Oakland, CA – May 2, 2016 – Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC), Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) today announced a comprehensive settlement agreement to improve accessibility for people with disabilities who are incarcerated at/or visiting California’s Santa Rita Jail. The settlement resolves a lawsuit brought by LSPC and taxpayers Barbara Michel and Laura Magnani, all of whom are represented by DRLC and DRA.
The lawsuit alleged that the Jail failed to provide for basic needs of people with mobility disabilities by forcing them to live in inaccessible housing units, which lacked basic wheelchair accessible facilities, such as toilets, showers and visiting areas. The lawsuit also alleged that the Jail unnecessarily segregated some individuals with disabilities in its Outpatient Housing Unit because of their disabilities. In some cases the Jail denied incarcerated individuals with disabilities access to critical rehabilitative programs, religious services and recreation activities.
Under the settlement agreement, the County will make major changes to the Jail to dramatically improve access for people with disabilities, including significant physical modifications to provide wheelchair-accessible cells, showers, restrooms, dining facilities, recreation areas, visiting areas, entrances and healthcare facilities. In addition, the County will provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, if necessary for effective communication, and access to a videophone for people incarcerated who are deaf and/or have hearing loss and use ASL.
The settlement also includes updates to policies, including an updated grievance policy for incarcerated people with disabilities. Additionally, the County will retain an outside expert to evaluate its compliance with access improvements made pursuant to the settlement agreement.
The settlement does not contemplate Jail administrators increasing the number of people they incarcerate.
DRLC Staff Attorney Kara Janssen said, “As advocates for people with disabilities, we are very pleased with this agreement. It provides a model for county jails, and we hope these types of improvements will be made in all jails.”
Carol Strickman of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children commented, “This settlement is an important victory for people with disabilities who are incarcerated at Santa Rita. They have suffered far too long without full access to basic necessities, such as toilets, showers and dining areas. Creating accessible visiting space in in the Jail for both prisoners and their visitors will make a tremendous difference in keeping families connected during the difficult times of a loved one’s incarceration.”
DRA Attorney Stuart Seaborn explained, “The County’s commitment to dramatically improving access to its rehabilitative programs and facilities is a positive step towards dignity and humane treatment of people with disabilities at the Jail.”