FL Inmates with Disabilities to Get More Accessible Prisons with Morgan & Morgan's Help

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The fair treatment of prisoners is an increasingly hot topic issue in our country, with entire documentaries and TV series devoted to the debate. But for inmates with disabilities, the difficulties of life in the prison system can be compounded when they’re denied access to the accommodations they need.

That’s why Morgan & Morgan is proud to report that our disability rights unit was involved in successfully getting our state to better serve prisoners with disabilities.

Following a lawsuit and subsequent settlement with the Florida Department of Corrections, the state must now bring its prisons into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law that protects the rights of those with disabilities — including prison inmates.

Disability Rights Florida, the Florida Justice Institute, and Morgan & Morgan’s own attorney brought the lawsuit on behalf of Florida prisoners with disabilities who said they were denied hearing aids, wheelchairs, prosthetics, canes, sign-language interpreters, and other accommodations.

The settlement outlines a plan for getting Florida prisons in-line with federal disability rights laws, along with a four-year timeline to make the necessary changes to the state’s 18 major facilities. Changes include access to qualified interpreters, improved accessibility for wheelchair users and inmates with mobility issues, among other improvements.

The Allegations Against the FDOC

The complaint filed against the FDOC claims harrowing examples of humiliation, discrimination and mistreatment against prisoners with disabilities in many of Florida’s prisons.

The complaint also alleged that the FDOC failed to provide the telecommunication access needed to communicate with their friends and family members, effectively cutting off access to loved ones for prisoners who are deaf and hard of hearing.

The FDOC allegedly failed to provide alerting devices like vibrating watches or flashing lights for deaf and hard of hearing prisoners who cannot hear verbal announcements. As a result, not only do these prisoners miss their meals, recreation time, and medical call-outs, according to the complaint, but they also are subject to discipline for failing to attend events and obey verbal orders.

The complaint also alleged that the FDOC failed to provide the telecommunication access needed to communicate with their friends and family members, effectively cutting off access to loved ones for prisoners who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Worse yet, the complaint alleged that the FDOC staff would routinely retaliate against those prisoners who would report ADA violations in assertion of their legal rights. Their property would be unfairly confiscated for filing these reports.

These are just handful of the many prisoner grievances listed in the complaint. In all examples, reasonable requests for accommodation due to a legitimate medical need, whether it be a wheelchair, modified shower, or hearing aid, were denied without good reason.

Inmates with Disabilities: The Numbers

The issue of discrimination against inmates with disabilities is a larger one than you may realize.

About 26 percent of state prisoners claim to have a mobility, hearing, or visual disability, according to American Civil Liberties Union.

About 3 in 10 state and federal prisoners and 4 in 10 jail inmates reported having at least one disability, according to the BJS.

When disabilities that limit prisoners ability to care for themselves, such as cognitive disabilities, are included, that number jumps up even higher, according to a special report on disabilities among prison and jail inmates published by the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2015.

About 3 in 10 state and federal prisoners and 4 in 10 jail inmates reported having at least one disability, according to the BJS.

Clearly, people with disabilities make up a sizeable portion of the general prison and jail population. So why are so many of these facilities seemingly failing to provide legally mandated accommodations time and time again?

This question is what drove Morgan & Morgan and other civil rights groups to pursue their lawsuit against the FDOC.

Why ADA Compliance Is So Important During the Criminal Process

The FDOC settlement is an excellent step in the right direction for our state, but people with disabilities still face great injustice as they fight for the accommodations they are entitled to under law.

This problem isn’t just limited to those with disabilities already incarcerated. Compliance with disability laws is essential throughout the criminal justice process, and there can be disastrous consequences when the rights of people with disabilities are not respected during an arrest, sentencing, or trial.

Because she was denied an interpreter, Kinney was unable to understand the accusations brought against her or defend herself.

In April, Morgan & Morgan filed a lawsuit against the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on behalf of our client, Cassandra Kinney. The lawsuit alleges that Kinney, who is deaf, was denied access to a sign-language interpreter despite making multiple requests during her arrest and incarceration.

Because she was denied an interpreter, Kinney was unable to understand the accusations brought against her or defend herself. Additionally, Kinney missed meal calls during her nearly two-week incarceration, because she was unable to hear the announcements and the JSO failed to provide an alerting device to accommodate her.

“The police should have provided an interpreter and never did, it was horrible,” explained Kinney in an interview with Action Jax News. “I had no access to communication, no interpretation. I asked for one, he seemed to be ignoring my request.”

This is a major violation of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination and ensures people with disabilities have equal access to employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.

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By Staff

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