Prisoners With Physical Disabilities Are Forgotten And Neglected in America

Update: On June 28, 2017, at 2:00 pm ET, the ACLU is holding a Congressional briefing that will be attended by Senator Durbin on the ACLU’s report, Caged In: The Devastating Harms of Solitary Confinement on Prisoners with Physical Disabilities. Speakers will include Clarence Taylor and Dean Westwood, both formerly incarcerated prisoners with disabilities; Jamelia Morgan, author of the report and staff attorney at the Abolitionist Law Center; and Leann Bertsch, Director of North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and President of the Association of State Correctional Administrators. The briefing will be held in SVC Room 212-10 at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC. To attend, RSVP here by 10 AM ET on June 27.

Dean Westwood arrived at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Oregon in a wheelchair. Prison officials required him to surrender his property, submit to a search, and agree to administrative procedures like finger printing. This is standard practice. But unlike other detainees, Dean is paralyzed below the waist and has limited use of his arms and hands.

Staff at the Oregon jail didn’t know how to handle someone with his disability. They rough-handled his limbs and pulled his fingers apart to get his fingerprints. They stripped him down for a search, rough-handling his genitals. They forced his body into a set of jail clothing that was a couple of sizes too small, which caused Dean severe irritation below the waist.

They then placed him alone in an isolated medical cell for approximately seven days. Without the means he needed for assistance in moving around, Dean lay flat on his back in an isolation cell. He endured painful convulsions because the jail failed to provide him with his medically necessary anti-seizure medication.

The way Coffee Creek jail officials treated Dean Westwood is a travesty, and his story is one of many. Prisoners with physical disabilities constitute one of the most vulnerable populations in detention, yet across the nation, they are needlessly subjected to neglect, denied services, and placed in solitary confinement.

Read the Full Report: Caged In

These prisoners rely on corrections staff for support and services every day, be it assistance in taking showers, getting dressed, receiving medication, utilizing law libraries, or visiting prison commissaries. Although comprehensive data on the number of prisoners with physical disabilities in jails, prisons, and detention centers across the nation are currently unavailable, as many as 26 percent of state prisoners report possessing a mobility, hearing, or visual disability, according to one 2003 estimate. When cognitive disabilities and disabilities that limit a prisoner’s ability for self-care are included, the proportion of prisoners with physical disabilities in prisons and jails increase to 32 percent and 40 percent, respectively. Moreover, as the prison population ages, reports indicate the number of prisoners living with physical disabilities in American prisons will increase significantly.

Despite these known facts, prisoners with physical disabilities are often denied the services they are entitled to under the law. Over 25 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits public entities from discriminating against people with disabilities, discrimination against people with disabilities persists in prisons and jails nationwide.

Recent court cases have brought to light the serious violations of the rights of prisoners with physical disabilities. In March 2015, the Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department settled a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Southern California, agreeing to provide mobility devices and physical therapy for prisoners with mobility disabilities after horrifying incidents of neglect and abuse. In an ongoing class action lawsuit, prisoners held in Illinois state prisons challenged the denial of, among other things, alert systems that would provide warnings to deaf prisoners during fires and other emergencies in the state prison facilities. Another recent case against the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola alleges that corrections staff refused to provide a blind prisoner with a cane for 16 years. The problems, however, didn’t stop there. The prison also declined to place him in a facility with accommodations for the blind. As a result, he was forced to rely on other prisoners rather than prison staff to carry out his daily activities.

Neglect is only part of the story. Prisoners with physical disabilities are at constant risk for placement in solitary confinement and its attendant harms. Though few studies exist examining the physical harms to prisoners placed in solitary, research suggests that placement in solitary can exacerbate existing disabilities or chronic conditions, particularly in cases where adequate care and treatment is not available for prisoners held in solitary. There is also extensive research that shows that placing individuals into solitary confinement causes devastating psychological harms.

Worse still, prisoners are often placed in solitary not as punishment but for logistical reasons. For example, when there are no available and accessible beds in the general prison population, prison officials may place prisoners with physical disabilities in solitary confinement as a solution to overcrowding.

In Maryland, Abdul Muhammad, a blind prisoner, sued the Maryland Department of Corrections (DOC) for placing him in solitary confinement and denying him access to showers, phone calls, religious services, visitation and library privileges as well as educational and vocational programming. The complaint alleges that prison officials informed Muhammad they were placing him in solitary until they figured out where to place him long term. Muhammad remained in solitary confinement for almost six weeks. The Maryland DOC’s actions flout federal regulations prohibiting the use of solitary in this way.

All prisoners in solitary risk being denied access to prison rehabilitative programs and services, but the harms of this denial are particularly acute for prisoners with physical disabilities. And it is a harm that perpetuates further harms. Prisoners are often required to complete “step-down” programs to progress out of solitary confinement. When institutions fail to provide, for example, a manual for prison rules or disciplinary procedures in Braille for blind prisoners or sign language interpreters during disciplinary hearings for deaf prisoners, they are creating significant obstacles to prisoners with physical disabilities being able to progress out of isolation. Rather than ignore or harm these prisoners, states must address and accommodate their physical disabilities.

There is much that is wrong that needs to be righted in our prisons and jails. To ensure that prisoners with disabilities are guaranteed their rights under the ADA, criminal justice advocates and disability rights advocates must come together to address discrimination against people with disabilities and work to make the promise of the ADA a reality in prisons and jails across America.

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Unfortunately not everyone who spends time in prison deserves to be there. As you have probably seen there are numerous inmates being released due to new DNA evidence that was not available when they were wrongfully convicted years ago. These people lost years of their lives for crimes they did not commit. The problem is that DNA can only clear the wrongfully convicted that were involved in certain crimes (Rape, Murder, etc..). The sad truth is that the "JUSTICE" system is "BROKEN". The local governments, law enforcement, etc.. are more concerned with showing that cases have been closed/disposed of than they are with making sure that the punishment fits the crime, and that the person charged is in fact the "GUILTY" party. The attorneys, the judges, and the DAs all put on a show in the court room. Perhaps they would all be better off if they moved to Hollywood and put their acting abilities on the "BIG SCREEN". Innocent people are charged and convicted by the use of excessive trumped up charges and the threat of being given the maximum time for each individual BS charge and having them "BOXCAR"...UNLESS they "ADMIT GUILT" & take a PLEA. The courts do NOT want to waste time taking these cases to trial so they have found a way to scare the innocent into pleading guilty to speed up the process. The defendants attorney (whether paid or court appointed) plays his part well as he relays messages to the defendant from the DA (assistant DA) about how they are willing to "DROP" some of the charges if you plead guilty to the others, and how you can take a plea for "5" years, but if you do not take the plea they will hit you with a total of 20 years, and how they will try you separately on each charge and build up your points so that each charge will have a higher maximum sentence....BLAH BLAH BLAH... Let's be honest..... GUILTY OR NOT... THE FEAR OF 20+ YEARS makes the "5" year offer look pretty good. So you are "CLEVERLY" & "LEGALLY" screwed out of your right to a trial. Your attorney looks like the hero because he got you off with 5 years instead of 20, but the truth of the matter is.....he was working for THE OTHER SIDE the entire time. Trust me when I say that the courts DO NOT CARE IF THE PERSON DOING THE TIME FOR THE CRIME IS GUILTY OR NOT......AS LONG AS IT LOOKS GOOD ON THE BOOKS... ANOTHER CASE DISPOSED OF & "JUSTICE HAS BEEN SERVED". Well aren't they special!! And now they GET A PROMOTION & A RAISE & a pat on the back!! And let's remember also that if the innocent person is doing time for a crime they DID NOT COMMIT, that means the GUILTY PERSON is still out there roaming free, and laughing at the screwed up system!


My daughter is 37 years old with a 15 yer old son, and is doing 4-6 years for a crime she DID NOT COMMIT. She was born with a glycogen storage disease which is a member of the Muscular Dystrophy family. Simple tasks can cause her to go into Rhabdomyolysis (Kidney failure). She was on 100% disability before being unjustly incarcerated. To add insult to injury, she has been targeted by officers & staff her entire (6 months so far) time behind bars. Officers & staff have VIOLATED just about every RIGHT, LAW, POLICY, RULE, INJUSTICE etc.. that exists. For those of you who are so NAIVE, that you feel that a prisoner deserves any kind of treatment, and that they "shouldn't have committed a crime", I can only feel sorry for you. Obviously you are blinded to the truth. Unfortunately, the only way for you to SEE through the smoke of corruption & injustice is to have someone you love end up in prison. Perhaps then you would remove your blinders & get a good look at the REAL PICTURE!

prior inmate - ...

I watch disabled people that were undiagnosed, not able to understatnd they comitted a crime, get bullied and stuck inside for months. Physical disabilities, you are denied mobility devised and told you will be in isolation if you cant walk. Duty Officers clearly abusing their authority and never a nurse on duty to properly administer medication. So many are denied critical seizure meds. that are needed to prevent death. All, are afraid to report, or the current reporting system mandates that you use the phone in front of all othere prisoners in order to report? This has caused other inmates to target that person then came the fear of physical harm. Its a nightmare. I see a therapist for what i witnessed inside Malhuer County Jail. Oregon

heartbroken mom

My disabled 32 year old son with an inoperable brain tumor was incarcerated for 186 days, enduring placement in solitary infirmary cell and denied access to church services, classes, outdoor activities and any other activities that were offered to the general population. All charges were dropped and he was released 5 days before he died at my home. He was only allowed to see his oncologist once during this time but the jail did not take my son for testing ordered by the oncologist. Now I must bury my sweet son in a few days. I am still in shock that law enforcement can neglect the most vulnerable without consequence. Even the court declared my son innocent but suffered daily at the hands of those who are sworn to "protect & serve" I am sad beyond words.


I grew up lower middle class raised by single father who taught me right from wrong.

When I was 18 19 years old I dreamed and knew I had a calling, to be a police officer. I love helping people Anna variety of different scenarios and I do have a skill when it comes to defending the weak from being victimized and treated unfairly.

I always thought well yes there is jail there's people in the jail right now they belong there they're criminals. And thinking about what if you have a broken tooth what if your suffering from a bad disc in your neck or spine. You suffering and pain and they will not treat the pain with any kind of medication that would be appropriate but I always thought well they would probably have to go to the hospital and they would take them right away.

No people are sent to jail for a variety of different reasons from being picked up on the street for something that just happened, or arrest warrant issued by the courts, or a planned procedure by the police officer to follow up on Investigation and with a very small small percentage of Reasonable Doubt off for some reason they feel the need to take people to jail who are non-violent non acting offenders who aren't even convicted and investigation not even complete.

Third part I just figured out in life.

I have had a hard life last few years I have medical disabilities that affect my daily life. I'm in pain a lot I suffer in pain all the time. I'm losing muscle mass control of my muscles and tendons and nerves.

Thanks for the government there's no pain control but I get by.

What happens when you have someone that is having a hard time with their permanent disabilities and complications treating them.

What happens when the medical community gives up on them and the patient or person cannot even fight for themselves they're going to obviously want to fight just for here and now in the moment and just wish to be in less pain anything that will make life more livable they will choose and often times that would be drugs that come off the streets or pills from family members these people are suffering.

Know what happens when these people take a certain drug could be prescription non-prescription and have their very own little hell.n

They become a different person not aware of their conscience not even thinking about the pain and take what they want from who they want obviously they're going to break the law but they're not going to hurt anybody unless they are that type of person to begin with.

But what if they're not. What if they're not a known violent Criminal. What if they did something stupid while taking a different medication and blacked out while doing it and now they're arrested. And the police officer who obviously doesn't have a case books that person into jail for something stupid property damage theft ETC.

Compared to your average person that's in the jail who has been frequently in and out and doesn't suffer from any disabilities or injuries.

This becomes something evil becomes cruel and unusual to make a person live in a locked cell with just a blanket a thin blanket absolutely no pillows or anything to properly support your neck all you can do is just lay down and try to stretch and every minute you're there your convulsing your muscles are tightening spasming you're screaming inside and on the outside sometimes too your anxiety is blooming cuz you don't know what's going to happen. You don't know if you're going to see the judge in a day or 3 days you don't have your medication and even if you did the nurse or jail staff cannot or choose not to give it to you.

I used to think jails were necessary and people that were in there deserved to be in jail but, I admire police officers and others that serve in the law enforcement community particularly the First Responders.

However after living in hell for 24 hours I am far from them.
It is time for some legislation to be written to protect those people that suffer in pain and need their particular medications and physical therapy and all other medical supplies and services daily everyday every hour.

And only to arrest them and take them to jail when a violent crime has been committed however if it's a non violent crime need not to take the jail unless it is a case where multiple crimes are being committed and people are continuing to be victimized...

I know there have been three suicides at my local jail in the last year. I personally don't think I would make it Beyond 10 days.

I'm not going back because I'm not a criminal I made a mistake I did something stupid allegedly I cannot confirm and I don't think the police officer could either.

Our current Criminal Justice System needs to be fixed rental professionals with fancy degrees and careers and Probation and Parole that care about people our society seriously. Should only be violent or sexual charges.

Prater, Tina

The prisons are a money making institution. Especially in Texas and Colorado. Colorado has a DUI marijuana but no levels. So if you smoke daily and your last joint was at 10pm and you had a wreck on 1pm the following day you are driving under the influence of marijuana!. Why don't they do a sorbrity test like they do for alcohol? Because you could it prove unles you just smoke a joint within 1-2 hrs. This of course the jails would be empty and the senators who own the jails would not have money. Now in Texas DUI is punishable by alcohol and not presscribe drugs. In respect to immigrants. The republican s (Former Pres. Bush) and democratics don't want the wall because the prisons close to the board towns are privatley owned by the politicians! Bush is one of them in Raymondville Texas. Now in Sterling Correctional Facility they Transvestite mixed with rest of the prisons and they have wear a yellow shirt. Now if the ACLU has any intergrity they would jump on this! You think its right to have this Transvestite wear a yellow shirt to let all the other inmates know. I don't believe in this way of life. But this is wrong. So now that I said this I expect ACLU to do something about this. This Sterling Correctional facility needs to be shut down! They discriminate against disable people. My husband is there because he smoked marijuana ! The law needs to change about marijuana. My husband got his drafting degree made the Dean's list on smoking 2 joints at 08 am and rode his bike 5 miles to the university and never had a car accident. Where I live Capulin CO they r nothing but embicels,


MY husband is an innocent man in prison and has Alzheimers and Parkinsons. Even though he is on an assisted living unit, no one sees that he gets meals or meds. From time to time, they take away his wheel chair .. Even when he has it he cannot get to pill call or the chow hall due to ramps. There are puchers but never enough to get all of the prisoners there and some take their friends and quit.


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