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DC Prisoner Awarded $70,000 for ADA Violations at CCA-run Jail

William Pierce, a prisoner held by the District of Columbia’s Department of Corrections (DCDOC), has won a $70,000 jury verdict for repeated violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Pierce, who suffers from severe hearing loss, was denied hearing aids and sign-language interpreters while he was held at the Correctional Treatment Facility, a jail managed by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

Pierce’s complaint alleged that although CCA and the DCDOC had policies in place which, on their face, complied with the requirements of the ADA, in practice those policies were not followed. U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, in a lengthy September 11, 2015 order, wrote that officials at the Correctional Treatment Facility “effectively sat on their hands.... This court easily concludes that the District’s willful blindness regarding [Pierce’s] need for accommodation and its half-hearted attempt to provide Pierce with a random assortment of auxiliary aids – and only after he specifically requested them – fell far short of what the law requires.”

An amicus brief was filed on Pierce’s behalf by the National Association for the Deaf, which argued that prisoners are also protected by the provisions of the ADA. Many prisoners’ rights advocates have argued that corrections officials regularly violate ADA requirements, resulting in unnecessary suffering on the part of disabled prisoners.

Pierce had been arrested in 2012 for simple assault in a domestic dispute, pleaded guilty and received a 60-day sentence. He alleged that he was denied a sign-language interpreter for medical treatment and classes, and was rarely able to use a special telephone device that he needed to make calls. He even spent time in solitary after being assaulted by another prisoner. Judge Jackson noted that the jail’s inability to provide for Pierce’s needs was “truly baffling as a matter of law and logic.”

The eight-person jury clearly agreed following a trial in May 2016, and awarded Pierce $70,000. Still to be determined is the amount of attorney’s fees and costs that the defendants must pay. Unlike actions that fall under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, ADA cases are not subject to the PLRA’s cap on attorney fees. Pierce was represented by James Rocap with Steptoe & Johnson LLP, as well as Arthur B. Spitzer with the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the company was “evaluating several options to challenge the district court’s order,” and the DCDOC appealed the judgment on June 8, 2016.

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