Major lawsuit against L.A. jails moves forward

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A lawsuit filed on behalf of all prisoners with disabilities against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department  has received class action certification from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Hands on prison bars

Jail Access

The lawsuit, filed in May 2008, accuses the county jail system of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to “provide any legally acceptable level of access, services or accommodations for people with disabilities in the jails.”

When the lawsuit was filed, the jail’s central intake unit lacked a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, leaving inmates to “sit in their own feces for hours or days.” Once inside the jail, inmates with disabilities allegedly are predominantly kept in segregated “windowless, decaying facilities,” with no access to the jail’s vocational, or other programs designed to eventually reintegrate them to life outside the jail.

Prison guards allegedly routinely take wheelchairs and other aids from inmates, or leave them with “dangerously, inadequate substitutes” such as walkers or wheelchairs without footrests, the lawsuit states.

In addition, the lawsuit accuses the jail system of violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process clauses, as well as the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

Representing the plaintiffs are the ACLU of Southern California, Disability Rights California, Disability Rights Legal Center and Winston & Strawn LLP. Though they acknowledge that the jail system has made some improvements since the lawsuit was filed, they are calling on the jail system to create procedures to identify disabilities and proper accommodations for its prisoners, as well as establish training procedures for its jail staff.

“This lawsuit has gone on for far too long,” said Melinda Bird, litigation director at Disability Rights California, in a news release. “Sheriff Baca says that he supports fair treatment and education-based incarceration. Prisoners with disabilities already face too many barriers in life. We call on him to bring this litigation to a rapid conclusion and give prisoners with disabilities the same opportunity to rise out of poverty and crime that he offers others in the jail.”

Disability Rights California is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.