Starting in the 1970s, the Law Center’s landmark deinstitutionalization lawsuit Halderman v. Pennhurst helped spark a nationwide movement to implement strong community-based services in place of these dangerous and discriminatory institutions. As a result, the population of large state-run institutions has reduced dramatically, from around 200,000 in 1967 to below 40,000 in 2008. In place of those institutions, smaller settings and systems to support community living have been built across the country. Every step of the way, the Law Center has played a central role in the movement – closing large institutions, building community living arrangements, and securing funding to make community placements possible.
For decades throughout the country, people with developmental disabilities were segregated from the community in massive state-run warehouses, where they often suffered physical and mental abuse, total neglect, and isolation from friends, family, and society in general. Institutions did nothing to help people with disabilities – indeed, most regressed in basic life skills in confinement. Instead, the system indulged an ugly and irrational prejudice against people with disabilities – a belief, in the words of the Supreme Court, that people with developmental disabilities are “incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.”