Protection and Advocacy’s Role in Prison Litigation

Protection and Advocacy’s Role in Prison Litigation

What are P&As?

The protection and advocacy (P&A) network is a system of agencies throughout the United States. There is a P&A in every state and territory and each has been given a federal legislative mandate to provide legal representation and other advocacy services to all people with disabilities.  Specifically, P&As are charged to “pursue administrative, legal, and other appropriate remedies on behalf of individuals [with disabilities].”

Why are P&As effective in Prison Litigation?

Standing: P&As frequently use organizational standing to represent their clients and constituents: people with disabilities. This provides a unique procedural advantage in prison lawsuits, as P&As are not required to exhaust administrative remedies under the Prison Litigation Reform Act.

Access: P&As have federal authority to: (1) monitor prisons for compliance with laws concerning conditions and prisoner rights; and (2) conduct investigations of abuse and neglect in prisons. This access extends to the facility itself, the inmates, and inmate records.

Expertise: Prisons have become the de facto treatment facility for a wide variety of prisoners with disabilities. P&As have existed since the 1970s and possess expert knowledge on disability issues. This extends deeply into the prison population and includes numerous cases involving prisoners with disabilities.

What kind of cases are P&As involved in?

A non-exhaustive list of issues that P&As have litigated:

  • Police misconduct
  • Forensic commitment issues (both NGRI and ITP)
  • ADA violations occurring at every stage of incarceration
  • Conditions, services programs and treatment at jails and prisons
  • Wrongful death in jails and prisons
  • Mental health treatment in jails and prisons
  • Parole, discharge planning, release and aftercare
  • Contempt proceedings
  • Death penalty

Recent P&A Cases

Murray v. County of Santa Barbara (California): The P&A alleged that the county jail failed to provide basic mental health and medical care, overused and misused solitary confinement, discriminated against people with disabilities, and provided inhumane, unsanitary, and unsafe living conditions. The court granted class certification  in 2018 and the case is proceeding.  Co-Counsel: Prison Law Office and King & Spalding

Rasho v. Walker (Illinois): The P&A filed a class action lawsuit in response to the systemic discrimination by the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and its failure to provide accommodations to deaf and hard of hearing prisoners. Alleged denials of accommodations include the IDOC’s refusal to provide ASL interpreters, technological assistance and other alternate forms of communication. Without accommodations, deaf and hard of hearing prisoners are allegedly endangered and deprived of meaningful access to religious services, healthcare, educational and vocational programs, telephones, televisions, library services, disciplinary proceedings, grievances and pre-release programs. The lawsuit asserts claims under the ADA, the Rehab. Act, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the 1st, 8th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Co-Counsel: Uptown People’s Law Center, ACLU, Denton’s LLP, Mayer Brown, and Bush, Sayferth, and Paige

Disability Rights Florida v. Jones (Florida): The complaint in this case alleged ADA, Section 504, and 8th Amendment claims that the Florida Department of Corrections failed to make reasonable accommodations for inmates who are blind, deaf, or have physical disabilities. Both sides engaged in numerous mediation sessions with expert monitoring of several facilities. The resulting settlement agreement provides for architectural as well as programmatic changes and includes an extensive monitoring schedule.  Co-Counsel: Florida Justice Institute, Morgan and Morgan

How can I work with the P&A?

P&As are located in every state and territory and have worked with a number of private and non-profit partners on every phase of advocacy and litigation. You can find the P&A in your jurisdiction. For additional information contact either Dave Boyer ([email protected]) or Diane Smith Howard ([email protected]) at the National Disability Rights Network.