Study finds disabled inmates living in 'unacceptable' conditions

KING 5's Danielle Leigh has obtained information from Disability Right's Washington about inmates being denied wheelchairs and other badly needed accommodations.

A new report by Disability Rights Washington found disabled prison inmates being denied accommodations guaranteed under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

KING 5 was given an exclusive early look at their report, Making Hard Time Harder, being released Wednesday.

It examines the conditions at prisons around the country through firsthand accounts from inmates who have reached out to organizations like Disability Rights Washington for help.

The Department of Justice estimates 3 in 10 inmates nationally have at least one disability.

Disability Rights Washington used its special status as a protection agency to go behind prison walls and document the conditions some of those inmates are living in through the AVID Prison Project.

Rachael Seevers, an attorney with the organization, authored the report.

Seevers said disabled prisoners are facing penalties that have nothing to do with their crime.

"You shouldn't be subjected to additional forms of punishment because you have a disability," Seevers said. "Inmates shouldn't be crawling around on the floor of their cell because they don't have a wheelchair."

The study examined 21 states and found deficiencies in each.

Those states include: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin

In South Carolina, a wheelchair bound inmate reported being denied an accessible shower or toilet.

In Mississippi, another inmate said she was kept in a broken wheelchair for months and had to pay other inmates to push her around.

In New York, an inmate reportedly was denied adaptive utensils leaving him unable to feed himself.

At Coyote Ridge in Washington state, a nearly blind man was initially unable to access a cane or the mobility training he needed to get around.

"I would go inside other people's cells because I would get lost," said Tyrone Gathings in an interview with Disability Rights Washington and the AVID Prison Project. "It took me nine months just to see an eye doctor here."

Gathings said his inability to see often kept him isolated.

"I spend a lot of my time in my cell because it's really hard, especially for somebody with a vision disability," Gathings said.

It's Seevers job to fight for these inmates' rights and she called the conditions described by these inmates unacceptable.

"I think we all want people to come out of prison better than they came in, and it shouldn't be harder for you because you have a disability," Seevers said.

Disability Rights Washington is calling on the federal government to increase funding for oversight, training and reforms to address lapses in compliance with ADA.

The Washington Department of Corrections responded to questions from KING5 about the study and the issue of ADA compliance with this statement:

"As required by Title II under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Washington Department of Corrections has an ADA compliance manager for the agency, ADA coordinators in the facilities, and is current in its assessment of its ADA compliance on the physical plant in all 12 prisons and Corrections-owned or leased work release facilities as well as an assessment to ensure access to programs, activities, and services at Corrections facilities.

The key findings of the compliance assessment demonstrated that the incarcerated population know resources available for accessibility concerns and the correct venues if something additional is needed. It also showed that the department is invested in addressing accessibility concerns in a timely manner. Both society and Corrections have come a long way in achieving compliance and our agency will continue to work on compliance even with those facilities that pre-date the ADA."

Copyright 2016 KING


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