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Prisoner Education Guide

Montana DOC Agrees to Modification of ADA Class-action Settlement

by Derek Gilna

In March 2017, the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) agreed to modifications to a class-action settlement originally entered into in 1994 to resolve medical, dental and mental health complaints stemming from a 1991 prison riot. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that “five prisoners were murdered in the Maximum Security Unit, and after which corrections officers stripped, flex cuffed, physically abused, assaulted, humiliated, beat, and even tortured prisoners who had been housed in Maximum Security at the time of the riot.”

The U.S. District Court has maintained jurisdiction over the case since 1994, and attorneys representing the plaintiffs directed the court’s attention to apparent violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with respect to prisoners with mental and physical disabilities. The parties agreed to the appointment of an independent expert, who determined that numerous ADA violations had occurred, then entered into negotiations to modify the original settlement.

Under the new agreement, “no inmate shall be disciplined, placed on a behavior management plan, classified, or reclassified to a higher level of security based upon his Disability or upon behavior that is a product of his Disability, [without] a prompt and appropriate evaluation by Qualified Mental Health Staff.... No inmate shall be placed in pre-hearing confinement or placed in locked housing based solely upon his Disability or upon behavior that is a product of his Disability, unless, after a prompt and appropriate evaluation by Qualified Mental Health Staff, such Staff determines that the inmate presents such an immediate and serious danger that there is no reasonable alternative. In such case, the inmate will be promptly and regularly re-evaluated with the goal of securing appropriate treatment and reintegrating into general population.”

Additionally, according to the modified settlement, “No inmate with a Disability may be denied a reasonable [ADA] accommodation simply because he is in locked housing or materially similar conditions, unless safety or security concerns render the accommodation unreasonable.... Inmates who use wheelchairs (who cannot stand independently) will not be housed in the isolation cells located in locked housing units. Inmates who use wheelchairs who are not able to transfer into a shower stall will not be housed in locked housing.”

The agreement also provided for numerous modifications of housing units, recreational facilities, dining facilities and other buildings to make them ADA compliant, as well as additional training for correctional staff. Plaintiffs’ counsel retained the right to review all program statements prepared by the DOC to deal with physically- and mentally-disabled prisoners to ensure they comply with the ADA.

Although a motion to approve the modified settlement was filed with the district court on March 2, 2017, as of early December the court had not yet ruled on the motion. See: Langford v. Racicot, U.S.D.C. (D. Mont.), Case No. 6:92-cv-00013-JCL. 

Additional source: www.sheridanmedia.com

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