State Must Aid Disabled Inmates

For nearly 20 years and despite repeated court orders, California prisons resisted providing disabled inmates and parolees accommodations for the needs of daily life.  Once again a federal appeals court has ordered the state to knock off the foot-dragging and provide help to blind, deaf or wheelchair-bound prisoners.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the state’s contention that because it was forced to transfer inmates to county jails to ease prison overcrowding the state is not responsible for providing handicapped accommodations to them.

On Friday, a three-judge panel said, violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act and state rehabilitation law “are systemwide and extensive.”

“The state cannot house persons for whom it is responsible in jails where the state reasonably expects indignities and violations of federal law will continue to occur, turn care over to county custodians, and then disown all responsibility for their welfare,” wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

Without wheelchairs, or such things as tapping canes for the blind, disabled prisoners were forced “into the vulnerable position of being dependent on other inmates to enable them to obtain basic services, such as meals, mail, showers and toilets, Reinhardt said.

When the state began transferring thousands of inmates to county jails as part of a plan to ease overcrowding in state prisons, it failed to tell county jailers who the disabled inmates were and what help they needed.

And there was no grievance procedure to make the counties award of the needs.

Although the inmates and parolees, who are jailed, are in local county facilities, the state still has power to enforce state requirements.  “Therefore, the state is not absolved… of all its responsibility for ADA obligations as to parolees placed in county jails to enforce their state-imposed sentences, including their parole conditions,” Reinhardt wrote.

Keep in mind, Reinhardt is also one of the three judges on the special panel overseeing the separate prison overcrowding case and is familiar with the issues.

Case: Armstrong v. Brown, No. 12-16018


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