Closing the Montana Developmental Center (MDC) in Boulder, Montana is misguided and irresponsible. MDC is the only treatment facility of its kind in Montana. Many of the individuals who are sent to MDC are sent there by a judge because they are a threat to themselves and the public. In no way am I demonizing clients with developmental disabilities. However, it is important to recognize the composition of the clients served by MDC.
While well intentioned (for the most part), proponents of SB 411, which would close MDC, are using some incredibly broken logic. The bill’s chief sponsor Senator Mary Caferro claims that many of MDC’s clients will be welcomed with open arms by community group homes and organizations like AWARE, a private-sector group that cares for people with developmental disabilities. Well, that’s just nonsense.
In fact, some of the very clients served by MDC were sent to there by organizations like AWARE because AWARE is not equipped to handle a client load that includes the developmentally disabled who have committed violent crimes and continue to be a risk to commit more violent crimes. It’s equally unlikely that these individuals will be welcomed in community group homes where they pose a risk to their neighborhood.
If SB 411 is passed by the House, many of MDC’s clients will be left with one option: prison, where they are certain to not have their needs met. It’s ironic that proponents of closing MDC are claiming to have the clients’ best interests in mind. Closing MDC leaves clients more vulnerable.
Since Senator Caferro’s bill passed out of the Senate, Montana’s newspapers was been filled with letters from client’s family members pleading with the Montana Legislature to keep MDC open. Here’s an example and here’s another one. Community members have also voiced their concerns over safety.
The irony of SB 411 doesn’t stop at sending clients back to groups that have already refused to serve them. Proponents claim that closing MDC will protect clients from abuse, because the Department of Public Health and Human Services is unable to oversee MDC. Why do proponents think DPHHS will be any better at policing AWARE and community group homes? Ironically, the reason proponents of SB 411 can browbeat MDC is because MDC is a public institution that is held to a higher standard than its private sector counterparts and is forced to submit much more rigorous reports regarding staff and clients.
The answer isn’t to close MDC, release dangerous clients into local communities, and send some clients to prison. The answer is to improve MDC. In 2013 the Montana Legislature cut funding to MDC by 10%. That’s clearly a move in the wrong direction.
I want to be clear. I am a supporter of AWARE. A huge supporter. I think they offer an invaluable service to thousands and thousands of Montanans. However, AWARE is not equipped to care for most of the clients at MDC and either are Montana’s community group homes. I also think that Senator Mary Caferro is a good public servant who has served the people of Helena well. She is also a good person, but her bill is bad policy.