There’s a fact of life in New Jersey that Gov. Chris Christie considers "shameful."
As the governor announced more funding for social services in his budget speech on Feb. 21, he told the Legislature the government needs to change that fact by providing better care to the state’s vulnerable residents.
"New Jersey has the second highest rate of institutionalization in America. Only Texas puts more of its citizens -- confines more of its citizens -- to institutions than New Jersey. This is a shameful fact. We must change. It’s long overdue," he said.
This isn’t the first time Christie made this point.
During an "Ask the Governor" segment in January on New Jersey 101.5 FM, Christie said: "one of the sins in New Jersey is that we have more developmentally disabled folks institutionalized in New Jersey than any state other than Texas. And it's just obscene."
Christie is on the mark by the number of people with developmental disabilities in large, state-operated institutions. But when measured as a rate of the general population, his comment needs some clarification.
Michael Drewniak, the governor’s spokesman, cited a report from the State of the States in Developmental Disabilities, a project administered by the University of Colorado. The group tracks state-level data on revenue, spending, and programmatic trends for services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Several experts said the group’s report is their primary source for data.
The report includes two measures of institutionalization: raw numbers and rates. The rates are calculated per 100,000 people in the general population.
Experts told us both measures matter. But, they said, comparing rates, rather than raw numbers, accounts for the likelihood that more populous states institutionalize more people.
Drewniak said Christie’s statement was based on the State of the States in Developmental Disabilities report from 2008, but acknowledged more recent figures have become available.
"The 2008 information (and New Jersey’s rank vis-a-vis Texas) has apparently been established in the policy lexicon/discussion here in New Jersey and, thus, has been referred to on several occasions by the Governor, including [on Feb. 21] in the budget speech. Regardless, the data from 2011, shows NJ is still 49th in the nation," Drewniak said in an e-mail.
In the most recent report, New Jersey had 2,703 people living in state-operated institutions of 16 or more people. Only Texas had more people living in such institutions, at 4,899 people.
Sharon Lewis, commissioner of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said different groups may define institution in various ways. But state-operated facilities with 16 or more people is one definition.
The State of the States in Developmental Disabilities ranks states and Washington, D.C. by the number of developmentally disabled people in large, state-operated institutions as a rate per 100,000 of the state’s general population.
By that measure, New Jersey ranks 49th, followed by Arkansas and Mississippi. Texas ranks 43rd.
State advocates for the developmentally disabled said by either measure New Jersey isn’t doing well.
"We are very much behind the rest of the country in getting people out into to the community," said Alison M. Lozano, executive director of the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities. "I think it’s a poor reflection on how we provide services in this state, unfortunately."
Christie said: "New Jersey has the second highest rate of institutionalization in America. Only Texas puts more of its citizens -- confines more of its citizens -- to institutions than New Jersey."
Christie is right, according to the population of large, state-operated institutions. Only Texas has more people with developmental disabilities in such institutions than New Jersey.
However, as a rate compared to the general population, the governor is slightly off. Arkansas and Mississippi institutionalize more people with developmental disabilities than New Jersey by that measure. Texas is 43rd.
Still, experts agree that the governor’s point is on target: New Jersey lags the rest of the country in moving people with developmental disabilities out of institutions and into the community.
We rate the statement Mostly True.
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