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Federal Court Grants Class Certification to Disabled Washington Prisoners

On August 10, 2007, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted class certification to a group of disabled prisoners who were not allowed to participate in work release programs due to their disabilities.

Plaintiff Rickey Peralez claimed in his federal civil rights suit that he was denied admittance to a work program based solely on his disability.
He had been sentenced to 20 months in the Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC). Under WDOC policy, prisoners within 180 days of their release dates are eligible for work release programs.

The work release programs are highly desirable; prisoners placed in such programs are allowed to obtain jobs in the community, thereby earning wages comparable to workers in the free world. They can also obtain needed documents such as driver?s licenses and Social Security cards.

Moreover, since the WDOC attempts to place work release prisoners near their hometowns, they are able to reestablish familial relationships ? which research has shown is crucial to reintegration following release and reducing recidivism rates.

Peralez, who suffers from a degenerative bone disease known as Hereditary Rheumatoid Arthritis and is often confined to a wheelchair, was denied admittance to the work release program due solely to his disability, based on his score on a work release rating system known as PULHESDXT.

Making no headway after filing numerous requests and grievances with prison officials, Peralez was ultimately forced to obtain legal assistance from Columbia Legal Services. Finally, in October 2006 ? approximately three weeks before his scheduled release date ? Peralez was admitted to a work release program following correspondence from his attorneys. Even so, upon his transfer he was not allowed to participate in any of the advantages offered to other work release prisoners, such as financial assistance and community employment, because he had so little time left to serve on his sentence.

His civil rights lawsuit alleged violations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, and specifically requested class certification for other similarly situated prisoners who may not have the ability to pursue such complicated claims against the prison system.

U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Kelley Arnold granted class certification to all disabled state prisoners who were denied participation in a WDOC work release program based on their disabilities, and who sought damages for no more than 180 days of lost wages as a result. See: Peralez v. Washington State Department of Corrections, USDC WD WA, Case No. C06-5625-JKA, 2007 WL 2332455 (unpublished).

On January 8, 2008, the District Court granted the prisoner plaintiffs? motion for partial summary judgment, holding, ?To the extent the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) utilizes a practice of scoring inmate offenders according to the numerical profiling system known as PULHESDXT ? and then uses that score as a motivating factor to exclude otherwise eligible ADA disabled offenders from the DOC?s Work Release Program ? such practice violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C. 1983.? See: Peralez v. Washington State Department of Corrections, USDC WD WA, Case No. C06-5625-JKA (Jan. 8, 2008).

Peralez is represented by Edwin S. Budge and Erik J. Heipt of the Seattle, Washington law firm Budge & Heipt. The case is ongoing and PLN will report the outcome.

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Related legal cases

Peralez v. Washington State Department of Corrections

Peralez v. Washington State Department of Corrections