State Department of Corrections to resolve ADA lawsuit

Alabama has agreed to change how inmates with disabilities are treated and housed to settle part of a broader lawsuit over prison medical care, according to a report in the Tuscaloosa News. The lawsuit was filed on June 17, 2014, against ADOC, which is the agency of the State of Alabama in charge of the state- owned and operated prisons in Alabama. The Plaintiffs challenged, among other things, the compliance of the Alabama Department of Corrections (“ADOC”) with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and §504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (ADA).

ALDOC

The news report went on to state that:

    The lawsuit contended disabled inmates were kept in facilities that couldn’t safely accommodate them and were inappropriately housed with higher security inmates for no reason other than their disabilities. It also claims they didn’t have access to programs and devices, including functioning wheelchairs. During a fire, a wheelchair-using prisoner had to maneuver deeper into the prison to access a ramp to the outside, according to the lawsuit. In March of 2016, a settlement was reached whereby the state agreed to make sure inmate housing is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and inmates can access programs and facilities.

A report by the Montgomery Adviser stated:

    A partial agreement has been reached in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of 25,000 Alabama inmates who attorneys say have been denied medical treatment.

    In 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program filed the 140-page complaint against the Alabama Department of Corrections, then-ADOC Commissioner Kim Thomas (current Commissioner Jefferson Dunn has since inherited the suit) and Ruth Naglich, ADOC associate commissioner of health services.

    Forty-two prisoners were named as plaintiffs in the suit, though the suit is still awaiting class action certification.

    MHM Correctional Services, Inc. and Corizon Health, Inc, which were contracted by ADOC, are also movants in the suit.

    The complaint contains a laundry list of allegations rooted in ADOC’s “routine and systematic failure” to provide adequate medical care, which the complaint says has led to the death and severe injury of multiple inmates.

    A significant portion of the suit was aimed at ADOC’s noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The facilities covered in the Agreement include:

    • Bibb Correctional Facility
    • Donaldson Correctional Facility
    • Draper Correctional Facility
    • Easterling Correctional Facility
    • Elmore Correctional Facility
    • Fountain Correctional Facility
    • Hamilton Aged and Infirmed Holman Correctional Facility
    • Kilby Correctional Facility
    • Limestone Correctional Facility
    • St. Clair Correctional Facility
    • Staton Correctional Facility
    • Tutwiler Prison for Women
    • Ventress Correctional Facility
    • Alex City Community Based Facility/Community Work Center
    • Atmore Community Work Center
    • Birmingham Community Based Facility/Community Work Center
    • Camden Community Based Facility/Community Work Center
    • Childersburg Community Based Facility/Community Work Center
    • Decatur Community Based Facility/Community Work Center
    • Elba Community Based Facility/Community Work Center
    • Frank Lee Community Based Facility/Community Work Center
    • Hamilton Community Based Facility/Community Work Center
    • Loxley Community Based Facility/Community Work Center
    • Mobile Community Based Facility/Community Work Center
    • Montgomery Women’s Facility
    • Red Eagle Community Work Center

Under the agreement, ADOC has agreed to pay attorneys’ fees and associated costs to counsel for the Plaintiffs in the total amount of $1,030,000.00 and will do the following:

    • Appoint an ADA coordinator at each facility and hire a statewide coordinator
    • Provide ADA-compliant cells to house prisoners with disabilities
    • Offer ADA training for corrections personnel
    • Implement a system to ensure those with disabilities can access programs, including educational, vocational and rehabilitative services
    • Streamline the process of identifying and tracking prisoners with disabilities and create a plan to protect their safety in emergencies
    • Establish a separate grievance and appeal process for ADA issues

A monitor will oversee the implementation of the agreement’s provisions. A Judge must approve the terms and the remainder of the lawsuit is expected to go to trial Oct. 17.

Last year, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) reached a settlement with the Disability Rights Network (DRN) of Pennsylvania on a lawsuit that the organization filed in March 2013 concerning the treatment of inmates diagnosed with serious mental illness (SMI). DRN is a federally-mandated organization that advocates for the civil rights of individuals with disabilities.

The settlement agreement outlined procedures to divert inmates with serious mental illness who have demonstrated problematic behavior to specialized treatment units where they will receive enhanced mental health care, programs and services, instead of traditional restricted housing units. The agreement called for the appointment of an independent technical compliance consultant who will independently assess and report on the DOC’s implementation of the agreement’s terms.

Earlier this year, a group representing disabled inmates in Florida filed a federal lawsuit accusing prison officials in that state of discriminating against prisoners who are deaf, blind or confined to wheelchairs, in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuit, filed by Disability Rights Florida, alleges that the Department of Corrections failed to provide interpreters and auxiliary aids, prosthetic devices and wheelchairs, and assistants and tapping canes to inmates with disabilities. The lawsuit also accuses corrections officials of discriminating against disabled inmates by refusing to allow them to participate in services and programs available to other prisoners.

Kristi Avalos Picture

According to Kristi Avalos, president and CEO of Accessology which assists public entities in the development of their ADA Compliant Transition Plans, there have been a number of lawsuits filed against correctional facilities. Avalos, who has 35 years of experience in this field, points out that with the passage of the ADA over 25 years ago, litigation is on the rise. In response, Accessology has been traveling the nation offering free ADA Round Table Discussion events to municipalities and other public entities to help explain the requirements under the ADA. Those who attend this event typical include but are not limited to:

    • ADA Coordinators
    • City Managers/Admins/Directors
    • Human Resource Directors
    • Departments of Transportation
    • Engineers
    • Public Works Directors
    • Facility Directors
    • Parks Director
    • Emergency Management Director
    • Airport Managers
    • Departments of Correction Supervisors
    • Mayors
    • County Commissioners
    • School Districts
    • University Administrators
    • Other Title II employees

For more information on an ADA RoundTable Discussion, contact Accessologyby calling 972-434-0068.

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