Feds Blast Florida on Disabled Inmates’ Rights

(CN) – The U.S. Justice Department has intervened in a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Corrections over alleged systematic violations of disabled prisoners’ rights.

In a motion filed Monday in the federal court in Tallahassee, Fla., the Justice Department said it was joining a lawsuit filed last January by Disability Rights Florida because it believes the state routinely fails to provide hearing aids, interpreters and types of communication devices that inmates need to interact with the attorneys and families.

The lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Florida is quite a bit broader, accusing the FDOC of routinely denying disabled prisoners with access not just to hearing aids, but even wheelchairs and canes.

But the Justice Department’s motion does share many common concerns with Disability Rights Florida, including those over a deaf inmate who has not once had an ASL interpreter for a medical appointment in his 15 years of incarceration.

The Disability Rights Florida lawsuit stated the Florida Department of Corrections chose to willfully violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Eighth Amendment, and the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Justice Department is the primary agency responsible for enforcing the American Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in employment and in their programs and activities.

“The ADA and Section 504 afford all people with disabilities, including prisoners, the right to fair treatment and effective communication,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, in a statement.  “We believe our participation in this case will help to ensure a just outcome for all.”

A corrections department spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.