In 2016, Disability Rights Washington was contacted by constituents who were being held in close custody conditions in the BAR Units at the Washington State Penitentiary, despite their medium or even minimum custody status. These inmates reported that they were held in restrictive conditions with limited access to programming, educational services, and dayroom or yard time, solely due to their need for mental health services. Based on these reports, Disability Rights Washington began an investigation and found that more than 70 inmates in the BAR units who were classified as medium or minimum custody were being held under close custody conditions due to their need for disability-related services. Many of these inmates had not had an infraction for months, if not years, and yet were still being confined in one of the most restrictive settings in the prison system due to their disability.
After concluding its investigation, Disability Rights Washington alerted the Department of Corrections that these classification practices violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and its implementing regulations. In 2016 and 2017, Disability Rights Washington and the Department held a series of meetings to discuss how to address this discriminatory practice but were unable to come to a solution. In April 2018, Disability Rights Washington and co-counsel Paukert and Troppmann filed a federal complaint challenging the Department’s discriminatory classification practices, with DRW serving as organizational plaintiff.