Three state workers at a Texas institution warehousing persons with disabilities were indicted on felony murder charges earlier this month.
Labeled developmental centers, supportive living centers, and state schools, these facilities are institutional relics of abuse and neglect and are by design a forum for potential abuse by their workers.
This facility in Texas and other state developmental centers should be closed. People with disabilities can and do live in small homes and obtain employment and other kinds of work if government leadership wills it.
According to the Texas media reports, three employees of the Brenham State Supported Living Center have been indicted on felony murder charges in the July death of a severely disabled resident of the facility. Amy Parrish, a woman with significant disabilities, was left to die in a van in the summer at the institution.
According to the Washington County District Attorney’s Office, the charge alleges that the staff did not intentionally kill Parrish, but that their criminal negligence led to her death. This is a systemic issue in the state schools (now called supportive living centers in Texas) and other institutions.
In 2009, then-Governor Rick Perry’s administration agreed to a $112 million settlement with the U.S. Justice Department over extensive abuse and neglect at the taxpayer-funded facilities. Many state officials would rather pay the Department of Justice than do what is morally and ethically correct and also something that requires a great deal of effort.
States like Minnesota, Michigan, New Mexico, Vermont and most of New England have closed their institutions and placed the people into nonprofit housing supervised by house parents and other staff. These persons who left large, congregate institutions with autism, intellectual disabilities and cerebral palsy now live full, meaningful lives in the community like any other American.
Texas has over 2,500 people relegated to live in these institutions. When institutions closed in New Jersey, Gov. Christie agreed by relocating the majority of them not into the community but into vacant beds at other institutions in South Jersey.
New York, even after the landmark “Willowbrook” lawsuit, still has thousands of people remaining in institutions. They are making progress but not with the same expedited fervor as other initiatives.
These facilities are too large to provide effective care. Amy’s death should be a lesson to all of us to advocate seasoned vovernors like Andrew Cuomo and rookie governors like Phil Murphy (governor-elect of New Jersey) and Greg Abbott (governor of Texas), who himself uses a wheelchair, to place people with disabilities into small homes where they can access jobs and activities in the community.