. How it does that is its problem. 

Making sure it does is my problem and the problem of every other person with a conscience in New Jersey. Please join me with your ideas about how to make that happen.

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One Response to “Casualties of the State Budget Crisis”

  1. Jo Oppelt Says:

    The system in New Jersey has almost completely imploded. We are at a point where, in general, people have to access the system at an emergency point to receive supports. A poin t that this the most expensive to maintain, among the continuum of supprts that are possible. New Jersey needs to do something, we cannot continue to do what is not only morally reprehensible, but also the most cotly to provide. Many states have completely closed their institutions. It would be well worth the time and effort to see how those states made the transitions and tweak to fit our state’s needs. The data is out there. Are we willing to demand that our elected officials follow it?

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