AVID Prison Project

The Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities (AVID) Prison Project of DRW focuses on the needs of inmates with disabilities who are incarcerated in our state prisons and those who are reentering the community, ensuring that their voices are heard and their rights protected.

AVID attorney speaking to an inmate in a wheelchair

Background

For years, DRW has investigated the conditions of correctional settings across Washington State and worked on creative solutions to some of the most serious problems faced by inmates with mental illness, brain injuries, and physical and intellectual disabilities. In recognition of the need for more targeted advocacy, DRW created AVID Prison Project, a formal project with the sole purpose of listening to the needs of people with disabilities in prison and those who are reentering society and ensuring that their voices are heard and their rights protected. AVID Prison Project is currently funded by a combination of a cy pres award administered by the Legal Foundation of Washington and our federal protection and advocacy grants. This funding allows DRW to provide services in all state-run prisons across Washington.

Video playlist

Summary of work: 

Milestone: 2017 Legislative Session

DRW joined a coalition of other stakeholders to make the creation of an independent corrections ombuds office in Washington State a legislative priority. Washington’s state prisons confine almost 17,000 people and are largely closed to the public, with very few outsiders permitted behind the prison walls. This lack of oversight and transparency means that people in prison are often overlooked, neglected, or even placed in dangerous conditions. SB 5294 passed through the Senate and made it all the way to the House. DRW will continue to monitor the bill during the special session. Find out more.

Milestone: March 25, 2017

Heather McKimmie, Associate Director of Legal Advocacy and Rachael Seevers , AVID Prison Project Staff Attorney, spoke with local radio station KEXP 90.3 FM about the importance of independent oversight of Washington's state prisons. A transcript of the interview is available here.

Milestone: 2017

In 2017, DRW’s AVID Prison Project reached a preliminary settlement agreement regarding the lack of appropriate care and treatment for residents with serious mental illness, developmental and intellectual disabilities, cognitive conditions, and traumatic brain injuries at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island, a secure treatment facility for people found in need of specialized sex offender treatment. As part of the proposed settlement agreement’s class notice requirement, DRW created a video to play on SCC’s televisions for residents. A fairness hearing, in that case, is currently scheduled for early May 2017.

Milestone: September 21, 2016

On the Outs: Reentry for Inmates with Disabilities is a short documentary produced by the AVID Prison Project. On the Outs follows three inmates with various disabilities, including vision impairment, brain injury, and mental illness, through all stages of the reentry process. The documentary depicts each person’s experience at three points: in prison prior to release, on their release date, and life on the “outs” after release. The documentary screened at UCLA Prisoners' Advocates Conference on September 23, 2016. An audio described version is available at OnTheOutsMovie.com.

Milestone: September 8, 2016

The AVID Prison Project, in collaboration with The Arizona Center for Disability Law, Disability Law Colorado, The Advocacy Center of Louisiana, Disability Rights New York, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities of South Carolina, Disability Rights Texas, and The National Disability Rights Network, and over 20 protection and advocacy agencies from across the United States, released "Locked Up and Locked Down: Segregation of Inmates with Mental Illness." The report chronicles advocacy efforts by the Protection and Advocacy network on behalf of inmates with mental illness that have been housed in segregation. The full multimedia report, with videos and stories from inmates with disabilities, as well as recommendations for action at both the state and federal level, can be accessed at AVIDprisonproject.org.

To launch the report, AVID, as well as partners from Disability Rights Iowa, Disability Rights Tennessee, and Disability Rights Vermont, traveled to Washington D.C. and met with national prison advocates, representatives from the Department of Justice, and the White House, to discuss the contents of the report and the role of the protection and advocacy network in prison reform. AVID and its partners also held a two-hour briefing on these matters for Senate Judiciary and HELP committee staff, and other staff from both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Media Coverage

National Disability Rights Network: National Report Tackles the Segregation of Inmates with Mental Illness
Rooted in Rights: Report cites progress combating use of solitary confinement on inmates with mental illness
Eagle Country 99.3: Locked Up And Locked Down: Mentally Ill Inmates Segregated
TalkPoverty Podcast: Party Like It's 1999 (Anna Guy interview at 44:55)
The Indiana Lawyer: Report: Segregation can lead to increased symptoms of mental illness in inmates
PRNewsWire: Locked Up and Locked Down: National Report Tackles the Segregation of Inmates with Mental Illness
Solitary Watch: New Report Documents Devastating Effects of Solitary Confinement on Mental Illness
Huffington Post Blog: Prisons Should Stop Segregation
King 5: Advocates say solitary overused in prisons nationwide

Milestone: July 2016

In July 2016, AVID was invited to Washington D.C. to participate in a panel sponsored by the White House and the Center for American Progress, focusing on disability and criminal justice reform. Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, spoke at the event, along with leaders in the disability community and attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice, the ACLU National Prison Project, Center for American Progress, and AVID, among others. Following the panel, AVID staff collaborated with other advocates to identify specific recommendations for executive action to address prison conditions and criminal justice reform for people with disabilities.

Related Links

U.S. News & World Report: Judicial Reform Could Mean Greater Attention on Mental Health, Disabilities
The Nation: Nearly Half of All Women in Jail are Disabled 

Milestone: June 22, 2016

The AVID Prison Project, in collaboration with The Arizona Center for Disability Law, Disability Law Colorado, The Advocacy Center of Louisiana, Disability Rights New York, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities of South Carolina, Disability Rights Texas, and The National Disability Rights Network, released a report, "Making Hard Time Harder: Programmatic Accommodations for Inmates with Disabilities Under the Americans with Disabilities Act." The report takes a national look at programmatic accessibility and accommodations in our country’s prisons and contains case summaries from twenty-one states, documenting the barriers that inmates with disabilities face in accessing programs and services in prison. The full multimedia report, with videos and stories from inmates with disabilities, as well as recommendations for action at both the state and federal level, can be accessed at: AVIDprisonproject.org.

Media Coverage

Uloop: Florida increases accessibility for inmates with disabilities
VICE News: Punished Twice - Prisons basically ignore the Americans with Disabilities Act leaving a third of inmates facing abuse and neglect
Santa Fe New Mexican: Prison can mean losing cane, wheelchair or even prosthetic leg
TWC News Albany: Disability Rights in Prison
Willamette Weekly: New Report Shines Light on Mistreatment of Deaf Prisoners in Oregon
The Stranger: Inmates with Disabilities Are Struggling in Washington Prisons
KUOW: No Wheelchair, No Justice Say Advocates For Disabled Inmates
KING 5: Study finds disabled inmates living in 'unacceptable' conditions

Milestone: February 2016

In early 2016, AVID Prison Project attorney Rachael Seevers submitted testimony to House and Senate subcommittees in support of two bills that would have created an independent corrections ombuds office in Washington. Though the bills failed in 2015, AVID will continue that advocacy in the next legislative session.

Related Links

SB 6154 Creating an office of the corrections ombuds
SB 6154 testimony
HB 2817 Creating an office of the corrections ombuds
HB 2817 testimony

Milestone: March 2015

In March of 2015, the AVID Prison Project collaborated with the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) to hire a national expert, Dr. Jeffrey Metzner, to assess the conditions of inmates in the prison’s mental health and segregation units. Over the course of a week, Dr. Metzner toured units at the Monroe Correctional Complex’s Special Offender Unit and Intensive Management Unit,  as well as units at the Clallam Bay Corrections Center. After his review, Dr. Metzner issued a report outlining his findings and identifying areas for improvement. The DOC created a Plan of Corrective Action based on that report and the AVID Prison Project is currently monitoring DOC’s progress through that plan.

Milestone: 2014

In 2014, DRW’s AVID Prison Project began investigating the conditions at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island, a secure treatment facility for people found in need of specialized sex offender treatment. After repeated visits to the facility, an extensive record review, and numerous resident interviews, AVID attorneys found that many residents with serious mental illness, developmental and intellectual disabilities, cognitive conditions, and traumatic brain injuries, were unable to understand or progress in the treatment being offered at the SCC, due to their disability. In 2015, after discussion with the SCC and additional investigation, DRW prepared a federal lawsuit, alleging that the lack of appropriate care and treatment for residents with disabilities at the SCC was unconstitutional. Prior to filing the lawsuit, the Attorney General’s Office reached out to DRW to begin negotiations over the issues identified by AVID’s investigation; settlement negotiations, in that case, remain ongoing.

Media Coverage

KUOW: Mentally disabled predators languish at Washington's Island Lock-up for Sex Offenders
The Seattle Times: State's center for sex predators told to reform or be sued
The Seattle Times: Head of state's commitment center for sexual predators resigns
Oregon Public Broadcasting: Washington State's Special Commitment Center Faces New Challenge

Milestone: July 3, 2014

DRW worked with the Washington State Department of Corrections and developed a new policy, aimed to eliminate punishment of prisoners with mental illness who harm themselves or attempt suicide. Prisoners will no longer have “good time” taken away for self-harm, and those who lost “good time” for self-harm will have that time restored. 

Media Coverage

Spokesman Review: State prison inmates no longer will be disciplined for ‘self-harm’
NW News Network: Washington prisons will no longer punish inmates for ‘self-harm’
DRW and DOC press release

Milestone: June 2014

AVID Prison Project attorneys and advocates will be investigating conditions and treatment in these institutions and meeting with inmates across the state to identify the needs of people with disabilities in prison. Through prison monitoring and technical assistance, as well as individual and systemic advocacy, DRW will help inmates with disabilities understand and exercise their rights.

DRW staff will collaborate with families of inmates, service providers, and other community stakeholders to ensure that reentry services support the needs of people with disabilities as they leave prison. AVID also will report to the public, administrators, and policymakers about the needs of current and former prisoners with disabilities to ensure that decisions about services for this population are well-informed and responsive to their needs.

"Never before in Washington has this level of investigative and advocacy resources been dedicated to ensuring people with disabilities get what they need while in prison and when they return home,” said Mark Stroh, DRW Executive Director.  “Knowing what the attorneys and advocates now working in the AVID project have accomplished in the past, I am very excited to see what they can do with the additional resources and focus that are available in the new AVID Prison Project here at DRW.”  

AVID attorneys and video advocates have a five-step plan that will make sure the voices of current and former prisoners are heard and respected. Over the months and years to come, information about the ongoing work and outcomes of the AVID Prions Project will be shared online and in published reports and videos.

To receive information about AVID’s activities and successes, to apply to be a volunteer lawyer or advocate for AVID Prison Project, or to provide financial support for this project, please contact:

David R. Carlson
Director of Legal Advocacy
davidc@dr-wa.org
(206) 324-1521

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