Tuesday, 28 November 2023

Chesbro resolution would honor those who died in state institutions

SACRAMENTO – From the mid 1880s into the 1960s, an estimated 45,000 people with developmental disabilities who died in California institutions were buried in unmarked locations – many in mass graves.

The locations of their remains are unknown because identifying records have been lost, or their remains were moved.

First District Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro (D-North Coast) has introduced Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 123, which would establish the third Monday of September as a Remembrance Day to memorialize these Californians.

“The stigma of living with developmental and mental disabilities has begun to disappear in recent generations,” Chesbro said. “But not too long ago those with developmental and mental disabilities were institutionalized and treated as less than human. Thousands who died in these institutions were never given proper burial and the location of their remains is still unknown. It is time we do something to restore their dignity.”

Some of the state institutions involved in this practice, which are still in operation and are now participating in the California Memorial Project, include Napa State Hospital, Atascadero State Hospital, Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, Patton State Hospital in Patton, Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, Lanterman Developmental Center in Pomona, Porterville Developmental Center, Coalinga State Hospital, Salinas Valley Psychiatric Program, Vacaville Psychiatric Program and Sonoma Developmental Center in Eldridge. Other state institutions that have since closed include Mendocino State Hospital in Talmage, Agnews Developmental Center in San Jose, Camarillo State Hospital, DeWitt State Hospital in Auburn, Modesto State Hospital and Stockton State Hospital.

In 2003, as a member of the California State Senate, Chesbro authored legislation establishing the California Memorial Project, a partnership between the state departments of Mental Health and Developmental Services and the California Network of Mental Health Clients, Disability Rights California and People First California to locate and identify the remains of those who died in these institutions. The legislation was signed into law on the third Monday of September that year.

The California Memorial Project identifies the locations of remains, restores the cemeteries and graves where those who died in state institutions were buried, preserves the history of residents of institutions and documents the history of the movement in California.

“Some progress has been made since 2003, but there is still a lot more work to be done,” Chesbro said.

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