The Closure of Institutions for Those with Intellectual Disabilities: How Depopulation Impacts Programs and Spending



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Institutions for those with intellectual disabilities have been present in American culture since the 1840s. For one hundred and eighty years, a sizeable population of people has been housed at these large-scale facilities designed to provide them with the housing and services that they may need. Starting in the 1960s, moves were made by advocates and some family members to shrink and close these facilities. These moves were fought by family and friends of those in the institutions, staff of these facilities looking to maintain their jobs, and politicians who represented these facilities (among others). Some of the arguments made for closure were that community living was cheaper and programs would be more personalized in a community setting. Those in favor of retention argued exactly the opposite. This dissertation will look at the closure of two specific facilities to determine how these closures occur and what that means for the programs and systems intended to provide support and care for individuals with disabilities. Further, the paper will examine spending on institutions in general and what happens when depopulation and closure occur. These examinations should lead to generalized lessons learned that can be applied to future cases of both closure and movement of individuals into the community.