Comprehensive Settlement Reached Over Florida Prisons
by Andy Jones
July 14, 2017
Disability Rights Florida and the Florida Department of Corrections announced a comprehensive settlement on July 12, resolving a class-action lawsuit alleging a range of dangerous conditions in the state’s prison system.
“The laws guaranteeing equal access are there to ensure that the dignity and independence of people with disabilities are respected regardless of the setting,” said Maryellen McDonald, executive director of Disability Rights Florida, in a news release. “When those laws are not followed, not only do they result in a lack of access, but people with disabilities are put at daily risk with little opportunity to gain the skills or training necessary to contribute as productive citizens once their sentence has ended.
“Our organization is seeking through this Settlement Agreement to enforce those principles for the incarcerated people of Florida.”
In January 2016, Disability Rights Florida, with the assistance of the Florida Justice Institute and attorneys from Morgan & Morgan, sued the DOC in federal court, alleging a range of Americans with Disabilities Act violations and allegations that the state was violating constitutionally protected due process rights. Furthermore, they alleged that the DOC treats inmates in ways contrary to the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Under the settlement, the DOC has four years to undergo a range of systematic reforms.
In particular, it must provide qualified sign language interpreters to deaf inmates, many of whom were previously denied such services, even in life-threatening medical emergencies. The DOC must also remove numerous architectural barriers, making the facilities accessible to people in wheelchairs or otherwise with mobility disabilities.
Inmates must have full opportunity to participate in work, education, and religious programs. DOC staff must also comply with extensive training requirements and cease retaliating against inmates attempting to exercise their rights.
There are thousands of people with physical disabilities in Florida’s prisons who will benefit from this settlement,” said Randall C. Berg, Jr. of the Florida Justice Institute, in the news release. “This comprehensive settlement agreement requires the 3rd largest state prison system to provide equal access to programs, services, and activities for physically disabled inmates.”
Disability Rights Washington and the Disability Rights Florida are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and Florida, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.