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Article by Former ARCA President Printed in SF Chronicle


Would Disabled Receive Better Care in Prison?

by Laura Repke, 04/01/11

I’m beginning to hope my son will be sent to prison – perhaps Death Row.

Rob stands accused of no crime. And I am not an unloving mother. Let me explain: Rob has a developmental disability, and California is balancing its budget by gutting the services that keep him alive.

The situation is dire enough that I must wonder: Once Rob’s services are cut, will Death Row be a safer place for him?

I know that every program is getting cut. But the single largest budget cut just signed into law by the governor – $568.6 million – is for services for people with developmental disabilities.

For Rob, and 246,000 other Californians like him, that money went to get him to medical appointments, to manage his finances and – hopefully – to have someone look out for his safety after his father and I are no longer alive.

It is shameful that the most vulnerable citizens are receiving the largest share of the pain. Rob was born 31 years ago, legally blind, with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities. Today he is healthy, employed, living with a roommate and paying his taxes. The essential programs that made this possible are supposedly guaranteed by legislation signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1969, the Lanterman Act. The law directs the state to provide people with disabilities like autism and Down syndrome with access to housing, health care and employment. For people with developmental disabilities, the Lanterman Act was equivalent to the Bill of Rights, except more important. Without its practical support, many could not survive outside of grim old-fashioned state institutions (which were vastly more expensive – and now mostly have closed).

It’s a particularly bitter irony that I could even consider prison – a far worse institution – as a potential safe haven. But the math is simple. That $568.6 million cut is approximately 20 percent of state funding for services for people with developmental disabilities. This comes after years of smaller cuts – plus cuts to other services they depend on, like Medi-Cal. The safety net was dismantled years ago. Now we are taking down the tightrope itself.

Meanwhile, prisons – protected by a court order – face only a 1 percent cut. Rob’s services are protected only by the Legislature and governor. What have our state’s leaders done for him lately?

In recent years, Rob lost his dental coverage, his physical therapy and his vision care – despite his difficulty walking and seeing. Now the state sees room for another half billion dollars in cuts. That’s why Death Row – with its steady funding and a decade of room and board – is looking better and better. (San Quentin State Prison even offers views of San Francisco Bay and is set to receive a new $356 million facility.)

So, how can you help? Contact the governor and protest the cuts to services for people with developmental disabilities. If that fails, then consider framing one of them for a capital offense. You’ll be guaranteeing them health care and three meals a day for 10 years or more – and possibly a room with a view.

This article appeared on page A – 10 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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