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Report Outlines Need for Accommodations for Prisoners with Disabilities

  • Synopsis: Published: 2016-06-30 - AVID releases Making Hard Time Harder: Programmatic Accommodations for Inmates with Disabilities Under the Americans with Disabilities Act outlining lack of accommodations for inmates with disabilities. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Disability Law Colorado at

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Quote: "People are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment, says Mark Stroh, Executive Director of Disability Rights Washington."

More than 600,000 inmates with disabilities in prisons across the country spend more time in prison, under harsher conditions, than inmates without disabilities, according to research.

Amplifying Voices of Inmates with Disabilities (AVID), a nationwide project of disability protection & advocacy organizations, have released Making Hard Time Harder: Programmatic Accommodations for Inmates with Disabilities Under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The report outlines lack of accommodations for inmates with disabilities.

Call to action: Report recommendations to address this crisis in our nation's prisons include:

  • Creation of independent corrections ombuds offices at the state level in order to address inmate concerns before they rise to the level of litigation.
  • Systemic accessibility reviews by state departments of corrections to identify both physical and programmatic barriers for inmates with disabilities.
  • Increased federal funding to the protection and advocacy network for corrections based monitoring and advocacy.
  • Increased training for prison ADA coordinators and collaboration between these staff members and the local P&As to address inmate concerns.

"People are sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment," says Mark Stroh, Executive Director of Disability Rights Washington. "In drafting this report, we have found that inmates with disabilities are often neglected and excluded from programs, rehabilitation, and basic medical care, subjecting them to additional forms of punishment solely due to their disability."

Disability Law Colorado, the P&A for the state and a partner in drafting the report, tells the story of an inmate who contacted the P&A reporting that her wheelchair, walker, and personal care assistant had been removed. The inmate reported that the removal had occurred after prison custody staff saw her engaged in light physical exercise that prison medical staff had suggested she do in order to gain strength. The P&A contacted the prison's ADA coordinator and advocated for the return of the inmate's walker and personal care assistant, but not her wheelchair, which she no longer needed. As a result of that advocacy, her personal care assistant and walker were returned.

Report findings include case examples submitted by protection and advocacy agencies (P&As) engaged in prison work in 21 states.

Washington and South Carolina reported cases in which essential mobility devices, such as wheelchairs and walkers, were taken from inmates. One case resulted in an inmate's inability to access showers or outside yard for almost two years.

Idaho and Illinois reported systemic litigation seeking the provision of video phone services for inmates who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Alabama reported inmates with intellectual disabilities could not access medical care in a written request, and were therefore unable to receive needed medical attention, prompting federal litigation.

From individual assistance to large scale federal litigation, these case summaries demonstrate the breadth and depth of work by P&As in prisons, and demonstrate that despite the passage of the ADA over two decades ago, much state prison work remains to be done.

Video Clip: AVID Prison Project

AVID is a prison advocacy initiative that focuses on the needs of current and former prisoners with disabilities. The project was developed by Disability Rights Washington and is a collaboration between the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) and Protection and Advocacy agencies (P&As) in Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Carolina, and Washington, with communication assistance from the P&As in Louisiana and Texas.

The report is available at, where original interviews with inmates with disabilities, their family members, and experts on disability issues in correctional settings, can be accessed.

Related Information:

  1. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Prison Conditions - Disabled World
  2. Lack of Mental Health Care in Prisons - University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  3. Mentally Ill: Who goes to Prison and Who Goes to Psych Institutions - University of Montreal

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