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Disabled Prisoner Class Certified to Sue LA

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A federal judge certified a class complaining over allegedly poor conditions for disabled inmates in Los Angeles County jails.

The class, certified by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson on Monday, could include thousands of inmates.

There is also room to include disabled inmates who enter the jail system in the future, according to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, which represents the inmates alongside the Disability Rights California, the Disability Rights Legal Center, and Winston & Strawn.

The May 2008 complaint against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Sheriff Leroy Baca sought accommodations under the American with Disabilities Act, federal statutes, and the Eighth and 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Critics say Los Angeles keeps disabled prisoners apart from other inmates, excluded them from jail programs and services, and denies them proper access to outdoor activities, showers, bathrooms.

A dearth of grab bars in jails also causes injuries among this group, according to the complaint.

The inmates claim that a lack of wheelchair accessible toilets forces them to "sit in their own feces for hours or days." They say they are imprisoned in "windowless, decaying facilities."

Though the sheriff's department has fixed some of the problems, the ACLU says inmates still go without wheelchairs, crutches, walkers or canes.

"The jail lacks adequate procedures to ensure that inmates with physical disabilities receive the accommodations they need, and those who complain are often thrown into solitary confinement as punishment," Winston & Strawn attorney Stephen Smerek, assisting the case pro bono, said in a statement. "This type of brutal retaliation is simply outrageous."

ACLU attorney Jessica Price called the order "just and fair."

"Conditions in the L.A. County jails are generally abysmal, but those facing inmates in wheelchairs or with other mobility problems can be absolutely barbaric," she said in a statement.

Named plaintiffs are Peter Johnson, Donald Peterson and Michael Curfman, Andre Butler, Joe Gonzalez, Columbus Grigsby, and Derrick White.

Pasadena-based law firm Hadsell, Stormer, Keeny, Richardson & Renick also represents the plaintiffs, as does Heller Ehrman of San Francisco.

The Los County Sheriff's Department said it does not comment on pending litigation.


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