by Douglas Ankney
On June 5, 2019, the State of Maryland agreed to pay $1.4 million to settle a lawsuit brought by current and former blind prisoners housed at the Roxbury Correctional Institution (RCI). The terms of the settlement also require the state to provide blind prisoners with assistance to help them live independently while incarcerated.
Anthony Blue, Steven Brown, Wilbert Delano, Gregory Hammond, Sedric Holley, Russell Hopkins, Johnnie James, Tyrrell Polley, Maynard Sneed and Robert Wilson filed suit against the Maryland Department of Public Safety Correctional Services (DPSCS), then-DPSCS Secretary Stephen T. Moyer, DPSCS Commissioner Dayena M. Corcoran and RCI Warden Richard Miller. Blue later requested to withdraw from the suit.
The plaintiffs alleged they were denied handbooks that they could read, which often resulted in disciplinary charges. They further claimed they were required to rely on other prisoners to help them with commissary requests, read and write personal correspondence, read and write legal materials, and navigate the prison complex.
This forced dependence on other prisoners resulted in extortion, sexual assaults, coercion of the plaintiffs’ friends and families, and dismissal of improperly pleaded legal claims. Blind prisoners were denied educational opportunities, work opportunities and opportunities to earn time off their sentences because the defendants refused to provide written materials in an accessible format or supply an instructor for the blind.
The plaintiffs also complained they were housed at RCI, which was a higher security prison than their classification scores warranted. Further, the defendants refused to consider the plaintiffs’ disability when assigning cells. They were sometimes housed with violent cellmates and beaten for minor things such as bumping into them or into their property, or for failing to clean up a mess they couldn’t see.
Plaintiff Hammond said his foot once caught the cord to his cellmate’s TV, pulling it to the floor and breaking it. Hammond paid for the TV, but his cellmate beat him severely. He could not request medical attention because he couldn’t see to fill out the form. His cellmate was supposed to help him but did not. Hammond’s cellmate assaulted him more than 10 times and forced him to purchase commissary items in exchange for helping him complete the order form. Another prisoner stole his address book and began writing his sister.
Pursuant to the settlement the defendants agreed to implement several corrective measures, including computers that convert text to voice; assigning blind prisoners to single cells; classifying eligible blind prisoners to lower security facilities; hiring instructors in Braille and providing other instruction to enable blind prisoners to learn to live independently; making educational materials available on tape and CD; and assigning officers and counselors to assist blind prisoners with legal materials, medical requests and sensitive mail.
In addition, the plaintiffs shared a combined compensatory and punitive damage award of $400,000, and their attorneys received $1 million in fees and costs.
The plaintiffs were represented by the law firm of Brown, Goldstein and Levy. They were also assisted by the National Federation of the Blind and the Prisoners Rights Information System of Maryland. See: Brown v. Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, U.S.D.C. (D. MD), Case No. 1:16-cv-00945-RDB.
Additional sources: browngold.com, washingtonpost.com
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Related legal case
Brown v. Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services
|U.S.D.C. (D. MD), Case No. 1:16-cv-00945-RDB