In November 2012, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) filed a lawsuit, on behalf of themselves, their members and taxpayers Barbara Michel and Laura Magnani, in Alameda County Superior Court challenging the County of Alameda’s systemic discrimination against men and women with disabilities who experience severe harm while incarcerated at its Santa Rita Jail. Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC) and Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) represent the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleges that the jail’s inhumane conditions and discriminatory treatment of people with disabilities denies them the right to appropriate facilities for simple human necessities, as well as access to educational and rehabilitation programs that can reduce their jail sentences.
The County of Alameda has a systemic practice of housing men and women with disabilities at Santa Rita Jail in cells and housing units that lack wheelchair accessible toilets, showers and visiting areas. In addition, the jail segregates certain people with disabilities from the general population by housing them in the Outpatient Housing Unit, known as the “infirmary,” which operates similar to solitary confinement. Such jail conditions compromise the health and welfare of inmates with disabilities and results in the denial of access to critical rehabilitative programs, religious services and outdoor exercise.
Without wheelchair accessible toilets that have grab bars, people with mobility disabilities cannot transfer themselves from a wheelchair to a toilet. One individual was forced to urinate on himself because the holding cell he was detained in before he was taken to his hearing lacked a wheelchair accessible toilet. Consequently, he was forced to appear at his hearing in soiled clothing and was humiliated by this experience. Further, a dearth of accessible showers means that individuals with mobility disabilities cannot take daily showers – a privilege their non-disabled peers receive.
An LSPCC spokesperson commented: “Research shows that rehabilitative programs provide incarcerated individuals with tools needed to improve behavior, reduce recidivism and increase employment opportunities. Yet Alameda County’s discriminatory practices deny people with disabilities housed in the infirmary at Santa Rita Jail from participating in rehabilitative programs that can improve their lives.”
DRLC attorneys explained that “what is happening at Santa Rita is wrong on so many levels. Civil rights are routinely violated, and the jail’s correctional rehabilitation model is rendered effectively unavailable for an entire population of people.”