The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California signed off on a comprehensive settlement March 23 requiring the Los Angeles Sheriff Department to make its facilities accessible to wheelchair users.
“This settlement is a huge step in the right direction towards ensuring that inmates with mobility disabilities receive basic accommodations, but it is just the beginning,” said Jessica Price, staff attorney for the ACLU SoCal, said in a news release. “Now inmates, their family members, the Office of the Inspector General, and the lawyers must be vigilant to ensure these important protections are enforced.”
For years, disability advocates have heard numerous complaints from inmates regarding the prison system’s lack of accessibility to people who use wheelchairs. These stories include those of people having to “sit or lie in their own waste for hours because wheelchair-accessible toilets and showers were either non-existent or dangerous.”
In response, a coalition of disability advocacy groups filed a class-action lawsuit against the state in 2008, accusing the Department of systematically violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection and Due Process clauses, and the Eighth Amendment’s standard of cruel and unusual punishment.
After nearly seven years of litigation, the parties announced a preliminary agreement in November 2014.
The settlement requires that the Department overhaul the facilities to make them accessible, ensuring that people in wheelchairs have access to all therapy, recreation and educational opportunities the facilities provide. The plaintiffs attorneys must be notified before any facilities are physically materially altered, in order to ensure oversight of the settlement’s provisions.
The Department must also improve its efforts to inform inmates of their rights, improve its grievance form procedures, and provide additional training to jail staff, among other provisions.
“This settlement is a tribute to the persistence and courage of people like Mr. Johnson, who spoke out for the rights of people with disabilities and continued to fight for better treatment long after he had been released or transferred elsewhere,” said Melinda Bird, litigation director for Disability Rights California, in the news release.
The agreement will remain in effect for three years, although the time will be extended if the settlement’s requirements are not met.
Disability Rights California and Disability Rights Washington, which operates this Galaxy website, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.